NEW YORK — A U.S. district court has ordered the Trump administration to lift the total secrecy surrounding its rules for drone strikes and other killings abroad. This order comes as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and New York Times in December 2017.
The Trump administration’s rules, known as the “Principles, Standards, and Procedures,” are believed to loosen Obama-era policy restrictions aimed at limiting civilian casualties in areas “outside of active hostilities,” such as in Yemen, Somalia, among others. The district court rejected the administration’s claim that it could not even confirm or deny whether the new rules exist. The Trump lethal force rules reportedly include lifting a requirement that a target must present a “continuing, imminent” threat to the United States, and permitting lethal strikes against a broader category of people, including those with no special skills or leadership roles. The Trump administration’s rules also reportedly eliminate the high-level vetting required for each individual strike, instead requiring only “higher-level approval” of “country plans” that will be reviewed annually.
Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, had the following comment:
“Just like during the last administration, a court has decided that President Trump has stretched implausible claims of secrecy over the government’s killing rules too far. The government should not only acknowledge these new rules exist, but make them public. Credible media and human rights groups have made clear that the Trump administration is killing more people in more places, with civilians and their communities bearing the brunt of tragic costs. We look forward to the government’s response and to ensuring the administration is held accountable for this country’s lethal force program abroad.”