Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ACLU Files FOIA on CIA Drone Attacks

Thanks, Spencer Ackerman, for noticing, with everything else going on, that the ACLU has filed a "Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense for documentation establishing the legal basis for the drone strikes."
Additionally, the civil liberties group wants to see the government’s estimates for how many civilians the drone program is responsible for killing. A recent New America Foundation report arguing that most drone critics overstate overstate civilian casualties still found that one in every three Pakistanis killed by the drones is a civilian, not a combatant.
The drone attacks were profiled in an amazing piece last October by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.

Consider the following selection from Mayer's article. Note the bolded, emphasized text. It's quite indicative of how morally bankrupt, even corroded the U.S. has become, as it practices naked assassination from flying bomb-holding drone robot planes in the sky.
Defining who is and who is not too tangential for the U.S. to kill can be difficult. John Radsan, a former lawyer in the C.I.A.’s office of general counsel, who is now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota, says, “You can’t target someone just because he visited an Al Qaeda Web site. But you also don’t want to wait until they’re about to detonate a bomb. It’s a sliding scale.” Equally fraught is the question of how many civilian deaths can be justified. “If it’s Osama bin Laden in a house with a four-year-old, most people will say go ahead,” Radsan says. “But if it’s three or four children? Some say that’s too many. And if he’s in a school? Many say don’t do it.” Such judgment calls are being made daily by the C.I.A., which, Radsan points out, “doesn’t have much experience with killing. Traditionally, the agency that does that is the Department of Defense.”

Though the C.I.A.’s methodology remains unknown, the Pentagon has created elaborate formulas to help the military make such lethal calculations. A top military expert, who declined to be named, spoke of the military’s system, saying, “There’s a whole taxonomy of targets.”
From the ACLU release:
The administration has used unmanned drones to target and kill individuals not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Pakistan and Yemen. The technology allows U.S. personnel to observe targeted individuals and launch missiles intended to kill them from control centers located thousands of miles away.

Today's FOIA request was filed with the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the Office of Legal Counsel), the Department of State and the CIA.

"The use of drones to conduct targeted killings raises complicated questions – not just legal questions but policy and moral questions as well," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "These are not questions that should be decided behind closed doors. They are questions that should be debated openly, and the public should have access to information that would allow it to participate meaningfully in the debate."
I hope readers will want to spread the word on this story, and hopefully ACLU will not be stonewalled by the self-proclaimed transparency mavens at the White House. I won't bet my farm on it though.

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