Photo: REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Lt Col Leslie Pratt
The Central Intelligence Agency must provide more information about America’s use of predator drones for targeted killings overseas, a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled today.The U.S. drone program is shrouded in secrecy, but today’s ruling revives the opportunity for the public release of some legal justifications.
“This is an important victory,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argue the case before a three-judge panel, said in a press release. “It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret.”
The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on the drones in January 2010. In 2011 a district court ruled that the CIA could invoke a Glomar response, which allows an agency to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of documents because doing so would harm national security.
The appeals court shredded that argument and reversed the judgement.
On appeal the ACLU argued that the Glomar response is not justified since officials at the highest levels had publicly acknowledged the drone program. The CIA maintained that the officials did not specifically refer to the Agency’s use of drones.
The appeals court agreed with the ACLU, citing statements by President Barack Obama, then-White House counterterrorism advisor (and current CIA Director) John Brennan, and then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.
Last January Obama told a Google Hangout that he thought the U.S. has to “be judicious in how we use drones… a lot of these strikes have been . . . going after al Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain.”
In April Brennan told an audience that the U.S. “conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using … drones.”
In 2009 Panetta answered a questions about drone strikes by saying “… it is very precise and it is very limited in terms of collateral damage and, very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.”
Consequently, the court has ruled, “it is implausible that the CIA does not possess a single document on the subject of drone strikes.“
Photo: REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/
The next step is that the CIA must provide a description of the kind of documents the Agency possesses, followed by their arguments as to why any of those documents are exempt from FOIA disclosure.
“The program has already been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in an unknown number of countries,” Jaffer said. “The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders.”
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