Targeted Killings

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.
 
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.

Will You Stand With Us at Tuesday’s Killing Program Hearing? (Updated)

By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:00am
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Sen. Rand Paul will not be testifying at today’s hearing, due to scheduling conflicts that arose from the hearing's time change. It is now scheduled take place at 4:00 p.m. EDT. Click here for a full list of the witnesses who will be testifying. 
International Human Rights Body Seeking Answers on U.S. Civil and Political Rights Record

International Human Rights Body Seeking Answers on U.S. Civil and Political Rights Record

By Allison Frankel, Criminal Law Reform Project, ACLU at 4:16pm

An international human rights body is set to question the United States on its obligations under a key human rights treaty. The U.N. Human Rights Committee, an independent body of experts tasked with monitoring compliance with the International Covenant…

CIA to Promote Head of "Black Site" Where Torture Occurred?

CIA to Promote Head of "Black Site" Where Torture Occurred?

By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:23am

Update (5/7/2013): CIA Director John Brennan has replaced the acting head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, who is also the subject of this blog post. This important news hopefully signals Brennan’s commitment to enforcing the letter and…

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"…

Obama's Drone Killing Program Slowly Emerges from the Secret State Shadows

Obama's Drone Killing Program Slowly Emerges from the Secret State Shadows

By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:11am

Should we be happy or worried that the CIA may, someday soon, no longer be able to order a drone pilot to shoot a Hellfire...

Victory in Court: CIA Can No Longer Refuse to "Confirm or Deny" on Drones

Victory in Court: CIA Can No Longer Refuse to "Confirm or Deny" on Drones

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 1:48pm

In an important victory for transparency, a federal appeals court today put an end to the CIA's absurd claims that it "cannot confirm or deny"...

Thanks to John Brennan, a Big and Bipartisan Pushback Against the Vast Killing Program

Thanks to John Brennan, a Big and Bipartisan Pushback Against the Vast Killing Program

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:46pm

Just two months ago, when President Obama nominated the architect of his vast killing program, John Brennan, to be CIA Director...

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…

Hey Congress: Make the Sun Shine on the Targeted Killing Memos For All to See

Hey Congress: Make the Sun Shine on the Targeted Killing Memos For All to See

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 2:53pm

During his State of the Union Address a few weeks back, President Obama promised:

[I]n the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent…

ACLU Briefs German Parliamentarians on U.S. Targeted Killing Program

ACLU Briefs German Parliamentarians on U.S. Targeted Killing Program

By Katie Haas, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 3:37pm

In Berlin yesterday, ACLU attorney Steven Watt attended a German parliamentary hearing on human rights and counterterrorism to brief lawmakers on the U.S. targeted killing program, in which thousands of people have been killed, many far from any battlefield.…

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