Ruling on Targeted Killing Memos May Be Important Step Forward for Transparency

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First praises yesterday’s decision by a federal appeals court to release portions of the Justice Department memo that provided the legal justification that underpinned the decision to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen in Yemen. The written opinion by Judge Jon O. Newman explained that the Obama Administration lost protection for the legal analysis because of public statements by administration officials. The organization urges the administration not to appeal yesterday’s decision.

“The current targeted killing policy leaves the American people in the dark about who we are at war against and who is being killed in our name,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. “This ruling is an important step towards providing more transparency about the targeted killing program so that a fair assessment can be made about these attacks.”

Human Rights First calls on the Obama Administration to explain how it justifies targeted killing of all individuals who do not pose an actual imminent threat and are not members of armed groups engaged in an armed conflict with the United States or civilians directly participating in hostilities. The administration should also identify measures in place for agencies engaged in targeted killing to protect civilians, and to conduct post-strike casualty assessments. Human Rights First has urged the Obama Administration to disclose information about the targeted killing program, to convince both skeptics and supporters that it’s acting within the law, exercising reasonable judgment, and not setting a dangerous precedent for other countries and terrorist groups that will obtain lethal drone capabilities in the future. The ability to review and debate whom we are targeting and why is necessary for the program to have legitimacy among Americans and the people around the world who must be our partners in the struggle against terrorism.

“Yesterday’s important opinion made it clear that the Obama Administration has waived it’s right to withhold information on targeted killing due to its previous public statements on the program,” concluded Eviatar. Rather than appeal this decision, the administration should release the Justice Department memos related to all targeted killings, not just those of American citizens.”


Published on April 22, 2014


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