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-Aulaqi, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan. The lawsuit seeks disclosure of the legal memorandum written by the Justice Department's 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 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. In April 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the government must disclose a secret memo. The opinion also ordered the government to publicly describe many other documents relating to the targeting killing program. The court released the memo to the public in June 2014. The ACLU is continuing to pursue additional secret memos and other documents.

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.
Obama Promised Transparency on Drones, But We're Still in the Dark

Obama Promised Transparency on Drones, But We're Still in the Dark

By Matthew Spurlock, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 11:24am
Targeted killings have been a central part of U.S. national security strategy for more than a decade, but the American public still knows scandalously little about who the government kills, and why. Today we're filing a new lawsuit in our continuing fight to fix that.
New Court Orders Signal More Drone Documents Are on the Way

New Court Orders Signal More Drone Documents Are on the Way

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 2:43pm

This was originally posted on Just Security.

For more than four years of Freedom of Information Act litigation concerning the government's targeted-killing program, the government managed to avoid releasing a single document in response to…

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…

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…

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…

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.

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.

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…

Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, a teenage boy with combed hair wearing glasses, smiling

Relative of Americans Killed by Drone Strikes: No Justice in U.S. Courts

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project at 1:29pm

Having lost faith in the ability of U.S. courts to provide justice and accountability for their relatives' deaths, the family members of three U.S. citizens killed by drone strikes in Yemen in 2011 have decided not to appeal a court decision dismissing…

Dear Senate, Demand to Read Drone Memos Before Voting on Barron Nomination

Dear Senate, Demand to Read Drone Memos Before Voting on Barron Nomination

By Zak Newman, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:08pm

The ACLU wrote today to the full Senate membership urging senators to read key memos on the drone targeted killing program before voting on the nomination of David Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. You can read the full letter here.

Mr.…

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