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.
In Court Today: Fighting the CIA's Secrecy Claims on Drones

In Court Today: Fighting the CIA's Secrecy Claims on Drones

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 7:41am
This morning the ACLU will appear before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about the CIA’s use of drone aircraft to carry out targeted killings around the world. We will argue that the court should put an end to the government’s double game of selectively disclosing information about the program in public while obstinately refusing to confirm or deny the very existence of the program in federal court.
GRAPHIC: How the Government Simultaneously Confirms AND Denies Targeted Killing

GRAPHIC: How the Government Simultaneously Confirms AND Denies Targeted Killing

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 3:59pm

Today, ProPublica published an important and illuminating news article and accompanying interactive web feature that demonstrates just how duplicitous the government is being regarding the CIA’s targeted killing program.

As we’ve…

ACLU and CCR File Lawsuit Challenging Targeted Killing of Three U.S. Citizens

ACLU and CCR File Lawsuit Challenging Targeted Killing of Three U.S. Citizens

By Ateqah Khaki at 11:39am

Today, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s targeted killing of three U.S. citizens in drone strikes far from any armed conflict zone. 

In Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta (Al-Awlaki…

The Government’s Pseudo-Secrecy Snow Job on Targeted Killing

The Government’s Pseudo-Secrecy Snow Job on Targeted Killing

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:59am

Just before a midnight deadline on Wednesday, the government filed its legal brief responding to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information about the legal and factual basis for the deaths of three U.S. citizens in targeted…

U.S. Targeted Killings Program: A Dangerous Precedent

U.S. Targeted Killings Program: A Dangerous Precedent

By Allison Frankel, Criminal Law Reform Project, ACLU at 4:55pm

ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi delivered a statement at the U.N. Human Rights Council today calling on the U.S. government to provide transparency and accountability in its targeted killing program. While noting that targeted killings…

Calls for Greater Transparency and Accountability for Targeted Killings at U.N. Human Rights Council

Calls for Greater Transparency and Accountability for Targeted Killings at U.N. Human Rights Council

By Allison Frankel, Criminal Law Reform Project, ACLU at 11:20am

Yesterday marked the opening of the 20th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. ACLU Human Rights Program Director Jamil Dakwar and National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi are in Geneva to attend the Session, and will discuss…

Selective Leaks Worst of All Worlds for Free Speech

Selective Leaks Worst of All Worlds for Free Speech

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 1:21pm

As the election summer heats up, Republicans in Congress are making hay with what they claim are selective leaks by the Obama administration, designed to bolster the president’s national security cred. At a Senate Judiciary hearing yesterday,…

Why Targeted Killing is “Unlawful and Dangerous”

Why Targeted Killing is “Unlawful and Dangerous”

By Ateqah Khaki & Hannah Mercuris at 2:08pm

This morning, USA Today ran an op-ed by ACLU National Security Project director, Hina Shamsi about the U.S. government’s unlawful targeted killing program. She writes:

Today, our government is killing people in countries in which the…

VIDEO: Surveillance, Secrecy, and Government Accountability

VIDEO: Surveillance, Secrecy, and Government Accountability

By Amanda Corlett, ACLU at 5:31pm
Last month, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer participated in a panel convened by Open Society Foundations in New York City entitled National Security Secrecy and Surveillance: Defending the Public’s Right to Know.    The conversation,…
First the 'targeted killing' campaign, then the targeted propaganda campaign

First the 'targeted killing' campaign, then the targeted propaganda campaign

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy & Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:10am

Originally posted on The Guardian.

A story in last week's New York Times painted a remarkably detailed picture of the US government's so-called "targeted killing" campaign, a campaign that involves the use of unmanned aerial vehicles…

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