U.S. rejects requests for documents regarding targeted killings with drones
Predator armed with a missile
June 21st, 2012
04:40 AM ET

U.S. rejects requests for documents regarding targeted killings with drones

By Pam Benson

The United States government is seeking to reject lawsuits demanding information about drone strikes that target suspected terrorists overseas, saying releasing details on the program would have a major effect on counterterrorism efforts.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in New York after a Freedom of Information Act request they submitted to the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the CIA, was denied. The rights group is seeking the release of a copy of the memo outlining the Obama administration's program that targets suspected terrorists overseas.  The New York Times filed a related lawsuit.

In its response, the government asked for a summary judgment dismissing the complaints and defended its decision not to release the requested information.

“Even to describe the number and details of most of these documents would reveal information that could damage the government’s counterterrorism efforts,” the government said, further maintaining that refusal to disclose the information is consistent with exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act that permit the withholding of records when doing so is in the public interest.

The ACLU said the government's stance was "absurd."

"Senior officials have discussed it, both on the record and off. They have taken credit for its putative successes, professed it to be legal, and dismissed concerns about civilian casualties," said Jameel Jaffir, the ACLU's Deputy Legal Director.  "If they can make these claims to the media, they can answer requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The public is entitled to know more about the legal authority the administration is claiming and the way that the administration is using it."

The CIA and the Pentagon use unmanned aircraft to fire missiles at suspected al Qaeda members and other extremists. The controversial drone program started under the Bush administration following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and targeted al Qaeda leaders hiding in ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan.

The number of attacks escalated after President Barack Obama took office, becoming one of the primary tools in the administration's counterterrorism efforts

Administration officials claim al Qaeda's core leaders have been decimated in Pakistan by the drone strikes. And the attacks are now used more frequently to target suspected members of al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen.

One of those killed in a Yemen strike was American born-cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The U.S. says he was head of external operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was linked to various plots including the so-called underwear bomber who attempted to blow up a U.S. airliner as it headed to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

Human rights and civil liberty groups have criticized the drone program for its secrecy, saying the U.S. has failed to disclose details such as who is killed, how many civilians’ deaths have occurred and whether there have been investigations into wrongful killings. Questions include whether targeted killing violates the U.S. constitutional guarantee of due process as well as international law.

But the program has certainly become less secret. Although officials acknowledged the program in private, it was not discussed publicly.

That changed when Obama spoke about drone strikes during an online interview in January. In response to a question, he defended the attacks as being "precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates," and said the program is "kept on a very tight leash."

But the curtain really came down in April, when the president's counterterrorism adviser gave a speech providing the most extensive outline to date of the drone program.

“Yes, in full accordance with the law - and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives - the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones," John Brennan said.

Brennan described what he called "the rigorous standards and process of review" when the administration considers a strike. But he did not provide any details about who has been killed, where drones are authorized to operate and civilian causalities.

The drone program remains classified despite the acknowledgment by the president and one of his chief aides.

The American Civil Liberties Union has another similar case pending in D.C. federal court, a challenge filed earlier than the one in New York.

In the D.C. case, the government invoked a judicial doctrine known as Glomar, which means the government claims it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the program. The D.C. court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case in September.

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Filed under: Anwar al-Awlaki • AQAP • CIA • drones • Military • Obama • Terrorism • weapons • Yemen
soundoff (419 Responses)
  1. Jaimie

    Maybe President Obama should claim executive privilege again.

    June 21, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  2. Mark

    The US continues to kill people in nations they are not at war with. They continue to declare people "terrorists," with no requirement to prove this to anyone, and simply execute them. They also occasionally kill a lot of people who they admit are not terrorists at a wedding, funeral, or Pakistani Army barracks and just shrug and say "ooops." This is called a WAR crime if it is done by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Serbs in Bosnia, Russia, or any other nation/people. The US would be cheering on the Hague as the prosecuted the people responsible if they are not Americans. When will US troops and/or US politicians be brought to justice????

    June 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • B'Obama

      Crawl backing our hole moron.

      June 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  3. Recondo 101

    The ACLU is a terrorist organization by definition, they use economic means to injure others and participate in legal extortion. Their members do free work and duties as required and the people they act against are faced with exorbitant legal bills that actually never occurred. The ACLU should be placed on the list of Terrorist organizations and banned from the US.

    June 21, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Reply
    • Ellis Keyes

      We are involved in Civil Proceedure. C
      alling ACLU criminal has no basis in reality.

      June 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  4. Ronnie

    Obviously some information does need to be kept secret but certainly not all of it.

    So, if an al Qaeda member were to come to the local mall and take 20 hostages and we had an armed predator overhead what would we do? Blast 'em? Not likely because our citizens are worth more than 'their' citizens, right? Whats wrong with publishing the number of innocent civilians killed along with the perpetrators? Whats wrong with showing the caskets coming off the planes with American soldiers? We know, it would kill the support for the war & it must go on, right? Yeah, who needs the ACLU, we can each individually defend ourselves from the over reach of the government, right?

    June 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  5. dutspup

    were not going to war with other countries we are stealing their resources, we are stealing their GOLD and stockpiling because China is on the uptick and we are on the downtick thats the quick and dirty of it all.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  6. mhub

    This is where I think the ACLU has no rights. AMERICAN Civil Liberties Union? Concerned with drone attacks in other countries? I think the drone attacks are necessary, unfortunately. What we have seen is when radical groups like the Taliban take over large areas and have relative personal peace, they are able to come up with attacks that we saw on the World Trade Center. The American people should be able to rely on a government that does hold security over this sort of information and the ACLU shouldn't be extending itself into a role where the American people are put at risk.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  7. JT

    I am very interested in the governments technology. But if it is in the best interest of our Country, the United States of America, including my 90 year old grandparents, let them do it. We will find out sooner or later their technology. It only takes a dude with a garage to find their problems. Obama is weak, he's a show-boater, the military is not. He may be in command. He is just another Schwarzenegger – as he was to California; Trying to get the promises of the people. I had HIGH hopes for the Governator. BUT both have failed. Quit spending tax dollars on flying around and promises you can't keep and hear what the people want. You are better off with a video chat. SAVES OUR MONEY THAT WE PAY THE GOVERNMENT!!! Then maybe Gas, Social Security, Jobs, MIGHT get back on track IN THE USA. Just saying what most people are saying...

    June 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • Jon

      I don't understand your logic here... You support what the military is doing, but not if it's because Obama gave the order? And he's a showboater? You're damn right he's a showboater! When you take out virtually all of Al Qaeda's higher ups, you've earned the right to showboat a bit.

      And why would you want to get "gas back on track?" Our over reliance on gas has been a major weakness for decades. Why not research alternative energy to not only reduce the reliance, but also provide jobs?

      June 22, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  8. cheekyindian

    The US keeps going to war with more and more countries Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Pakistan, NKorea, Iran, Syria etc might get added to that list. The US uses its technological superiority against these nations. It calculates that there are no countries powerful enough willing to engage it. Meanwhile China, Russia, India etc quietly enhance their capabilities. The world is slowly becoming multi polar again. But when that happens US will be the one with most enemies.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  9. phrancis

    Let's be honest – terrorists simply don't play by the rules of warfare or the Geneva convention and our so-called Pakistani allies just play both sides of the fence. The controversial, but highly effective drone strikes are all we have left to get the job done. Yes, there are a few civilian deaths, but this is war and no other war in human history has had a lower ratio of innocents killed due to our use of advanced technology. When a suicide bomber blows up a school or market does the ACLU jump all over the Taliban?

    June 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
    • James D

      Let's be even more honest. We create 'terrorists' when we blow up a house full of women and children. Grow up. If someone sent a drone to your home and killed your family, would you then be a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Get a clue, there is a world outside of our borders.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
      • Pshady

        James D.

        Regardless of what you said which I don't totally disagree, it is still a national security matter. Because our goverment made mistakes so you are willing to expose our national security which potentially impacts our resources and especially lives of our troops.

        June 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
      • phrancis

        Dave, I was not born in America and know about living outside western borders. Yes, we run the risk of making new terrorists, but would you just have the Taliban continue poisioning wells at girl's schools, or beheading "infidels"? I am under no illusion that America is perfect or morally superior, but given it's role in furthering democracy and general freedoms in the past century, I would rather have the US as the dominant superpower over – say Russia or China. Be honest – we'd all be speaking German or Russian or be long dead of America never existed.

        June 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
      • James D

        I was responding to your original post. I never said I would undermine our national security, but I would most certainly bring the troops home today if I had a choice. Them being stationed in these countries, which we have NO BUSINESS BEING IN, is what creates the conflict. The more we attack and occupy, the more enemies we make. It's insanity by definition. If the Chinese were stationed in our country how would you feel then? If they attacked your house, would you casually say "Yes, there are a few civilian deaths, but..."?? How easy it is for people to say that, when it is not their friends, their loved ones, their neighbors, their country. I was raised on The Golden Rule. More people should apply it to their lives also.

        June 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • soldier

      I agree completely.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  10. davecu

    ALCU will not be happy until all Americans are speaking Chinese/Spanish/Pashtun.
    At that time the ALCU will be shut down by the government it helped form!

    "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" seems to really p*ss them off.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  11. Albert E

    The ACLU is nothing more than another RACIST worthless organization and should be terminated as quickly as possible!!!
    Please use the Drones and program all their addresses to its CPU which will easily find the locations as most are in the Projects!!!!

    June 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • KAS

      Exactly. When they stepped up and defended Rush Limbaugh from having to reveal why he had a prescription for Viagra not in his own name, and without his wife, when he came back from a Caribbean location known for its pedophilia propensities, they were being the ultimate racists.

      They were defending a white guy.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • Mjritter

      Apparently you need to go back to school. Please define racist because you sure don't know rhe definition. The rest of your comment only shows your ignorance and lack of knowledge as to what the ACLU does. I believe they are wrong in this issue, but I do understand it. Most people, including yourself, fail to see the big picture and all it's ramifications.

      June 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  12. the_dude

    the ACLU is the legal department for Al Queda. ACLU must have been involved in 9/11

    June 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
    • Mjritter

      just about as dumb as you can get...

      June 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  13. Scott

    Why are the designs of drones so different from airplane designs. They funadamentally are the same craft just minus the pilot, but the designs are often quite different. Is this because of the difference in size and mass? Are drones capable of better lift than an airplane?

    June 21, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
    • intel

      That info is probably classified. So good luck getting a true answer ;)

      June 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • steven harnack

      They are designed for slow flight over a specific area, not the rapid transpot of people and goods over long distances. Any airplane can also be converted to pilotless operation.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • davef

      A Drone can remain airborne for a long time, like approximately 24 hours. It's wing shape is more like that of a glider which saves enough fuel which allows the extended time aloft. As an X pilot I think I may be right.(at least I hope so)

      June 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  14. wow

    "The CIA and the Pentagon use unmanned aircraft to fire missiles at suspected al Qaeda members and other extremists."

    So, if a person was killed by police because he or she was suspected of murdering someone or because they robbed a bank...............is that okay...........is that legal here............would there be an outcry from the public? Dang right there would be.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      This is necessary because the pakistani police and government are not in control of large swaths of there own terrirtory. They are not enforcing the law in those regions. this is the alternative to a manned invasion of those regions. You decide which you want. Drones or all out war in those regions.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  15. ShaneG

    Right now, our country is doing things that we think only other 3rd world countries do.

    Its important to keep this dirt swept under the rug.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  16. k

    This is military and they are protecting are way of life. Have the ACLU look into the Terroist strikes that have harmed or killed americans in the us.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  17. cobra129

    Not to worry, the US government many not hand over any classified material relating to drone strikes..........but obama and his surrogates are under no such limitation.......he';; declassify it immediately and then send & disseminate it.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Reply
    • Spirit

      cobra129 – No, he cannot. He isn't as all-powerful as you seem to believe.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  18. Premal D.Shah

    The drones are the last weapons that US has to contain terrorists. US cannot afford to stop using these else it would be another Somali or Yemen. What is very much desired is that drones do not kill innocent people. This should be the first requisite before using drones.

    June 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  19. I have an Idea..

    How about the US government purge the ACLU like Nazi Germany's "Night of the Long Knives."

    The ACLU is a homegrown terrorist organization and should be dealt with accordingly.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  20. idk

    Maybe we can have all of these ACLU lovers at a big convention and let Al-Quaida get them. ACLU's are Americans and Al-Quaida hates Americans. Maybe they won't be so aggressive with their screwed up philospohies.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  21. Oh boy

    Im a liberal and I agree, this is like Allied Air Command releaseing data on it's bombing runs over Germany. Ridiculous!

    June 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  22. glennrobert

    Eight years of government failure under Bush was defined by it's policy of secrecy. It is sad to see this happening under Obama. Usually the only people kept in the dark are the Americans. Our enemies know about the civilians deaths,who, when and how many. We are told they are not credible as we are lied to.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • LT Fang

      All functional nations conduct covert operations, and none of them would be stupid enough to discuss any of them publically.

      June 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • MrBo

      Yeah, why wouldn't we want to reveal all sorts of secrets to the public.
      I don't get it. Who cares about national security?

      /s

      June 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • linda operle

      Amen. Keep us stupid so we won't know how many innocent people are being killed. I wonder if the number is up around 3,000 yet would make us even then wouldn't it?

      June 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply
    • insi10

      Read LT Fang's reply. The way publishing national security matters is handled in a republic is that results are discussed, not plans. If the results turn out badly, there are thee committees in the U.S. House and three in the Senate that investigate and hold hearings and correct mistakes.

      What...we're supposed to tell the other side what we have in mind?

      June 21, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  23. russiatoday-dot-com

    visit rt-dot-com and read about hundreds of dead in lybia and of cia activities around syria.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  24. brown

    ACLU ... hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahah!

    June 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  25. humberto

    Why wasn't the ACLU lawyers disbarred for goung to court and representing no one ?

    June 21, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • glennrobert

      The ACLU is not the enemy, Dummy! They represent all of us.

      June 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  26. Eric

    ACLU should instead sue for termination of life damages on behalf of 3000+ 9/11 US citizens, against the terrorist organization which carried it out and its government surrogates in Pakistan and all its financial supporters in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world.
    That is where ACLU's priorities and focus should be.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • terry

      The ACLU never involves itself in activities FOR the American people. I think it's a violation of their charter.

      June 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  27. sickofitall

    I don't understand the position of the ACLU; they should just wait another week or two and then they can read all about it in the New York Times; Obama has been busy with all those fund raisers and just hasn't gotten around to authorizing another round of leaks

    June 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  28. Colinmb

    Why don't we just post current troop locations and activities realtime onto facebook and twitter? It wouldn't pose any danger to those in the field actually giving the ACLU their ability to whine and complain that they have a right to know.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
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