Friday, January 15, 2010

ACLU Wants to Know the Legal Basis for CIA Drone Strikes/Was There Actually an Airstrike in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province?

By Spencer Ackerman
Washington Independent | 1/13/10

It’s a question that rarely gets asked: from where does the Obama administration locate the legal authority to launch missiles from the CIA’s unmanned drones into Pakistani (and, this week, Afghan) territory? The ACLU wants to know.

The civil liberties group today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense for documentation establishing the legal basis for the drone strikes. Drone strikes in Pakistan have risen substantially during the first year of the Obama administration.

Additionally, the civil liberties group wants to see the government’s estimates for how many civilians the drone program is responsible for killing. A recent New America Foundation report arguing that most drone critics overstate overstate civilian casualties still found that one in every three Pakistanis killed by the drones is a civilian, not a combatant.

From a just-released ACLU statement:

“The American public has a right to know whether the drone program is consistent with international law, and that all efforts are made to minimize the loss of innocent lives,” said Jonathan Manes, a legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. “The Obama administration has reportedly expanded the drone program, but it has not explained publicly what the legal basis for the program is, what limitations it recognizes on the use of drones outside active theaters of war and what the civilian casualty toll has been thus far. We’re hopeful that the request we’ve filed today will encourage the Obama administration to disclose information about the basis, scope and implementation of the program.”

Was There Actually an Airstrike in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province?
By Spencer Ackerman
Washington Independent | 12/29/09

That’s the subject of an increasingly heated charge from the Afghan government after a Dec. 27 raid in the eastern province of Kunar left nine men dead. The International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, said the men were part of an insurgent network planting improvised explosive devices.

Representatives of the Afghan government say they were civilians. And the governor of the province says they were killed in an airstrike. Only one thing: there may not have been any airstrike.

There’s an investigation open into the Kunar incident ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But an ISAF official who would only speak on background while the investigation proceeds said unequivocally that there was “no airstrike.” ...