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US Drone War in Pakistan: Gov Docs

This database was developed by Maliha Ali '15 at Bennington College, as a resource for fact-checking and archiving the claims, research and data about US drone policy and its impact in Pakistan and beyond.


Declassified, limited release and leaked secret documents by or relating to US government sources.

Fact Sheet: "U.S. Export Policy for Military Unmanned Aerial Systems" (Feb 17, 2015)

ACLU & NYT FOIA v. CIA - Federal Appeals Court Decision (June 23, 2014) and DOJ memo justifying Anwer Awlaki killing (2010)

“This appeal of a judgment dismissing challenges to denials of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) presents important issues arising at the intersection of the public's opportunity to obtain information about their government's activities and the legitimate interests of the Executive Branch in maintaining secrecy about matters of national security. The issues assume added importance because the information sought concerns targeted killings of United States citizens carried out by drone aircraft.” —Circuit Judges Newman, Cabranes and Pooler, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Attached to this appeals court ruling (starting on page 67) is a redacted version of a 2010 memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that signed off on the effort to target Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American citizen deemed a terrorist, for killing without a trial. It was released in June 2014 as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union. Awlaki was killed in a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

ACLU v. CIA - Federal Appeals Court Decision (Mar 15, 2013)

"In this case, the CIA has asked the courts to stretch that doctrine too far—to give their imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible."—Judge Merrick Garland, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

ACLU & NYT FOIA v. CIA - District Court Decision (Jan 2, 2013)

“However, this Court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the Government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the OIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reason why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules -- a veritable Catch-22.” —Judge Colleen McMahon, US District Judge Southern District of New York

ACLU & NYT FOIA v. CIA - CIA Brief (May 21, 2012)

“Finally, plaintiffs argue that because "the use of drones is not a secret method of killing," Br. at 37, "the CIA's claim that the Glomar invocation serves a legitimate purpose" is undermined, Br. at 39. Plaintiffs' argument is wide off the mark. Notwithstanding widespread reports that drone strikes occur, the CIA has never confirmed or denied whether it has any involvement or intelligence interest in any of those drone strikes, or whether it maintains any records relating to those drone strikes. Thus, responding to plaintiffs' FOIA request would, in fact, reveal information that has not been officially disclosed, i.e., whether the CIA has responsive records regarding the use of drone strikes.” —Catherine Y. Hancock, Counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency

ACLU FOIA v. CIA - District Court Decision (Sep 9, 2011)

“Plaintiffs read the FOIA exemption for intelligence gathering too narrowly and Mr. Panetta's comments too broadly. Whether or not the CIA has any relevant records, that fact is exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Summary judgment will be granted to the CIA.” —US District Court for the District of Columbia

ACLU FOIA Request about Drone Operations (Jan 13, 2009)

“In particular, we seek information about the legal basis in domestic, foreign, and international law for the use of drones to conduct targeted killings. We request information regarding the rules and standards that the Armed Forces and the CIA use to determine when and where these weapons may be used, the targets that they may be used against, and the processes in place to decide whether their use is legally permissible in particular circumstances, especially in the face of anticipated civilian casualties. We also seek information about how these rules and standards are implemented and enforced. We request information about how the consequences of drone strikes are assessed, including methods for determining the number of civilian and non-civilian casualties. Finally, we request information about the frequency of drone strikes and the number of Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, other targeted individuals, innocent civilians, or otherwise who have been killed or injured in these operations.” –American Civil Liberties Union

Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool (Leaked CIA Report, 2009)

"The potential negative effect of HLT [high-level targets] operations include increasing the level of insurgent support […], strengthening an armed group's bonds with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group's remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents.”

CIA Review of High-Value Target Assassination Programs

RESTRAINT: SECRET//NOFORN (no foreign nationals) TITLE: Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High-Value DATE: Organisation: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) AUTHOR: CIA Office of Transnational Issues; Conflict, Governance, and Society Group

DoD Report Reducing and Mitigating Civilian Casualties: Enduring Lessons (Apr 12, 2013)

JCOS Instruction: No-Strike and the Collateral Damage Estimation Methodology (Oct 12, 2012)

(U//FOUO) Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction: No-Strike and the Collateral Damage Estimation Methodology

"The purpose of this instruction is to document the Department of Defense (DoD) policy governing the No-strike process, management of No-strike entities, treatment of collateral objects, and the logic, processes, and procedures of the collateral damage estimation (CDE) methodology (CDM)."

Update to JCOS Instruction: No-Strike and the Collateral Damage Estimation Methodology (Oct 12, 2012)

DOJ White Paper: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa'ida or An Associated Force" (2011)

This Department of Justice White Paper concludes that the US government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” - even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the US. Submitted by the DOJ to the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in June 2012 as a confidential document. Obtained by Michael Isikoff, of NBC and leaked online on 4 Feb 2013.

Eric Holder Letter to Sen. Rand Paul (Mar 4, 2013)

"The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001." --Eric Holder, Attorney General

Eric Holder Letter to Sen. Rand Paul (Mar 7, 2013)

"It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" The answer to that question is no." --Eric Holder, Attorney General

Eric Holder Letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (May 22, 2013)

"To this end, the President has direcied me to disclose certain information that until now has been properly classified. You and other Members of your Committee have on numerous occasions expressed a particular interest in the Administration's use oflethal force against U.S. citizens. In light of this fact, I am writing to disclose to you certain information about the number of U.S. citizens who have been killed by U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of areas of active hostilities. Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd aI-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States." --Eric Holder, Attorney General

CIA Glomar Response (Letter to ACLU re FOIA) (Mar 9, 2010)

“The CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of…records pertaining to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles." --Delores Nelson, Information and Privacy Coordinator, CIA


Declassified, limited release and leaked secret documents by or relating to Pakistani government sources.

FATA Secretariat Report on CIA drone strikes (2006-2013)

The document contains estimates of how many people have been killed in each strike, as well as whether the dead are ‘local’ or ‘non-local’ – a broad category that includes those from elsewhere in Pakistan, as well as foreigners. Obtained and leaked by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Prepared for the FATA Secretariat, the report states that at least 147 civilians (including 94 children) were killed from 2006 to 2013."Officials in the FATA Secretariat, which oversees the tribal areas, compile the document using information obtained from local sources by field agents. Each day the local Political Agent, the ranking officer in the field, submits a Daily Situation Report to the FATA Secretariat, listing any violent incidents in the area that day. The document published here is compiled from those reports.

Pakistani government's secret report on drone strikes

Although in some respects the document is detailed - showing the exact times and locations of strikes, for example - it also has striking omissions: none of 2007's five strikes are shown, and the report almost never notes the names or alleged militant affiliations of the dead.

Special Report for South Waziristan Political Agent (Jan 24, 2009)

This letter, obtained by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), revealed that local Pakistani authorities knew of civilian deaths in a strike on January 23, 2009, despite the lack of official acknowledgement or support.

Peshawar High Court Noor Khan v. Pakistan Ruling (Nov 4, 2013)

“In view of the above established facts, undeniable in nature, under the U.N Charter & Conventions, the peoples of Pakistan have every right to ask the security forces either to prevent such strikes by force or to shot down the intruding drones because this right is conferred upon the Member State, aggressed upon, to defend itself, its people & territory against foreign aggression and when the President of Pakistan, the Prime Minister & his Cabinet and the Parliament, through unanimously adopted resolution, have not only condemned the drone strikes but have shown serious concerns at different occasions and at different forums about the same, the only option left out is to give effective rejoinder to such naked aggression made on sovereign state territory / airspace.” —Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, Peshawar High Court, Peshawar Judicial Department