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.

VIDEO: On CNN, Nasser Al-Awlaki Demands "Accountability" for U.S. Drone Strike That Killed His Grandson

VIDEO: On CNN, Nasser Al-Awlaki Demands "Accountability" for U.S. Drone Strike That Killed His Grandson

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 5:23pm

Speaking passionately in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Nasser al-Awlaki discussed on television...

ACLU and CCR File Lawsuit Challenging Targeted Killing of Three U.S. Citizens

ACLU and CCR File Lawsuit Challenging Targeted Killing of Three U.S. Citizens

By Ateqah Khaki at 11:39am

Today, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s targeted killing of three U.S. citizens in drone strikes far from any armed conflict zone. 

In Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta (Al-Awlaki…

The Secrecy Double-Standard

By Ateqah Khaki at 5:35pm

For almost a decade, the American public has been told time and time again that some of our government's most controversial national security policies and programs are "secret." From warrantless wiretapping to the CIA's torture and "targeted…

In Court Today: Challenging the CIA's Targeted-Killing "Secrets"

In Court Today: Challenging the CIA's Targeted-Killing "Secrets"

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 11:08am

Disclosure of secrets has been in the air these last few months. We've witnessed a remarkable stream of revelations about the National Security Agency's vast and invasive surveillance apparatus, followed by government disclosures concerning hidden…

Broad Spectrum of Organizations Support ACLU Legal Fight for Transparency on U.S. Drone Program

Broad Spectrum of Organizations Support ACLU Legal Fight for Transparency on U.S. Drone Program

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 4:29pm

Today, nine organizations submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about the CIA's use of drones to carry out targeted killings around the world.  The organizations…

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…

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…

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…

U.S. Must Explain Targeted Killings of Its Own Citizens

U.S. Must Explain Targeted Killings of Its Own Citizens

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:41pm

Today the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information about the legal and factual basis for the targeted killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen. Last month, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed when unmanned…

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