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.

Further Reflections About John Brennan's Targeted Killing Speech

Further Reflections About John Brennan's Targeted Killing Speech

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 11:48am
The president's chief counterterrorism advisor delivered a speech yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. We issued a first reaction here. Here are some further thoughts:
White House Confirms Existence of Targeted Killing Program

White House Confirms Existence of Targeted Killing Program

By Ateqah Khaki at 2:59pm

Today, the New York Times ran an ACLU op-ed about the CIA's misuse of secrecy to withhold information from the public about the agency's targeted killing program, which has so far killed thousands of people, including several Americans.

The…

Calling Out the CIA for Its Secrecy Game on Targeted Killing

Calling Out the CIA for Its Secrecy Game on Targeted Killing

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 6:21pm

Today Andrew Rosenthal of The New York Times published a thoughtful column discussing the untenable position taken by the government in response to the ACLU's two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking information about the CIA's targeted…

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…

Drone Strikes Filing Today: Appealing the CIA's Attempt to Hide the Worst-Kept Secret in the World

Drone Strikes Filing Today: Appealing the CIA's Attempt to Hide the Worst-Kept Secret in the World

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:17pm

Today the ACLU filed its appeal brief in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about the CIA's use of drones to carry out targeted killings around the world. Like in our separate FOIA case seeking information about the legal and…

VIDEO: See What Armed Domestic Drones Look Like

VIDEO: See What Armed Domestic Drones Look Like

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 4:09pm

A big worry about U.S. law enforcement’s expanding use of drones is the lack of rules protecting from privacy violations. But drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote controlled aircraft with…

VIDEO: Presidential Power and the Targeted Killing Debate

VIDEO: Presidential Power and the Targeted Killing Debate

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 5:34pm

The Obama administration’s strained defense of its targeted killing program is continuing to make people think long and hard about the government’s asserted authority to mark an American for death without any judicial oversight whatsoever.

Today…

VIDEO: Holder Talks About Targeted Killing Program While DOJ Says It Can't

VIDEO: Holder Talks About Targeted Killing Program While DOJ Says It Can't

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 7:55pm

On Monday the Obama administration made its latest attempt to defend the government’s targeted killing program. Attorney General Eric Holder provided the most detailed public discussion yet of the program, but disappointingly took the “trust…

In Targeted Killing Speech, Holder Mischaracterizes Debate Over Judicial Review

In Targeted Killing Speech, Holder Mischaracterizes Debate Over Judicial Review

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 7:34pm

In a system of constitutional checks and balances, it simply cannot be the case that the executive branch alone should determine whether U.S. citizens have the right to due process.

VIDEO: Report on Drone Strike Civilian Casualties and New Questions About Legality

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:00pm

Over the weekend, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Sunday Times of London published a detailed and distressing report revealing that under the Obama Administration, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have repeatedly killed…

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