NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today demanding that the Trump administration release documents about a January 29 raid in Yemen that 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 and is now asking a federal court to enforce it. The request 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.
“We have seen that this White House cannot be trusted to give the public accurate information, which is especially critical when the president authorizes military action that kills civilians,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The Obama administration had a poor transparency record about lethal strikes in Yemen, but it at least put in place safeguards aimed at protecting civilians from harm. 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 we seek are essential for public accountability when civilians are killed in the name of our national security.”
Today’s complaint is here: