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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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ACLU Pushes for ‘Kill List’ Transparency

MANHATTAN (CN) - Just as U.S. drone warfare has expanded dramatically in recent years, so too has the American Civil Liberties Union's litigation to gain information about the secretive programs.

While lawsuits over the drone program are nothing new, Monday's complaint focuses on the documentation of civilian casualties. It also seeks explanation on the legal underpinnings of the program and the process of placing names on the so-called "kill list."

In the last decade that the CIA and military's targeting-killing program has been in force, "hundreds of foreign nationals, many of them children," have fallen victim to drone strikes, according to the nine-page complaint.

"The government's reliance on the program in counter-terrorism operations has increased dramatically in recent years, resulting in escalating public and congressional concern about the program and its legal and factual underpinnings," the complaint continues.

Five years ago, the ACLU went to court with the hope of preventing a drone strike against al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen living then with militants in Yemen.

Authorities believed Awlaki helped to plot multiple attacks on the United States, including one attempted by Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab and another perpetrated by Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hassan.

Within a year of a federal judge dismissing that case, a Sept. 30, 2011, drone strike killed both Awlaki and Samir Khan, another U.S.-citizen turned scribe for al-Qaida's Inspire Magazine.

A year later, the ACLU sued for the legal memos that justified that strike.

Though a 2nd Circuit reversal in that case brought the Awlaki memo to light last year, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon had initially dismissed the case based on the "veritable Catch-22" of tangled legal precedents that reminded her of "Alice in Wonderland."

"I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly valid certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret," she wrote.

McMahon will likely preside over the lawsuit that the ACLU filed Monday because of the related nature of the cases, the Guardian reported.

Monday's lawsuit stems from an Oct. 15, 2014, request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State and the CIA.

The ACLU wants information four categories of information: "(1) 'the legal basis in domestic, foreign, and international law upon which the government may use lethal force against individuals or groups;' (2) 'the process by which the government designates individuals or groups for targeted killing;' (3) 'before-the-fact assessments of civilian or bystander casualties in targeted-killing strikes and any and all records concerning 'after-action' investigations into individual targeted-killing strikes;' and (4) 'the number and identities of individuals killed or injured in targeted-killing strikes,'" according to the complaint.

ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer signed the complaint.

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