ACLU Seeks Information On Predator Drone Program

March 16, 2010 4:45 pm

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit today demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas. In particular, the lawsuit asks for information on when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties and other basic information essential for assessing the wisdom and legality of using armed drones to conduct targeted killings.

“The public has a right to know whether the targeted killings being carried out in its name are consistent with international law and with the country’s interests and values,” said Jonathan Manes, a legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. “The Obama administration should disclose basic information about the program, including its legal basis and limits, and the civilian casualty toll thus far.”

The CIA and the military have used unmanned drones to target and kill individuals not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Pakistan and, in at least one case in 2002, Yemen. The technology allows U.S. personnel to observe targeted individuals in real time and launch missiles intended to kill them from control centers located thousands of miles away. Recent reports, including public statements from the director of national intelligence, indicate that U.S. citizens have been placed on the list of targets who can be hunted and killed with drones.

The ACLU made an initial FOIA request for information on the drone program in January. Today’s lawsuit against the Defense Department, the State Department and the Justice Department seeks to enforce that request. None of the three agencies have provided any documents in response to the request, nor have they given any reason for withholding documents. The CIA answered the ACLU’s request by refusing to confirm or deny the existence of any relevant documents. The CIA is not a defendant in today’s lawsuit because the ACLU will first appeal the CIA’s non-response to the Agency Release Panel.

“The government’s use of drones to conduct targeted killings raises complicated questions – not only legal questions, but policy and moral questions as well,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “These kinds of questions ought to be discussed and debated publicly, not resolved secretly behind closed doors. While the Obama administration may legitimately withhold intelligence information as well as sensitive information about military strategy, it should disclose basic information about the scope of the drone program, the legal basis for the program and the civilian casualties that have resulted from the program.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit seeks, in addition to information about the legal basis for the drone program, information about how the program is overseen and data regarding the number of civilians and non-civilians killed in the strikes. Estimates of civilian casualties provided by anonymous government officials quoted in the press and by various non-governmental analysts differ dramatically, from the dozens to the hundreds, giving an incomplete and inconsistent picture of the human cost of the program.

Attorneys on the case are Manes, Jaffer and Ben Wizner of the ACLU National Security Project and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital.

The ACLU’s complaint can be found here:

The ACLU’s FOIA request can be found here:

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