ACLU Digs for Records on Fatal US Raid in Yemen

MANHATTAN (CN) – Seeking answers about January’s botched Navy SEAL raid in Yemen, the American Civil Liberties Union claims in a federal complaint Monday that several government agencies are stonewalling its access to public records.

The ACLU filed the 14-page complaint this morning in Manhattan, demanding the immediate processing and release of documents detailing the U.S. military’s Jan. 29 raid on the Yemeni village of al Ghayil.

“Given the lack of adequate information released by the government supporting its assessment, coupled with a discrepancy between the government’s announced tally of civilian casualties and the assessments of credible independent sources, the public does not have a sound base to evaluate the legality of the operation or the government’s assessment of deaths and injuries caused,” the complaint states.

The ACLU says it submitted identical requests this past March 15 under the Freedom of Information Act to the Departments of Defense, Justice and State, as well as the CIA, seeking the legal and policy bases upon which the government approved the raid, namely its designation of three parts of Yemen as “areas of active hostilities.”

Other element of the FOIA request include both the “before-the-fact” and “after-the-fact” assessments of civilian or bystander casualties of the raid, and the number of and names of those killed, identifying which were intentional targets and collateral killings and injuries.

The ACLU says the agencies all missed the 30-day deadline to respond to its request. Media contacts for the DOD did not immediately respond to request for comment Monday afternoon.

During his March 2017 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, the head of U.S. Central Command contradicted other reports estimating between 25 and 30 civilians casualties.

Gen. Joseph Votel said the Defense Department’s investigation put the number of civilian casualties at between 4 and 12.

The al Ghayil raid was responsible for the first U.S. combat death of the new administration: 36-year-old Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens died from wounds sustained during the raid.

U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly approved raid on Jan. 25, while dining at the White House, just days after his inauguration.

During Trump’s first speech to Congress on Feb. 28, the president’s mention of the late Navy SEAL Owens, elicited a two-minute standing ovation. Owens’ wife, Carryn, cried profusely and the chamber erupted in applause as the president said that Owens’ legacy was “etched into eternity.”

Owens’ father has refused to meet with Trump, telling him through the press: “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”

The ACLU says there is concern based on the raid’s outcome “that the administration acted without adequate evidence and assurance that the raid would be conducted in accordance with legal and policy safeguards against civilian casualties.”

The DOD Office of Freedom of Information acknowledged receipt of the ACLU’s request on March 20. It denied the ACLU’s request for expedited processing and has deferred consideration of fee waiver until the conclusion of the search and assessment process.

The CIA acknowledged receipt of the ACLU’s FOIA request on March 16 and also has not released any responsive documents.

ACLU in-house counsel Hina Shamsi filed Monday’s complaint.

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