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.
Death Without Due Process

Death Without Due Process

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project at 11:37am
This post was originally published by The Philadelphia Inquirer. On Wednesday, Hina Shamsi will take part in an Intelligence Squared debate on the question "Does the president have constitutional authority under the due process clause to kill U.S. citizens abroad, or is it a violation of this clause to unilaterally decide to target and kill Americans?"
Selective Disclosure About Targeted Killing

Selective Disclosure About Targeted Killing

By Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director and Director of ACLU Center for Democracy at 10:47am

This piece was originally published on JustSecurity.org on October 7, 2013.

For several years, the ACLU has been pressing the Obama administration to be more transparent about the targeted-killing program. I'm starting to wonder whether it…

In Court Today: Challenging the CIA's Targeted-Killing "Secrets"

In Court Today: Challenging the CIA's Targeted-Killing "Secrets"

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 11:08am

Disclosure of secrets has been in the air these last few months. We've witnessed a remarkable stream of revelations about the National Security Agency's vast and invasive surveillance apparatus, followed by government disclosures concerning hidden…

ACLU Challenges Government’s "Fiction of Deniability" on Use of Drones for Targeted Killing

ACLU Challenges Government’s "Fiction of Deniability" on Use of Drones for Targeted Killing

By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 4:56pm

On Friday, the ACLU asked the federal district court in Washington, D.C. to reject the Central Intelligence Agency's argument that it cannot provide any information in response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about the use of drones…

WATCH: Administration Silent as Targeted Killing Legal Debate Continues

WATCH: Administration Silent as Targeted Killing Legal Debate Continues

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 2:44pm

Following a brief lull in U.S. targeted killings abroad, a series of drone strikes recently killed several dozen people in Yemen. Who was killed? What was the legal and evidentiary basis for the killings? What kind of deliberation led to their deaths?

We…

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

Aerospace Group Issues Recommendations for State Drone Legislation

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:49pm

Bills aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones are sweeping the nation. We've been working on domestic drones since before the issue crossed legislators' radars, so, knowing their reach, we were hopeful when several leading state government…

In Court Today: Challenging the Drone Killings of Three Americans

In Court Today: Challenging the Drone Killings of Three Americans

By Josh Bell, Media Strategist, ACLU at 10:02am

The New York Times published a powerful op-ed yesterday by Nasser Al-Aulaqi about the killing of his grandson Abdulrahman...

A Year in Targeted Killing: Small Steps Forward on Transparency, Still No Accountability

A Year in Targeted Killing: Small Steps Forward on Transparency, Still No Accountability

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 1:01pm

One year ago today, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government's drone killings of three American citizens in Yemen in 2011. Tomorrow, we will appear in court to…

In Senate Testimony, Yemeni Activist Describes Human Costs of Targeted Killing Program

In Senate Testimony, Yemeni Activist Describes Human Costs of Targeted Killing Program

By Farea Al-Muslimi, Activist at 11:47am

The following is the oral testimony given by Yemeni democracy and human rights activist Farea Al-Muslimi at yesterday's Senate...

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…

Statistics image