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.

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...

Brennan’s Path to Langley Shouldn’t Be Easy

Brennan’s Path to Langley Shouldn’t Be Easy

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 5:41pm

On Thursday, John Brennan, the White House deputy national security advisor for homeland security and counterterrorism, will come before the Senate to interview for one of the most powerful jobs in the world: director of the Central Intelligence Agency.…

The Justice Department’s White Paper on Targeted Killing

The Justice Department’s White Paper on Targeted Killing

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 10:04pm

Michael Isikoff at NBC News has obtained a Justice Department white paper that purports to explain when it would be lawful for the government...

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…

U.N. Human Rights Expert to Investigate U.S. Targeted Killing Program

U.N. Human Rights Expert to Investigate U.S. Targeted Killing Program

By Allison Frankel, Criminal Law Reform Project, ACLU at 5:28pm

The U.S. government’s targeted killing policy and its use of drones for killing will be the subject of an investigation by the United Nations, it was announced today. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson,…

Brennan Confirmation Hearing: Time to Focus on Torture and Killing

Brennan Confirmation Hearing: Time to Focus on Torture and Killing

By Matthew Harwood, Media Strategist, ACLU at 9:09am

ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Chris Anders appeared on “UP with Chris Hayes” Sunday morning for a 40-minute, in-depth discussion of President Obama’s nomination of his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to run the CIA.

Anders…

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...

Is the Obama administration's drone war legal? Why should we be concerned?

Is the Obama administration's drone war legal? Why should we be concerned?

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 12:23pm

This was originally posted on PrivacySOS.

Former Bush administration attorney John Bellinger, ACLU Center for Democracy Director Jameel Jaffer and WSJ Pentagon correspondent Julian Barnes appeared on NPR's On Point program to…

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…

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