Advocates for peace and human rights have long criticized the use of unmanned drones to kill human targets for a host of reasons, and now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging the Obama Administration in court regarding its refusal to release documents pertaining to the US drone program.
The ACLU’s desire to better understand the program stems from a lack of hard evidence regarding the accuracy of the strikes, the verifiability of targets and the moral remove from the action. In other words, how does one establish responsibility for the taking of a human life when no one was physically there to witness it and no third parties can verify it?
Specifically, the ACLU is suing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Freedom of Information Act because it refuses to disclose documents pertaining to its involvement in the US drone program the Obama Administration acknowledges it operates. Naturally, the CIA has cited national security for its decision to not disclose any information, although it did acknowledge such records do exist.
A recent study conducted by Stanford and New York University has quoted statistics published by The Journal of Investigative Journalism that claim as many as 881 civilians have been killed by US drone strikes, including 176 children. White House officials dispute this, although they are unwilling to provide any details or documentation to prove the veracity of their claims. Meanwhile, independent news agents and foreign government officials have verified many accounts.
Legal experts note that a victory by the ACLU could mean that the government would be forced to release its legal justification for drone strikes, particularly when they involve the slaying of US citizens abroad. This information is not currently part of the public record and has left many peace advocates and legal scholars wondering whether the US is willing to violate international law its own agreements within the Geneva Conventions to achieve its ends.