The US Senate has stripped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Barack Obama to publicly disclose casualties resulting from targeted killing by unmanned aerial drones.
The New York Times reports Director of National Intelligence James Clapper convinced senators that disclosing the number of victims killed by US drone strikes would undermine ongoing and future counterterrorism operations.
The stricken provision, which was added to the bill authorizing intelligence operations for fiscal year 2014, mandated an annual presidential report detailing “the total number of combatants killed or injured during the preceding year by the use of targeted lethal force outside the United States by remotely piloted aircraft.” It would also have required disclosure of the number of dead or injured civilians.
Officials told the Times that intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers objected to the provision and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who originally proposed the measure, was convinced to remove it.
President Obama has promised to increase transparency in regard to drone operations, which have increased dramatically in number and scope since he entered office. US drone strikes now occur in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism estimates as many as 4,200 people, including more than 1,000 civilians, have been killed in those countries by American drones since 2002.
The Obama administration claims drone strikes are an necessary and effective means of killing terrorists without placing US troops in harm’s way. But drones have become a rallying point and recruiting tool for Islamic terrorists, while terrorizing, angering and alienating large numbers of civilians in nations allied with Washington in its anti-terror war.
Last month, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to condemn US drone strikes as “illegal.” The United Nations is investigating the attacks, which it says may amount to “war crimes.”
The stripping of the drone casualty disclosure provision is the latest move by lawmakers to preserve the current status of Washington’s targeted killing program, despite grave concerns regarding its legality. Revelations that the Obama administration maintains a “kill list” of assassination targets, including Americans denied due process, raise further questions.
Human rights groups expressed alarm over the removal of the provision from the intelligence bill.
“Congress is charged with oversight of the administration and this is a matter of life and death,” Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told the Times. “A basic report on the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask.”