A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Friday that the CIA must acknowledge the existence of its drone program used for targeted assassinations and can no longer deny having an “intelligence interest” in the use of drones.
Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote the unanimous decision for the court, writing that since there have been “official acknowledgments that the United States has participated in drone strikes, it is neither logical nor plausible for the CIA to maintain that it would reveal anything not already in the public domain to say the agency at least has an intelligence interest in such strikes.”
The court ruled that the CIA can no longer claim to “confirm nor deny” the existence of the program and called previous denials from the agency "fiction."
The case was brought before the court by the ACLU after the group filed a FOIA request in 2010 in order “to learn when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the U.S. ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings.” The case was dismissed the next year by the district court, claiming that the CIA could refuse to release documents related to the drone program in order to protect national security. The ACLU then filed its appeal, leading to Friday’s decision, though the agency won’t be required to release any documents pertaining to the program.
“This is an important victory,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said. “It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA's interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program's scope and legal basis.”
While the existence of the drone program has been obvious for some time and officials have openly discussed it, there have still been official efforts by the government to stay silent about it.
Last month, former Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told MSNBC that he was informed not to acknowledge the existence of the drone program.
When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the things, one of the first things they told me was, “You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.”
Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition. You’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program -- pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
The use of the drone program for fighting in wars has caused controversy due to the high amount of civilians killed by the strikes. While it’s unknown how many civilians have actually been killed, one report has claimed that for every 50 victims of drone strikes, only one is an actual militants.
The Obama administration has claimed that few civilians are killed by drones. That may be because the administration defines a militant as anyone of military age in a strike zone.