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.

CIA’s Linguistic Somersault Takes to the Sky

EXISTENCE OR NONEXISTENCE: CIA’s Linguistic Somersault Takes to the Sky

By David Birkin at 12:05pm
This past Memorial Day weekend, New Yorkers who happened to look up may have seen the words EXISTENCE OR NONEXISTENCE appear across the skyline in synchronized bursts of white smoke. 
Americans Deserve an Explanation for Targeted Killings

Americans Deserve an Explanation for Targeted Killings

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 3:27pm

The most important parts of the drone memo are the parts you can’t see.

The memo, released by a federal court on Monday in response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU and The New York Times, addresses the government’s authority to carry out…

Open the Drone Files

Open the Drone Files

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 10:40am

A federal appellate court's publication on Monday of the so-called "drone memo" finally allows the American public to evaluate the legal theories that were the basis for one of the Obama administration's most controversial acts – the extrajudicial…

Appeals Court Rules Government Can't Have It Both Ways on Targeted Killing

Appeals Court Rules Government Can't Have It Both Ways on Targeted Killing

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 4:49pm

In an important opinion issued today in the ACLU's ongoing litigation surrounding the government's targeted killing program, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit roundly rejected the government's extreme claims of official secrecy over…

New Eyes in the Sky: Protecting Privacy from Domestic Drone Surveillance

New Eyes in the Sky: Protecting Privacy from Domestic Drone Surveillance

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:32am

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – UAV’s or “drones” as they are called – are on the way. Just this week the Los Angeles Times reported that Customs and Border Patrol agency has been lending their Predator drones to law enforcement…

Killing of Al-Awlaki: Even When Trying to Fight Terrorism, the President Must Still Follow the Constitution

Killing of Al-Awlaki: Even When Trying to Fight Terrorism, the President Must Still Follow the Constitution

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 4:34pm

The debate over the U.S. government's targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki continued this week. ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer took on former Bush lawyer (and torture memo writer) John Yoo on Southern California Public Radio’s AirTalk…

NYU–Stanford Report Documents U.S. Government’s False Narrative on Drone Strikes

NYU–Stanford Report Documents U.S. Government’s False Narrative on Drone Strikes

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 4:18pm

Today, researchers at the law schools of New York University and Stanford University published an important and comprehensively documented report about the human and strategic costs of the United States’ drone program in Pakistan. The report marshals…

Congress Trying to Fast-Track Domestic Drone Use, Sideline Privacy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:39pm

Congress is poised to give final passage to legislation that would give a big boost to domestic unmanned aerial surveillance — aka “drones.”

As we explained in our recent report, drone technology is advancing by leaps and…

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:49pm

Bills aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones are sweeping the nation. We've been working on domestic drones since before the issue crossed legislators' radars, so, knowing their reach, we were hopeful when several leading state government…

A Year in Targeted Killing: Small Steps Forward on Transparency, Still No Accountability

A Year in Targeted Killing: Small Steps Forward on Transparency, Still No Accountability

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 1:01pm

One year ago today, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government's drone killings of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011. Tomorrow, we will appear in court to…

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