Drones

The CIA and the military are carrying out an illegal “targeted killing” program in which people far from any battlefield are determined to be enemies of the state and killed without charge or trial.

The executive branch has, in effect, claimed the unchecked authority to put the names of citizens and others on “kill lists” on the basis of a secret determination, based on secret evidence, that a person meets a secret definition of the enemy. The targeted killing program operates with virtually no oversight outside the executive branch, and essential details about the program remain secret, including what criteria are used to put people on CIA and military kill lists or how much evidence is required.

Outside of armed conflict zones, the use of lethal force is strictly limited by international law and, when it comes to U.S. citizens, the Constitution. Specifically, lethal force can be used only as a last resort against an imminent threat to life. Even in the context of an armed conflict against an armed group, the government may use lethal force only against individuals who are directly participating in hostilities against the U. S. Regardless of the context, whenever the government uses lethal force, it must take all possible steps to avoid harming civilian bystanders. These are not the standards that the executive branch is using.
,br>The U.S. continues to carry out illegal targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. The government must be held to account when it carries out such killings in violation of the Constitution and international law.

ACLU Litigation
Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta: On July 18, 2012, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s targeted killing of three U.S. citizens in drone strikes far from any armed conflict zone. The suit charges that the U.S. government’s killings of U.S. citizens Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi in Yemen in 2011 violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law.

Freedom of Information Act Cases:
Targeted Killing FOIA: On February 1, 2012, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information about the targeted killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen in September and October 2011: Anwar al-Awlaki; his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki; and Samir Khan. The lawsuit seeks disclosure of the legal memorandum written by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel that provided justifications for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi, as well as records describing the factual basis for the killings of all three Americans. In response, the government has refused to confirm or deny whether it killed these three citizens or even whether the CIA has a targeted killing program, despite numerous statements by U.S. officials to the media about the program.

Drone FOIA: In March 2010, the ACLU filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding that the government disclose basic information about the use of drones to conduct targeted killings. The lawsuit seeks disclosure of the legal basis, scope, and limits on the targeted killing program; information pertaining to the training, supervision, oversight, or discipline of UAV operators and others involved in the decision to execute a targeted killing using a drone; and data about the number of civilians and non-civilians killed in drone strikes. In response, the CIA has refused to even confirm or deny whether it has a drone program.

Al-Majalah Civilian Deaths FOIA: On April 17, 2012, the ACLU and CCR submitted a FOIA request seeking information about a December 2009 U.S. missile strike on a community in the al-Majalah region of the Abyan province of Yemen. The attack, which was the Obama administration's first known missile strike in Yemen, apparently targeted alleged “militants” but killed dozens of civilians, including at least 21 children. The U.S. government has yet to release basic information about the strike.

For information about domestic surveillance drones, see here.

"Drones" vs "UAVs" -- What's Behind A Name?

"Drones" vs "UAVs" -- What's Behind A Name?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:00am

Representatives of the drone industry and other drone boosters often make a point of saying they don’t like to use the word “drones.” When my colleague Catherine Crump and I were writing our drones report in 2011, we talked over what terminology we should use, and decided that since our job was to communicate, we should use the term that people would most clearly and directly understand. That word is “drones.”

Drone proponents would prefer that everyone use the term “UAV,” for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or “UAS,” for Unmanned Aerial System (“system” in order to encompass the entirety of the vehicle that flies, the ground-based controller, and the communications connection that connects the two). These acronyms are technical, bland, and bureaucratic. That’s probably their principal advantage from the point of view of those who want to separate them from the ugly, bloody, and controversial uses to which they’ve been put by the CIA and U.S. military overseas.

I suppose there is a case to be made that domestic drones are a different thing from overseas combat drones. Certainly, there’s a wide gulf separating a $17 million Reaper drone armed with Hellfire missiles and a hand-launched hobbyist craft buzzing around somebody’s back yard. But drone proponents themselves would be the first to say that drones are a tool—one that can be used for many different purposes. They can be used for fun, photography, science, surveillance, and yes, raining death upon people with the touch of a button from across the world. Even the overseas military uses of drones vary, including not just targeted killing but also surveillance and logistics.

Putting aside well-founded fears that even domestically we may someday see the deployment of weaponized drones, in the end, the difference between overseas and domestic drones is a difference in how the same tool is used. Regardless of whether you’ve got a Predator, a Reaper, a police craft, or a $150 backyard hobby rotorcraft, that tool is what it is. What it is is a drone.

I can’t touch on this subject without quoting from George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” in which Orwell argued that bland and needlessly complicated language was a political act—a symptom of attempts to cover up

Newest Word to Take on Orwellian Overtones in Internet Age: “Trust”

Newest Word to Take on Orwellian Overtones in Internet Age: “Trust”

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 5:44pm

What could be warmer and fuzzier than “trust”? Between two human beings, it’s a hard-won bond that binds them together. In society, it is a currency that helps create a prosperous and efficient economy and culture, as thinkers such as Francis…

Report Details Government’s Ability to Analyze Massive Aerial Surveillance Video Streams

Report Details Government’s Ability to Analyze Massive Aerial Surveillance Video Streams

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:15am

Yesterday I wrote about Dayton Ohio’s plan for an aerial surveillance system similar to the “nightmare scenario” ARGUS wide-area surveillance technology. Actually, ARGUS is just the most advanced of a number of such “persistent wide-area surveillance”…

What the Government Should Disclose About Its Targeted Killing Program

What the Government Should Disclose About Its Targeted Killing Program

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 11:36am

This post originally appeared on Politico.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently ruled that the Central Intelligence Agency may no longer refuse to acknowledge something that everyone knows to be true: the agency has "an interest"…

Obama's Drone Killing Program Slowly Emerges from the Secret State Shadows

Obama's Drone Killing Program Slowly Emerges from the Secret State Shadows

By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:11am

Should we be happy or worried that the CIA may, someday soon, no longer be able to order a drone pilot to shoot a Hellfire...

Victory in Court: CIA Can No Longer Refuse to "Confirm or Deny" on Drones

Victory in Court: CIA Can No Longer Refuse to "Confirm or Deny" on Drones

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 1:48pm

In an important victory for transparency, a federal appeals court today put an end to the CIA's absurd claims that it "cannot confirm or deny"...

Thanks to John Brennan, a Big and Bipartisan Pushback Against the Vast Killing Program

Thanks to John Brennan, a Big and Bipartisan Pushback Against the Vast Killing Program

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:46pm

Just two months ago, when President Obama nominated the architect of his vast killing program, John Brennan, to be CIA Director...

European Parliament Members Speak Out Against U.S. Targeted Killing Program

European Parliament Members Speak Out Against U.S. Targeted Killing Program

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 1:47pm

In a sign of the growing international concern over the U.S. targeted killing program, three European parliamentarians today expressed grave concern over the program, its human rights implications, and its destabilizing effects on international law.

In…

Hey Congress: Make the Sun Shine on the Targeted Killing Memos For All to See

Hey Congress: Make the Sun Shine on the Targeted Killing Memos For All to See

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 2:53pm

During his State of the Union Address a few weeks back, President Obama promised:

[I]n the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent…

The Softball Question That Wasn’t

The Softball Question That Wasn’t

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 3:42pm

It should have been a softball question.

During a Google+ Hangout yesterday, conservative commentator Lee Doren asked President Obama whether he claims the authority to kill a U.S. citizen suspected of being associated with al Qaeda or associated…

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