In a Freedom of Information Act request filed on January 13, 2010, the ACLU asked the government to disclose the legal and factual basis for its use of predator drones to conduct "targeted killings" overseas. In particular, the ACLU sought to find out when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killings.
The FOIA request was filed with the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the Office of Legal Counsel), the Department of State, and the CIA. The Departments of Defense, Justice, and State responded by releasing some records and withholding others. The CIA denied the request by refusing to confirm or deny whether the CIA drone strike program even exists. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the CIA in June 2010, arguing that the CIA’s response was not lawful because the CIA Director and other officials had already publicly acknowledged the existence of the CIA’s drone program. After the court ruled in favor of the CIA, the ACLU appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In an important victory for transparency, in March 2013 the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision by a 3-0 vote, ruling that the CIA could no longer deny its interest in the program. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court, where the ACLU narrowed the request to certain categories of documents, including legal analysis and information about who is being killed. After the district court ruled the documents were properly classified, the ACLU appealed the decision in July 2015. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in April 2016.
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Court of Appeals (D.C.)
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