Obama administration falls short on promise, remains secretive about drone program
WASHINGTON — Six months after President Obama vowed to change his administration's approach to lethal drone missile strikes, the pace of aerial attacks has fallen sharply, in part because of stricter targeting criteria. But thus far, a blanket of secrecy about the campaign has remained firmly in place.
The Democrat-led Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Nov. 5 to require that the administration disclose how many civilians and militants were killed by drones each year. That tally has not been made available.
The panel also voted to impose additional intelligence demands before the White House could authorize a drone strike against a U.S. citizen or resident alien. Drones have killed five Americans since 2002, but only one, al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki, was officially marked for death.
“The American people should be given basic facts about mistakes when they are made, and they should also be given the rules that the government must follow when targeting and killing an American involved in terrorist activities,” committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement.
The proposed restrictions, which are part of a broader intelligence bill, might not survive. Republicans on the Senate panel voted for the bill, but most opposed the drone amendments. And key lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House oppose the provisions.
The White House has yet to take a position.
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the administration has been transparent concerning drones.
“The president has committed to undertaking these activities with the greatest possible transparency, and we will continue to share as much information as possible with the American people, Congress and the international community,” she said.
In a May speech at National Defense University, Obama said he had signed a policy directive that set new standards before the White House would approve targeted killing by drones.
Obama said the CIA had to show that a proposed target posed a “continuing imminent threat” to Americans, rather than a “significant threat,” which was the previous standard. In addition, no attack would be ordered without “near certainty” that civilians would not be harmed, Obama said.
The number of strikes had fallen before May, but the new rules served to further reduce the frequency.
The Long War Journal, which tracks drone attacks through news reports, has recorded 22 strikes this year in Yemen, down from 42 last year. It has counted 25 in Pakistan, down from 46 last year and a peak of 117 in 2010. A single strike has been reported this year in Somalia.
Harold Koh, who served as State Department legal advisor in Obama's first term, said in an email that the targeting standards have “disciplined” the drone program.
But Koh, now a professor at Yale Law School, said he has seen “little or no movement” on making the program more transparent, a goal he believes is necessary to boost the program's legitimacy abroad.
In May, White House aides indicated that the Pentagon would take over at least some covert drone operations from the CIA. The military operates under different legal statutes than the CIA, and can provide more information to the public.
That plan has stalled, however, because of logistical, bureaucratic and legal concerns.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Gray wolf decision reversed
- Traffic deaths down 3 percent
- FBI’s 2001 anthrax attack investigation questioned
- Ghostly snailfish found at record depth
- Supreme Court won’t stop gay marriages in Florida
- Bush officials gave CIA wide latitude on interrogation tactics
- Replacement part beamed up to space station
- U.S., Cuba patching torn relations with historic accord
- Texas ponders allowing open carry of handguns
- Your electric car may not be so green if coal generates the electricity
- Use of U.S. steel to fix Alaska terminal causes rift with Canada