McClatchy Analysis Accuses Obama Of Misleading Public On Use Of Drones

When questioning the Drone War, my greatest concern has been not the killing of Americans (a rare event which Rand Paul grandstanded about) but the lack of transparency and oversight. McClatchy reviewed intelligence reports finding that drone strikes in Pakistan have not adhered to the standards verbalized by Barack Obama:

Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.

The administration has said that strikes by the CIA’s missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones are authorized only against “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans.

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.”

In a response to questions from McClatchy, the White House defended its targeting policies, pointing to previous public statements by senior administration officials that the missile strikes are aimed at al Qaida and associated forces.

Micah Zenko, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan foreign policy think tank, who closely follows the target killing program, said McClatchy’s findings indicate that the administration is “misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted.”

The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”

McClatchy’s review is the first independent evaluation of internal U.S. intelligence accounting of drone attacks since the Bush administration launched America’s secret aerial warfare on Oct. 7, 2001, the day a missile-carrying Predator took off for Afghanistan from an airfield in Pakistan on the first operational flight of an armed U.S. drone…

There is far more in the article, reinforcing my fear that any administration is likely to show a similar pattern when there is little oversight and they are acting in secrecy. As I have previously discussed, I would like to see oversight analogous to the FISA Court, as others have also proposed, and the Obama administration is considering. This would provide some degree of judicial oversight, ending the idea that any individual (regardless of whether an American citizen) could be targeted for execution by drones with no oversight whatsoever. In addition, this would ensure that there is a record of the justification for the use of drones which could be reviewed by Congressional committees which might uncover any pattern of abuse. Ultimately such information should be declassified so presidents would know that their conduct would be judged by history. When I wrote this I did not anticipate that a news outlet would provide this information so quickly, but am not surprised by the findings. Being forced to justify the choice of targets for drone strikes in a judicial situation might have prevented the use of drones against targets beyond senior leaders while claiming this is not being done, and required justification of their actions.

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