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GRAPHIC: How the Government Simultaneously Confirms AND Denies Targeted Killing

Brett Max Kaufman,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Center for Democracy
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September 13, 2012

Today, ProPublica published an important and illuminating news article and accompanying interactive web feature that demonstrates just how duplicitous the government is being regarding the CIA’s targeted killing program.

As we’ve argued in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records about the CIA’s use of drones to carry out targeted killings around the world, the government continues to claim that it can neither confirm nor deny whether it even has a drone-strike program at all, despite the numerous public statements of government officials discussing the CIA’s drone program. This is an untenable position, and next Thursday, we will be making that argument before the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

It can be hard to express how truly absurd the government’s position is, but the ProPublica feature—based on a database compiled by the ACLU’s stellar former intern, Emma Schindler—highlights the irreconcilable disconnect between the voluminous and continuous statements of government officials, in both public speeches and statements to the press, acknowledging the CIA’s use of drones to carry out targeted killings, and its ongoing attempt to tell the courts that its drone program is so secret that it cannot admit to its existence in the first place.

ProPublica’s new feature illustrates, in interactive form, the cascade of nearly two hundred statements by named and unnamed current and former government officials during President Obama’s first term acknowledging and, often, boasting of the drone-strike program. By visually highlighting both the timeline and volume of these official public acknowledgments, and starkly contrasting them with the government’s obstinate position in litigation, ProPublica has supplied a fresh and instructive representation of what the ACLU will argue in Washington next week—that the government simply cannot continue to publicly disclose information about the drone program while attempting to keep that information locked outside the federal courts.

The government’s pile of public disclosures got even larger last week, when, in a television interview with CNN, President Obama again acknowledged the existence of the drone program and described five principles that he says guides the government’s drone-targeting decisions. Further, at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the President’s re-election campaign distributed a video—a message “approved by Barack Obama”—seeking political advantage from highlighting particular CIA drone killings, including that of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. (The targeted killings of al-Awlaki, and two other U.S. citizens, are the subjects of two other lawsuits brought by the ACLU.)

And yet the government’s position has not changed one bit in court. Stay tuned as we take our argument against the government’s double game to the D.C. Circuit next Thursday.

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