As the U.S. debates expanding its campaign against the Islamic State beyond Iraq and Syria, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to force transparency about drone strikes and the means by which they are planned, the British Guardian newspaper reported.
On Monday, the ACLU sued for access to Obama administration documents specifying, among other things, the criteria for placement on the so-called "kill list" for drone strikes and other deadly force.
Information sought includes analyses establishing the legal basis for what the administration terms its "targeted killing program" and the process by which the administration determines that civilians are unlikely to be killed before launching a strike, as well as verification mechanisms to establish if the strike in fact has caused civilian deaths.
The suit, filed in a New York federal court, also seeks basic data the Obama administration has withheld about "the number and identities of individuals killed or injured" in counterterrorism strikes, according to the ACLU filing.
The ACLU suit comes after the Obama administration disclosed none of the lethal counterterrorism documentation through a Freedom of Information Act request the civil liberties group filed in 2013, and seeks to pierce the veneer of assurances by President Barack Obama that the drone strikes and other lethal counterterrorism practices his administration has embraced have been restricted.
Obama announced he was raising the still-undisclosed standards for launching drone strikes in May 2013 and insisting on "strong oversight of all lethal action," the Guardian wrote. He said future strikes would require "near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."
While estimates indicate that the drone strikes, launched by the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command, have declined since Obama's speech, a November report by the human rights group Reprieve found that Obama's drone strikes had killed 1,147 people in pursuit of only 41 men, prompting questions about the rigor of the process employed by the administration to launch attacks, according to the report.
Obama's 2013 speech and the drone-strike decline also occurred before the 2014 rise of the Islamic State and the renewed U.S. war in the skies over Iraq. Not only are Predator and Reaper drones used in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but the administration's desired legal authorization would permit global targeting of the jihadist army and its affiliates, which now include Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as allies in Libya, the Sinai peninsula and beyond.