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.

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 factual basis for the targeted killing of U.S. citizens, the CIA takes the position in this lawsuit that it can neither confirm nor deny whether it has a drone strike program at all. This is despite the fact that the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice all responded that they do in fact have documents on the program. As we told the court today, the CIA's position is simply untenable.
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.

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…

Civilian Deaths from CIA Drone Strikes: Zero or Dozens?

Civilian Deaths from CIA Drone Strikes: Zero or Dozens?

By Jonathan Manes, National Security Project at 11:09am

For well over a year now, the ACLU has been urging the government to level with the public about the number of civilians that are being killed in its drone strike/targeted killing operations. The government has been tight-lipped — refusing…

New ACLU Video on Targeted Killings

By Ateqah Khaki at 1:26pm

Last week in an interview with The Washington Times, the top U.S. national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, John Brennan, suggested that the government is tracking "dozens" of U.S. citizens, who could potentially…

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"…

ACLU Court Filing Argues for Judicial Review of U.S. Targeted Killings of Americans

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 11:54am

The courts have a crucial role to play in determining the lawfulness of U.S. drone killings of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011...

Obama’s Playbook: Still Killing Outside the Lines

Obama’s Playbook: Still Killing Outside the Lines

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 3:16pm

To hear the Obama administration tell it, through anonymous leaks to the press of course, the United States’ “targeted killing” program will soon be bound by clear and “more stringent” rules before a drone strike gets…

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