Attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have filed a lawsuit on behalf of award-winning freelance journalist Azmat Khan against the United States Department of Defense and Central Command (CENTCOM) after the agencies failed to comply with her Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records related to civilian casualties in the U.S-led campaign against ISIS.
Khan submitted three FOIA requests to CENTCOM between March 2017 and March 2018 seeking records regarding its reporting procedures, credibility assessments, and closure reports for allegations of civilian deaths stemming from U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as part of “Operation Inherent Resolve.”
Khan submitted two of the three requests following The New York Times Magazine’s publication of “The Uncounted,” her 18-month investigation with fellow freelance journalist Anand Gopal, which found that one in five Coalition airstrikes they identified resulted in civilian casualties — a rate 31 times that reported by the Coalition. The investigation also revealed “a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims [of civilian deaths] properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all.”
Khan and Gopal’s reporting resulted in calls for transparency and change, including an op-ed from Sen. Patrick Leahy in The New York Times calling on the agencies to improve accuracy of airstrike data and the way it investigates reports of civilian casualties, and a letter from Rep. Ted Lieu to Secretary of Defense James Mattis urging the Department of Defense to investigate and correct its reports on civilian casualties.
Citing an urgent need for additional transparency regarding CENTCOM’s process for evaluating and tracking allegations of civilian deaths, Khan asked for expedited processing for each of her requests, which the government denied.
More than a year has passed since Khan’s first FOIA request was submitted. The law requires expedited requests to be processed “as soon as practicable.”
Khan’s complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleges that that the Department of Defense and CENTCOM violated FOIA by, among other things, wrongfully denying expedited processing and failing to provide records, and seeks an order from the court compelling the agencies to produce the requested documents. Reporters Committee attorneys are representing Khan pro bono in the case.
Filings in this case can be accessed on the Reporters Committee’s litigation page.