A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the Central Intelligence Agency must confirm if it does or does not have records of a drone program in response to a three-year-old Freedom of Information request from the ACLU.
The ruling does not mean the CIA has to turn over the records, but it does allow the ACLU’s lawsuit seeking information about the drone program to go forward–something that may spark the largest reversal in the tight-lipped silence on the drone program (though the ACLU will have to win another huge court battle).
Mary Ellen Cole, on behalf of the CIA had argued in District Court that “[a]n official CIA acknowledgment that confirms or denies the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to Plaintiffs’ FOIA request would reveal, among other things, whether or not the CIA is involved in drone strikes or at least has an intelligence interest in drone strikes.”
But the three-judge panel ruled that because President Obama has publicly acknowledged the use of drones, the CIA was no longer entitled to refuse to acknowledge whether or not it has records of the program.
In a statement to the AFP, an ACLU spokesman lauded the court ruling as a monumental victory.
“We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, told the news wire. “The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders.