- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union is pressing forward with a lawsuit against the CIA demanding the agency turn over details about the U.S. drone program after a massive document leak revealed startling details about how targets are chosen and the number of civilians that have been accidentally struck.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks summary data from the CIA on the drone strikes, including locations and dates of the strikes, the number of people killed and their identities or status and memos describing the legal reasoning underpinning the drone program, The Guardian reported.

“The case is really about the public’s right to know, the right of access to information about this very controversial set of policies,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, told The Guardian. “At this point the enemies of the United States already know that the CIA is carrying out drone strikes. The only effect of the kind of secrecy we’re seeing now is to keep Americans in the dark about their own government’s policies.”

The lawsuit also seeks information on a parallel drone program operated by the Defense Department.

In combination, the two programs are believed to have killed thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Analysis based on classified documents provided by an anonymous source to the Intercept and published last week revealed that U.S. drone strikes conducted during a 5-month campaign in Afghanistan killed unintended targets nine out of 10 times.

The ACLU’s ongoing lawsuit suffered a setback in June, when a judge with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the CIA’s effort to keep the drone strike information secret.

The ACLU filed an appeal of that decision Monday following the document leak. 

The ACLU has had partial success with similar Freedom of Information Act lawsuits in the past. In 2009, the group won the release of four secret memos laying out the legal justifications for the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

“We are seeking [the drone memos] for precisely the same reasons we sought the torture memos,” Mr. Jaffer said. “They are the basis for the government’s most significant national security policy right now.

“We think that the public has a right to know both what the government’s purported legal justifications are for the drone strikes, and also of any limits that the government recognizes on its authority to carry out these kinds of strikes,” he said.

The ACLU’s latest push in the drone lawsuit comes as the organization is pursuing another lawsuit against two Air Force psychologists who designed the CIA’s interrogation program.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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