Rights Groups Issue Open Letter to Obama

December 5, 2013, New York – Today, U.S.-based civil rights and human rights groups signed an open letter to President Obama urging the administration to make good on its stated commitment to be more transparent and accountable for its “targeted killing” program and holding the administration to task for continuing to withhold basic information. In particular, the letter raises questions about President’s Obama’s May 23rd speech at the National Defense University, during which he outlined new policy criteria for these operations and suggested a scaling back of U.S. strikes. The letter follows a prior statement of concerns issued by the rights groups last April. Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior attorney working on the issue of targeted killing at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a signatory of today’s letter, made the following statement:

While the Obama administration has yet to disclose any of its own data, credible non-governmental sources have documented as many as 4,000 or more deaths from U.S. targeted killing operations outside of the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq – in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and perhaps elsewhere. The administration justifies these operations on a dangerous and legally tenuous premise that we reject – that the United States is in an ongoing war, 12 years and counting, with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and unspecified “associated forces,” and that it may kill suspects as it would in wartime, worldwide, based on its own say-so. Moreover, of the thousands killed, the administration has openly acknowledged responsibility for exactly four, all US citizens.
Outside of battlefields – contexts that are and should remain exceptional – killing is generally prohibited. Outside of battlefields, the resort to armed force by states is generally prohibited. Under all circumstances, the law requires accountability. The U.S. targeted killing program has turned those fundamental principles on their head.
In 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the federal lawsuit Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, which challenged the constitutionality of the killings of three U.S. citizens – Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi – in drone strikes in Yemen in 2011. The district court’s decision on the government’s motion to dismiss could come any day.
In 2010, CCR and the ACLU brought the first legal challenge to the U.S. targeted killing program, in Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, which challenged the Obama administration’s authorization to kill U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi in Yemen.
Read a copy of the open letter to President Obama from civil and human rights groups here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


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December 5, 2013