Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.
Our suit overlaps with the one recently filed by The New York Times insofar as it seeks the legal memos on which the targeted killing program is based. But our suit is broader. We’re seeking, in addition to the legal memos, the government’s evidentiary basis for strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen in the fall of 2011. We’re also seeking information about the process by which the administration adds Americans to secret government “kill lists.” We think it’s crucial that the administration release the legal memos, but we don’t think the memos alone will allow the public to evaluate the lawfulness and wisdom of the program.
We know something about the fall 2011 strikes from media reports. On September 30, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) jointly carried out the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico, using missiles fired from unmanned drones in Yemen. A second U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, was killed in the same attack. Two weeks later, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, a 16-year-old U.S. citizen born in Colorado, was killed in another U.S. drone strike elsewhere in Yemen. The administration has not adequately explained the legal basis for these strikes, and it has not explained the factual basis, either.
Soon after the fall 2011 strikes, we submitted a FOIA request to the CIA, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice (DOJ). Three months later, we have yet to receive a single document in response. Outrageously, the CIA and the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel responded by refusing to confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to our request. Essentially, these agencies are saying the targeted killing program is so secret that they can’t even acknowledge that it exists.
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