A U.S. military raid in Yemen on January 29, 2017, left one Navy SEAL and many Yemeni civilians dead. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State. In May 2017, we filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to enforce the request, which asks for records including the legal basis and decision-making process used for the raid, as well as assessments of civilian deaths afterwards.

President Trump called the mission in the village of al Ghayil “successful,” but news reports and members of Congress have called that description into question. The military has said that between four and 12 civilians were killed, but Human Rights Watch and journalists have reported that the true number is likely higher — at least 14 and as many as 25. According to a journalist who visited the village, the dead include nine children ranging in age from 3 months to 12 years old.

The Obama administration put in place rules requiring that there be “near certainty” that no civilians would be killed in military strikes “outside areas of active hostilities,” such as in Yemen. But the Trump administration reportedly exempted certain regions of Yemen from that rule, “temporarily” designating them as “areas of active hostilities.” The ACLU’s FOIA request also asks for information about this change, which the government has not explained.

The Departments of Defense, Justice, and State have produced some records—although most were heavily redacted—but refused to produce many others. The ACLU is challenging these withholdings.

Unlike other agencies, the C.I.A. refused even to confirm or deny that it had records, claiming that doing so would reveal whether the C.I.A. had an intelligence interest in the raid—a supposedly secret fact. The ACLU challenged the C.I.A.’s secrecy claim, arguing that it is unjustified because the CIA’s intelligence interest had already been publicly disclosed by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. In a victory for transparency, the federal court agreed, and ordered the C.I.A. to conduct a search and either produce records or justify any other specific secrecy claims it makes.

We have seen that the Trump White House cannot be trusted to give the public accurate information, which is especially critical when the president authorizes military action that kills civilians. The public has a right to know about any exceptions the Trump administration is making to civilian protection rules generally and what really happened with this tragic operation specifically. The administration’s explanations have little credibility, and the documents sought are essential for public accountability when civilians are killed in the name of our national security.


See documents released under all of the ACLU’s targeted killing FOIA requests

FOIA Documents

Released Document Title
10/12/2018White House Memorandum Memorializing Presidential Authorization on DOD Proposals Related to Yemen (01/27/2017)
09/28/2018Task Force 111 Commander Memorandum for the Record re: Civilian Casualties in Al Bayda, Yemen (02/01/2017)
09/28/2018DOD Emails re DOD Support to the UAE Shabwah Offensive (01/26/2017)
09/28/2018DOD Emails re Shabwah and Bam Intell Sharing (01/27/2017)
09/28/2018DOD Emails re USCENTCOM Intent for Shabwah Kinetic Fires (01/31/2017)
09/28/2018DOD Emails re [Redacted Subject] (01/29/2017)
09/28/2018DOS Emails re Yemen DC Readout (08/07/2017)
09/28/2018Forwarded DOD Email re Shabwah Bi-lateral raid (01/26/2018)
09/28/2018Forwarded DOD Emails re CIVCAS Credibility Assessment (02/02/2017)
09/28/2018Forwarded DOD Emails re Shabwah and BAM Intell Sharing (01/27/2017)
09/28/2018Secretary of Defense Memorandum for Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (01/24/2017)
09/28/2018Secretary of Defense Memorandum re Request to Extend Authorization for DoD Support to UAE in Yemen (04/28/2017)
07/20/2018DOD Emails Re: Yemen DC Readout (08/07/2017)
07/20/2018White House Memorandum re: Deputies Committee on Yemen (01/26/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Ambassador Leaf (UAE) (11/16/2016)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Cyber in Support of Shabwah Offensive (01/19/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: January 26 Meeting on Yemen and South Sudan (01/26/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Joint Proposal PPG Variance Request for Direct Action in Yemen (01/06/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Possible Yemen Raid (01/26/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Post-op Review of Yemen Raid (01/30/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Released Message for Support to Shabwah Offensive (01/30/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Support to UAE Shabwah Offensive (12/05/2017)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Weekly Report & RFIs for Interagency Lawyers Group (12/24/2016)
01/31/2018Redacted DOD Emails re: Yemen-Shabwah Offensive (12/15/2016)
12/29/2017Action Memo for SecDef from Acting Under SecDef (Policy) (12/31/2016)
12/29/2017Brief re: US Support of UAE Shabwah Offensive (01/01/2017)
12/29/2017DOD Emails Finalizing Plans for US Involvement in UAE Shabwah Offensive (11/01/2016)
12/29/2017DOD Emails Soliciting Approval and Discussing PR Strategy of US Involvement in UAE Shabwah (01/27/2017)
12/29/2017DOD Emails re: US Involvement in Shabwah Offensive (06/10/2017)
12/29/2017DOD Operational Proposal for Support to the UAE Shabwah Offensive (11/30/2016)
12/29/2017DOD Redacted Emails re: Operation Update #5 (01/28/2017)
12/29/2017DOD Support to the UAE Shabwah Offensive [15 Pages Redacted] (12/01/2016)
12/29/2017Emails re: Bilateral Raid CONOP (12/20/2016)
12/29/2017Emails re: SHABWAH Bi-Lateral Raid (with Attached Memos and Brief) (01/26/2017)
12/29/2017Memorandum for Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (11/30/2001)
12/29/2017Redacted Emails re: CCJA OYS Follow-Up (01/28/2017)
12/29/2017Redacted Emails re: DOD Proposal for Lethal Action in Support of Partners in Somalia (12/25/2016)
12/29/2017Redacted Emails re: Support to UAE Shabwah Offensive and Kinetic Fires (12/02/2016)
12/29/2017Redacted Emails re:Authorization and Logistics (01/26/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted DOS Emails re: Counterterrorism Raid in alBayda Yemen and Media Strategy (01/29/2017)
12/15/2017DOS War Powers Security Memo to Ltg Kellogg (06/01/2017)
12/15/2017RTQ Sheet on U.S. Airstrikes in Yemen (02/03/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted DOS Emails re: SBU Yemen Action Memo (02/13/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted DOS Emails re: Short Fuse Request for clearance/input for Yemen AA (05/04/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted DOS Emails re: clearance issuance between DOS NEA and CT (02/08/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted DOS Emails re: release of CIVCA Incident Report (02/02/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted Emails re: Media Advisory and Flash Clearance for Yemen Raid (05/23/2017)
12/15/2017Redacted Press Guidance re: DOD Airstrikes in Yemen (02/09/2017)
11/17/2017DOD CENTCOM CCJA Emails re: Yemen Raid (02/28/2017)
11/17/2017DOD CENTCOM Special Operations Emails re Yemen Raid (10/25/2016)
11/17/2017DOS Special Operations and Press Emails re Yemen Raid (01/26/2017)
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