In late September 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki (pictured) became the first United States citizen to be killed in a CIA drone strike. Born in New Mexico, Awlaki ultimately moved to Yemen to preach to militants and jihadists. While he has been linked to a variety of terrorist plots, Awlaki was never indicted for any crime. In February 2012, the ACLU and the New York Times filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests:
Although U.S. government officials, including the President and the Secretary of Defense, have made statements on the record confirming the existence of the targeted killing program, the government has not disclosed the process by which it adds names to so-called ‘kill lists;’ the standards under which it determines which Americans may be put to death; or the evidentiary bases on which it concluded that those standards were satisfied in any particular case.
Today, the Obama administration has still not complied with these FOIA requests. On June 18, BORDC and DDF joined Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), and over 25 other organizations in demanding accountability. Together, these organizations signed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging he “release the memorandum drafted by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (“OLC”) justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.”
The letter questioned the legality of targeted strikes against U.S. citizens on foreign soil. In addition, withholding the documents and memos that justified targeted killings threatens democracy and government transparency. The letter even quoted President Obama’s decision to release the torture memos: “withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.” Three days after the letter’s release, the Obama administration claimed a Yemeni drone may have killed al-Awlaki, and thus, no disclosure was necessary. By shrouding its drone program in secrecy, the Obama administration continues to move away from transparency and accountability.