The American Civil Liberties Union is taking the FBI, Department of Justice and CIA to court over information relating to a US-conducted killing of three of its own citizens abroad last year, including one 16-year-old boy.
The ACLU has filed the suit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, charging the government entities above with failing to respond to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act last year. The ACLU was asking for information relating to the executions of three US citizens.
The ACLU was demanding that the government release documents pertaining to a September drone strike that executed alleged al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-citizen. Samir Khan, also a US citizen, was reportedly killed in the same strike in Yemen. Two weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also believed to be killed in a strike carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command. Both blood kin were born in the United States.
In a post on their site published Wednesday, the ACLU writes that “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.” Despite recent attempts filed under the Freedom Of Information Act, the truth about the executions is still unknown to the public at large.
By taking the government to court, the ACLU hopes to change that.
“The government’s self-serving attitude toward transparency and disclosure is unacceptable,” the ACLU says in a statement made available on Wednesday this week. “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 [its] existence” when asked for information “in the service of real transparency and accountability.”
The ACLU demanded in October that the FBI, DOJ and CIA explain the executions of three US citizens, who were killed without ever being brought to trial. The CIA had placed the older al-Awlaki on a “kill or capture” list a year earlier per orders from President Obama, but had never brought any charges against him.
Asked this week on CBS’ 60 Minutes of how a terror suspect makes it to the list, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained, “the President of the United States has to sign off and he should.”
When they filed their FOIA request, the ACLU asked for information explaining why authorities went about executing three of its own citizens, to which the organization would respond in court papers, “the government has refused to release its legal or evidentiary bases” of the strikes.
“It has not explained whether Samir Khan and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki were killed ‘collaterally’ or were targeted themselves. It has not said what measures, if any, it took to minimize the possibility that individuals not targeted would be killed incidentally,” reads the complaint.
Nearly four months after filing their FOIA request, the ACLU says that the government has provided “varying responses,” but those have either denied or delayed providing any actual information. On Wednesday, the ACLU writes on their site that they now “demand that the government release basic — and accurate — information about the government’s targeted killing program.”
“The request relates to a topic of vital importance: the power of the US government to kill US citizens without presentation of evidence and without disclosing legal standards that guide decision makers,” reads their latest legal complaint. The filing includes references to both Secretary Panetta’s recent comments and others made by President Obama this week. On Monday, the president briefly addressed drone strikes during a live town hall hosted by Google and streamed live to the Web. In it, President Obama defended ongoing drone missions and downplayed their damages as minor, despite other evidence suggesting that they have led to as many as 700 civilian deaths in the last few years.
“The public has a right to know the evidence and legal basis for the deliberate targeted killing of US citizens,” Nathan Wessler writes for the ACLU on Wednesday. “So chilling a power must be opened to public scrutiny and debate.”