Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ACLU Sues To Obtain Info On Targeted Killings

I've previously written about last September's drone attack in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda.  (See, e.g., International Execution.)  Samir Kahn, also a U.S. citizen, was reportedly killed in the same attack.  Two weeks later, al-Alwaki's 16-year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki,  was killed elsewhere in Yemen

Last week, the ACLU filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act after the government refused to release records on the factual and legal bases for using drones to target United States citizens for assassination overseas.

From the ACLU's website:
Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.
The New York Times recently filed a similar suit that seeks the legal memos on which the targeted killing program is based.   But, the ACLU's suit goes further, seeking, in addition "the government’s evidentiary basis for strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen in the fall of 2011. We’re also seeking information about the process by which the administration adds Americans to secret government “'kill lists.'”

The Department of Justice, Department of Defense and the CIA have refused to provide any records in response to the ACLU's FOIA requests, and won't even confirm that any records responsive to the requests even exist.  As the ACLU states, "essentially, these agencies are saying the targeted killing program is so secret that they can’t even acknowledge that it exists."

This is outrageous given that the President and Secretary of Defense Panetta (most recently on 60 Minutes) each have publicly acknowledged the existence of the program and have defended, if not boasted of, its use.  As the ACLU argues, this self-serving and highly selective attitude towards disclosure and transparency is unacceptable:
Officials cannot be allowed to release bits of information about the targeted killing program when they think it will bolster their position, but refuse even to confirm the existence of a targeted killing program when organizations like the ACLU or journalists file FOIA requests in the service of real transparency and accountability.


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