In October 2011, the ACLU submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information about the targeted killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen: Anwar Al-Aulaqi; his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi; and Samir Khan. In June 2014, a memo justifying the killing of Anwar Al-Aulaqi was released in the resulting FOIA lawsuit.
The FOIA request 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 (sometimes spelled Al-Awlaki), as well as records describing the factual basis for the killings of all three Americans.
After the government failed to release records, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the CIA, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice in February 2012. The government initially refused to even confirm or deny whether it had records related to the ACLU’s request — and whether it was responsible for the killings — despite numerous public statements by U.S. officials about the program and its legal basis. Now, the government has acknowledged its responsibility for the three killings, but argues that it cannot describe any of the documents in its possession about their legal and factual basis without endangering national security.
In April 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a January 2013 district court decision, and held that the government must disclose a previously unreleased memorandum relating to the targeting killing of an American citizen, which the government released (with redactions) in June. The appeals court ruling also ordered the government to publicly describe many other documents relating to the targeting killing program, about which it had previously refused to provide any information.
After the case returned to the district court, in October 2014, the court ordered the government to release portions of a different legal memorandum, but allowed it to withhold eight others in their entirety. In November 2015, the appeals court upheld the district court’s ruling.
In a separate district court ruling, in July 2015, the court ordered the government to release seven additional documents, but allowed it to withhold many others. Both the ACLU and the government appealed the ruling, and the case is pending in the appellate court.