Senate Demands that Obama Give Annual Accounting of Drone Kills…Just Kidding

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
James Clapper (AP photo)

A move to force the Obama administration into reporting the number of casualties caused by drone attacks each year has been scuttled in the U.S. Senate.


Senators had added a provision to a major intelligence bill that would have required President Barack Obama to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and the number of people killed or wounded by them, including civilians.


But the language was dropped from the bill after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, wrote a letter to the Senate warning such disclosures could compromise the effectiveness of the government’s drone program.


“The executive branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities,” Clapper wrote to Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), the heads of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.


“To be meaningful to the public, any report including the information described above would require context and be drafted carefully so as to protect against the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods or other classified information. … We are confident we can find a reporting structure that provides the American people additional information to inform their understanding of important government operations to protect our nation, while preserving the ability to continue those operations,” Clapper added.


Human rights activists expressed disappointment over the news of the transparency requirement’s removal.


“How many people have to die for Congress to take even a small step toward transparency? It's stunning that after all these years we still don't know how many people the Obama administration has killed with drones,” Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International’s security and human rights program, told The Guardian.


Feinstein, who complied with Clapper’s request to drop the disclosure provision, is a longtime supporter of the drone program. In defending it last year, she stated that U.S. drones kill only “single digits” of civilians every year.


The Council on Foreign Relations says American drones strikes have been declining recently, from 92 strikes that killed up to 532 people in 2012 to 55 strikes that killed 271 people last year.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

US Senators Remove Requirement for Disclosure over Drone Strike Victims (by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian)

Senate Drops Bid to Report on Drone Use (by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times)

Drone Strikes: James Clapper's Letter to Senate Intelligence Committee (The Guardian)

Lawmakers Vote against Disclosing Victims of U.S. Drone Attacks (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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