ACLU Sues to Uncover Trump’s Drone-Strike Playbook

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Concerned that America has cut safeguards limiting civilian casualties in overseas drone strikes, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a federal complaint Thursday to obtain the Trump administration’s playbook.

Represented by their in-house counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation brought their complaint because nearly two months have passed since they requested production of the records under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Obama administration released its rules governing the use of lethal force abroad, known the Presidential Policy Guidance last year, but the ACLU says these rules have been replaced under President Donald Trump by the Principles, Standards and Procedures.

Citing a Sept. 21, 2017, report by The New York Times, the ACLU says Trump may have eliminated safeguards from the previous policy that ensured lethal force would be used only against individuals who posed a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.”

While the Obama guidelines “helped entrench a new reality of secret, lethal American operations, [they] still sought to minimize civilian deaths and injuries,” the ACLU said in a statement.

The ACLU says the same is not true of Trump’s rules, which expand the Defense Department and CIA’s authority “to conduct the already-controversial strikes.”

Trump is believed to have opened the use lethal force against a broader category of people, including those who do not pose a specific threat, according to the complaint.

Filed Thursday in New York’s Southern District, the complaint says air strikes have doubled or tripled in some countries during Trump’s first year. Recognized wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have accounted for some of these strikes, as have operations conducted outside “areas of active hostilities” in places like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Nigeria, according to the complaint.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, described the global context of his group’s suit. “Many of the countries in which our government is killing people are also subject to the Muslim ban — meaning, the Trump administration is cruelly excluding people fleeing violence it has helped cause,” Shamsi said in a statement. “At the same time, it refuses to officially disclose critically important information about where it is conducting strikes, against whom, and with what consequences.”

Shamsi said a federal judge must make Trump’s rules “public so we can all better grapple with the harm our government is causing — and bring an end to it.”

ACLU attorney Brett Max Kaufman also chimed in about the case.

“The inevitable outcome of looser rules is that the Trump administration will kill more people in more places, and more civilians and their communities will bear the costs,” Kaufman said in a statement.

“Our democracy has no place for secret killing rules, and this policy must be made public,” Kaufman added.

When the ACLU obtained the release of the Obama-era guidelines, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer called the development “a timely reminder of the breadth of the powers that will soon be in the hands of another president.”

Representatives for the Justice Department declined to comment.

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