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Senator wants details on drone use in Obama's targeted-kill program

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A top Democratic lawmaker and a former deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called on Tuesday on the Obama administration to make public more information about its top-secret targeted killing program amid questions about the legality and effectiveness of hundreds of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere.

“More transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community” for drone strikes, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a key Obama ally and the chairman of the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The White House refused to send a witness to the Senate's first open hearing on the issue despite President Obama's vow to be more forthcoming about a counterterrorism weapon that has become a despised symbol of U.S. foreign policy in many parts of the world.

“I am disappointed that the administration declined to provide witnesses to testify at today's hearing,” Durbin said.

The hearing was held nearly 12 years after the United States launched its first drone strike, underscoring what some legal scholars and civil and human rights experts have criticized as insufficient oversight by Congress.

But the killings of four U.S. citizens — three of them accidentally — in Yemen and Obama's appointment of John Brennan, his former counterterrorism chief and overseer of the targeted killing program, to head the CIA have increased pressure on lawmakers to examine the use of drones in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.

The program remains shrouded in secrecy. The administration insists that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare” despite a huge expansion in strikes under Obama. Independent studies put the number of strikes since 2001 at more than 360 and estimate that as many as 3,533 people, including up to 884 civilians, have died, the vast majority in CIA operations in Pakistan's tribal area.

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