In March 2015, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding information about the government’s targeted killing program, including the Obama administration’s Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) under which the program operates. In a crucial victory, the government released a redacted version of the PPG and four other documents. Many other documents were kept secret, however, and the ACLU continues to seek additional records concerning the specific legal standards the government invokes, and how they apply in practice.

U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians, in at least half a dozen countries outside of armed conflict zones. Many of those killed have been children. The government’s lethal force program raises critical legal and ethical concerns and is the source of resentment and anger both in countries in which killings occur, and more broadly. President Obama committed to providing greater transparency about the program, but it is still shrouded in excessive secrecy that shields it from public scrutiny.

The information we seek includes records on the law and policies the government uses to justify lethal force, how the government picks targets, before-the-fact assessments of potential civilian casualties, "after-action" investigations into who was actually killed, and the number, identities, legal status, and suspected affiliations of those killed, intentionally or not. In August 2016, in response to a court order, the government released a redacted version of the PPG, which details the government’s internal procedures for lethal strikes abroad.  After release of the PPG and four other documents relating to the government’s targeted killing policies, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the government did not have to disclose additional documents about the program.  The ACLU continues to seek the specific legal standards the government invokes for killings and those standards are applied in practice.

This case is one of three FOIA lawsuits the ACLU has litigated in pursuit of more transparency about the targeted killing program.  One of them sought information about the strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen, and, the other sought the legal and factual bases for the government’s use of drones to kill people overseas.


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

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