The Obama administration has moved to block the release of information relating to its overseas drone assassination programme, and will not even acknowledge that it exists, despite countless public references to the programme and the proven existence of an official “kill list”.
In a motion filed just before midnight last night, the federal government asked for FOIA requests regarding drone killings by the ACLU and the New York Times to be dismissed.
The administration’s court filing suggested that the public disclosure of such material could potentially harm national security.
“Whether or not the CIA has the authority to be, or is in fact, directly involved in targeted lethal operations remains classified,” the court filing noted.
“Even to describe the number and details of most of these documents would reveal information that could damage the government’s counterterrorism efforts,” the filing continued.
The ACLU responded with a statement slamming the move and calling it “beyond absurd”.
“The notion that the CIA’s targeted killing programme is still a secret is beyond absurd. Senior officials have discussed it, both on the record and off. They have taken credit for its putative successes, professed it to be legal, and dismissed concerns about civilian casualties,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director.
“If they can make these claims to the media, they can answer requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The public is entitled to know more about the legal authority the administration is claiming and the way that the administration is using it.” Jaffer added.
It is common knowledge that the Obama administration has exponentially increased the use of drone missile attacks in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
The president has referred to the programme several times in public, as have officials such as counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan.
Last month, the New York Times ran a major piece on the programme, revealing that the White House has asserted the right to carry out state-sponsored assassination anywhere in the world without having to provide any evidence or go through any legal process.
Furthermore, the Times revealed that Obama adopted a policy that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”
The administration merely has to state that the target is a terrorist and it doesn’t matter whether they are an American citizen or not, as we saw in the case of American-born Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, who were both killed last year.
In December, Obama administration lawyers reaffirmed their backing for state sponsored assassination, claiming that “U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets” and do not have the right to any legal protection against being marked for summary execution.
During a CBS 60 Minutes interview in January, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta revealed that Obama himself personally approves the policy to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism without trial on a case by case basis.
Perhaps the real reason that the administration wants the details of the programme kept under wraps is that, as reported by Propublica recently, the programme is potentially much bigger in scope than anyone had previously thought.
The administration’s figures do not add up, they are chock full of contradictions and discrepancies, and there can be little doubt that there have been many many more civilian deaths as a result of drone attacks than have been publicly acknowledged.
Experts, including UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns, as well as Pakistan’s UN ambassador in Geneva, Zamir Akram, havedescribed the drone assassination programme as a violation of the international legal system, saying that some attacks may constitute war crimes.
Akram, who noted that US drone strikes had killed more than 1,000 civilians in Pakistan, also said “We find the use of drones to be totally counterproductive in terms of succeeding in the ‘war against terror’. It leads to greater levels of terror rather than reducing them.
Many also contend that the attacks infringe the national sovereignty of Pakistan and constitute an act of war.
In 2010, a report by Washington think tank The New America Foundation found that 32% of the more than 1,200 people killed since 2004 in Pakistan, or around 1 in 3, were innocent bystanders rather than dangerous terrorists.
While the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has stated that the Pakistani government is actively facilitating the attacks by providing bases from which to launch the drones, Pakistani authorities have consistently voiced opposition to cross border missile strikes, which have been ongoing for years, but have accelerated since day one of Obama’s presidency. During Obama’s first year in office, there were 53 reported drone missile attacks; more than were carried out during the entirety of George W. Bush’s two four year terms in office.
Reports from 2009, drawn up by Pakistani authorities, indicated that close to 700 civilians had already perished, with just 14 wanted Al Qaeda leaders killed in the attacks.
The ACLU estimates that US drone strikes have killed as many as 4,000 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2002. Of those, a significant proportion were civilians.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.net, andPrisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.