ACLU Statement on President Biden’s Overdue Release of Rules Governing Drone Strikes and Lethal Force Abroad

June 30, 2023 5:40 pm

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has released the rules governing lethal strikes outside of recognized warzones abroad in response to lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties and The New York Times after the news outlet reported their existence in 2022.

Presidents Obama and Trump also issued initially secret lethal force policies, which became public in redacted form after the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times sued and forced their release in 2016 and 2021.

Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, issued the following response:

“While we welcome the Biden administration’s release of its lethal force rules, it should not require lawsuits to bring these controversial killing policies to light. And while these rules appear to restore the minimal safeguards against civilian harm that the Trump administration previously gutted, they still do not go far enough.

“Only Congress has the power to authorize use of force abroad, yet these rules further entrench unilateral assertions of presidential power. Biden’s promise to protect civilians rings hollow as these rules continue to rely upon vague and permissive terms like ‘imminence’ and ‘near certainty’ to excuse harm time and time again. And most concerningly, the policy’s weak civilian harm rules do not even apply to strikes conducted in ‘collective self-defense’ of U.S. partner forces, a novel legal theory the Biden administration has repeatedly invoked to exempt deadly strikes in Somalia from its rules.

“Until these loopholes are closed, we will continue to see America’s lethal strikes program exact an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black civilians around the world, perpetuating the very wars President Biden pledged to end.”

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