The president reportedly approved the January 29 operation that killed Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens and the civilians ― including nine children ― over dinner. He was not in the Situation Room during the raid on al Ghayil village in central Yemen, as is traditional with such missions.
Some critics have said the raid that also destroyed a $70 million Osprey helicopter was launched with inadequate intelligence, ground support or backup preparations.
It’s unclear what the operation accomplished. Trump initially called it a “winning mission,” and administration officials have said that important intelligence records were collected. But there is little evidence of that. Sources told NBC after the raid that no significant intelligence was obtained.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. district Court of the Southern District of New York Monday in an attempt to obtain basic facts about the raid ― including the legal basis for its launch, what was considered before it began, and what was accomplished.
“After conducting an internal investigation, the government released little information about the circumstances surrounding the raid, the legal or factual justifications for it, and its consequences,” the suit states.
The ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the information in March with the CIA, Pentagon, State Department, Department of Justice and Department of Defense. But “despite the urgent public interest surrounding the requested documents, none of the defendants has released any record in response,” the lawsuit states.
Some of the information that was released contradicted with the findings of Human Rights Watch, according to the suit, which asks that the court order the agencies to provide the documents.
But the administration also tried to duck responsibility for the operation following the backlash.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the Obama administration had set up the mission to obtain intelligence. However, Obama administration officials said that they had formulated a general proposal for operations in the Yemen region, but the raid on al Ghayil was not a part of that plan.
In an interview, Trump blamed the generals, saying “they lost Ryan.”
The New York Times reported in March that the president has exempted sections of Yemen from rules aimed at protecting civilians in order to launch more aggressive operations against Al Qaeda, which would be riskier for civilians.