Bipartisan Team Wants More Transparency in U.S. Drone Policy

In response to the Obama administration’s drone policy, a bipartisan team has introduced legislation to compel annual reports regarding their use.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, introduced the “Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act” last week, which is cosponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican. A Schiff press release said the purpose of the bill is to:

“Require an annual report on the number of combatants and civilians killed or injured annually by strikes from remotely piloted aircraft, known as drones. The requirement is retroactive for five years so that trends can be assessed. It also requires that the report include the definitions of combatants and civilian noncombatants used.”

The legislation excludes strikes in Afghanistan and “other theaters of conflict.”

The Obama administration has offered some rhetorical support for amending its drone program, but some members of Congress have doubts.

Jones said:

“Our government’s use of drones for targeted killings should be subject to intense scrutiny and oversight. . . . This legislation is an important step in that direction.”

The bill’s cosponsors insist that their objective is not to eliminate drones altogether. Schiff told Yahoo News:

“Tactically, drones can be enormously effective. We’ve taken some really bad actors off the battlefield. . . . Strategically, it’s more of a mixed bag because it does alienate large numbers of people when there are civilian casualties.”

Schiff’s comments come in response to the notion that drones can be a cleaner, safer form of warfare because it shields the operators from danger. However, polling elsewhere in the world has shown the policy to be unpopular and of dubious legality.

Drones were occasionally used during the Bush administration, but became one of the featured tools in the Obama administration’s arsenal. It received notoriety when American-born Muslim cleric and suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone in Yemen in 2011.

This legislation appears just as a drone case was thrown out of U.S. federal court. The family of Awlaki was seeking monetary payment for what they considered an illegal assassination. Judge Rosemary Collyer granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case, saying the question of whether government officials can be held personally liable “raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles and it is not easy to answer.”

This is not Schiff’s first attempt to regulate the national security state. Last September, Schiff introduced HR 3159, the Ensuring Adversarial Process in the FISA Court Act. HR 3159 is designed to ensure suspects facing the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have a “public interest advocate.” It has two cosponsors and is currently in committee.

A joint statement issued by Amnesty International, the Arab American Institute, Human Rights Watch, and others support Schiff and Jones, calling their legislation a “modest yet crucial step toward ending excessive secrecy about US drone strikes.”