The Obama administration released a redacted version of President Barack Obama’s once-secret policy on drone strikes abroad following a freedom of information lawsuit filed last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Saturday.
The release of the 18-page Presidential Policy Guidance document, as well as other Department of Defense papers, follows an order by a U.S. District Court judge in February requiring the Justice Department to disclose the document, also known as “the Playbook.”
It sets out the law and rules the government must follow when carrying out targeted killings and the capture of terrorist suspects abroad.
Obama pledged in 2013 to provide greater transparency about counter-terrorism operations, including drone strikes overseas, amid calls by some U.S. lawmakers and rights groups for more openness.
ACLU’s deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, welcomed the release of the documents, saying they provide new details about policy standards and insights into the process for targeting individuals with lethal force or for capture.
“Its release now will inform an ongoing debate about the lawfulness and wisdom of the government’s counter-terrorism policies,” Jaffer said in a statement.
The ACLU’s lawsuit sought information, among other things, on the law and policies used to justify lethal force and how the government picks targets.
According to the documents, published by the ACLU, strikes against high-value terrorist targets can be taken “when there is near certainty” that the person is present, and that no civilians will be injured or killed, and is necessary to “achieve U.S. policy objectives”.
The administration has defended its use of drones as essential in fighting al Qaeda and other militants in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Some drone strikes have killed civilians who were not targets, igniting local anger.
“The president has emphasized that the U.S. Government should be as transparent as possible with the American people about our counter-terrorism operations, the manner in which they are conducted, and their results,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said of Saturday’s release of documents.
“Our counter-terrorism actions are effective and legal, and their legitimacy is best demonstrated by making public more information about these actions as well as setting clear standards for other nations to follow,” he added.
Naureen Shah, Amnesty International’s U.S. director for security and human rights, also welcomed the documents but said more was needed to ensure the policy was followed.
“The Obama administration’s disclosures are welcome but they only tell part of the story and obscure disturbing practices. We still know extremely little about the standards that would govern signature strikes and so-called rescuer strikes, which have involved potentially unlawful killings,” Shah added.