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.

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 information about the program. In ordering the release of a 2010 legal memorandum by the Office of Legal Counsel analyzing the potential targeted killing of an American citizen, as well as other information about records the government has previously refused to describe at all, the Second Circuit became the first court to order the release of a document related to the government's targeted killing program. It also became the second federal appeals court in the last 13 months to hold that the government has pushed its secrecy claims surrounding the targeted killing program past their breaking point.
The Drone Program Could Be Putting the Whole World at Risk

The Drone Program Could Be Putting the Whole World at Risk

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 4:43pm

The Obama's administration's lethal drone program threatens to set a "dangerous precedent" for other nations to follow and to put the United States on a "slippery slope" toward perpetual war, according to a bipartisan panel that includes former military…

Five Takeaways from the Newly Released Drone Memo

Five Takeaways from the Newly Released Drone Memo

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 4:00pm

It's an important victory for transparency, but still doesn't answer many key questions about the government's claimed authority to kill Americans outside active battlefields.

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. 

The seemingly spontaneous event was a project…

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…

The Drone Memo Cometh

The Drone Memo Cometh

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 11:18am

In response to consolidated lawsuits filed by the ACLU and The New York Times, the Second Circuit recently ordered the Obama administration to disclose (with redactions) one of the legal memos authorizing the government's premeditated killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen. The government has challenged certain aspects of the court's decision, apparently with some degree of success (more on that below), and it has managed to defer the release of the memo by two months. To its credit, though, the court appears unwilling to allow the government to delay the release of the memo indefinitely. If the court holds to a plan it set forth ten days ago, it will publish the memo itself this coming week.

Statistics image