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ACLU Files Appeal Over Drone Document Denial

(CN) - The American Civil Liberties Union appealed a federal judge's ruling denying its request for documents related to the CIA's targeted drone strike program to the D.C. Circuit.

In June, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer held that national-security interests justify the CIA keeping all documents related to its targeted drone-strike program secret.

The ACLU's Freedom of Information Act request sought documents detailing when, where, and against whom the U.S. considers itself authorized to conduct drone strikes.

Initially, the CIA denied the existence of any records on targeted drone strikes, but the D.C. Circuit said this position was "indefensible" given that President Obama has publicly acknowledged using drone strikes against al Qaeda.

The ACLU characterized its request as seeking only "factual information," but Collyer found that the request was far wider reaching.

"To the contrary, ACLU seeks explicit details on U.S. drone strikes that would be 'sufficient to show the identity of the intended targets, assessed number of people killed, dates, status of those killed, agencies involved, the location of each strike, and the identities of those killed if known,'" she wrote. "Such details could reveal the scope of the drone program, its successes and limitations, the 'methodology behind the assessments and the priorities of the agency' and more."

Collyer said these documents are properly exempt from public disclosure in the interest of national defense.

The ACLU appealed Collyer's judgment on Monday, just days after The Intercept published a series based on a secret documents about the U.S. government's reliance on drone attacks.

"This case concerns the CIA's withholding of records that would allow the public to better understand and evaluate the effectiveness, lawfulness, and morality of the government's drone campaign," the ACLU's 77-page appeal brief states. "The CIA continues to withhold essentially everything, and public debate about the drone campaign continues to be impoverished and distorted by unwarranted secrecy and selective disclosure."

The ACLU said Collyer erred by finding that the CIA's documentation of its legal decision-making process was exempt for national security reasons.

"Legal analysis is not itself an intelligence activity, source, or method; nor does it fall into any of the other categories of classifiable information set out in the relevant executive order," the brief says.

In addition, the ACLU says the government has already disclosed some of the information which it seeks.

"Moreover, as this Court emphasized in its decision two years ago, plaintiffs' request seeks records concerning the government's activities, not just the CIA's; accordingly, disclosure of the summary strike data would not reveal the distinctive role played by the CIA in drone strikes. And even if some of the summary strike data could not be disclosed without revealing properly classified information, the district court erred in failing seriously to consider whether this concern could be addressed through redactions," the ACLU said.

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