[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF] Tuesday seeking information related to the US government's use of unmanned Predator drones. The suit, filed in the US district court for the District of Columbia, seeks to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request [text, PDF] made in January. The ACLU alleges that the unmanned warplanes have been used by the military and CIA for killings in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The ACLU also cites troubling reports indicating that US citizens may be targeted and killed by Predator drones. The FOIA request asks "when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized," as well as for information related to civilian casualties. Director of the ACLU National Security Project Jameel Jaffer emphasized [press release] the importance of the information requested:
The government's use of drones to conduct targeted killings raises complicated questions - not only legal questions, but policy and moral questions as well. ... These kinds of questions ought to be discussed and debated publicly, not resolved secretly behind closed doors. While the Obama administration may legitimately withhold intelligence information as well as sensitive information about military strategy, it should disclose basic information about the scope of the drone program, the legal basis for the program and the civilian casualties that have resulted from the program.
The Air Force has more than 20 Predator drones operating in Afghanistan, and the role of the unmanned drones has increased [NYT report] in recent years.
In October, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston [official website] noted [JURIST report] that the use of unmanned warplanes by the US to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be illegal. Alston said, "[t]he onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons." Alston criticized the US policy in a report to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee that was presented as part of a larger demand that no state be free from accountability.