ACLU Targets Obama with New Lawsuit Over Drone Wars, 'Kill List'

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a new lawsuit against the Obama administration over continued secrecy surrounding its controversial use of armed drones to carry out lethal strikes and assassinations across the globe.

The Guardian was the first to report news of the fresh lawsuit earlier on Monday. 

According to journalist Spencer Ackerman, who was given advance notice of the suit, the ACLU is seeking disclosure from the White House of legal documents and internal memos relating to Obama’s use of drones, with specific attention to how individuals end up on what has become known as the president’s “kill list.”

“Over the last few years, the US government has used armed drones to kill thousands of people, including hundreds of civilians. The public should know who the government is killing, and why it’s killing them,” Jaffer told the Guardian.

The official complaint filed by the ACLU is here and the original FOIA request referenced in the suit is here.

Though the ACLU has filed previous lawsuits and requests for disclosures regarding the administration’s drone program—operated largely by the CIA but also the military’s Joint Special Operations Command—the latest effort to obtain legal justification for the program follows continued secrecy and ongoing “stonewalling” by White House lawyers and other agencies.

In a blog post on Monday, ACLU legal fellow Matthew Spurlock explained why the new suit was needed:

The new lawsuit, reports Ackerman, describes how numerous agencies under Obama’s authority—including the State and Justice Departments, the Pentagon, as well as the CIA—have been stonewalling the ACLU for nearly 18 months.

According to Spurlock, one of the most key aspects of the new lawsuit “is that it covers more recent documents, including the Presidential Policy Guidance under which the targeted killing program likely now operates.”

While lawyers for the Obama administration have argued that national security prevents further disclosures and President Obama has said that internal changes have enhanced the safeguards surrounding the selection of targets and the execution of drone strikes, the ACLU argues the level of secrecy around a program of such profound importance is simply unacceptable in a representative democracy.

As Jaffer explained, there is  no “legitimate justification” for the Obama administration to keep secret the number of civilian casualties and the procedures by which individuals, including U.S. citizens, can find themselves on a secret government “kill list.”

“The categorical secrecy surrounding the drone program doesn’t serve any legitimate security interest,” Jaffer told the Guardian. “It serves only to skew public debate, to obscure the human costs of the program, and to shield decision-makers from accountability.”

And as Spurlock concluded, “The government’s drone program lives far too deep in the shadows. As long as the government continues its campaign of secret, unacknowledged lethal strikes across the globe, we will fight to subject this policy to the scrutiny and debate it deserves.”

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