(MintPress) – Weeks after questions surrounding the U.S. drone program slowed the nomination process of President Obama’s pick for the new CIA director, the agency is reportedly planning on handing the controversial program over to the Pentagon. The story broke Tuesday when the Daily Beast published information received by three senior U.S. officials who said the plan […]
(MintPress) – Weeks after questions surrounding the U.S. drone program slowed the nomination process of President Obama’s pick for the new CIA director, the agency is reportedly planning on handing the controversial program over to the Pentagon.
The story broke Tuesday when the Daily Beast published information received by three senior U.S. officials who said the plan was poised to move forward.
Since 2004, the U.S. drone operation has killed up to 3,295 people in Pakistan alone — 10 percent of whom were civilians, and 9 to 13 percent of whom were tagged as “unknown,” according to the New America Foundation. In Yemen, up to 928 people have been killed, 860 of whom were militants.
While it likely won’t put an end to criticism of the program, activists and human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), are applauding the move of handing the program to the Pentagon.
“A secret intelligence agency that doesn’t follow international legal rules to investigate alleged violations shouldn’t be carrying out what are essentially military attacks for the U.S.,” Laura Pitter, HRW counterterrorism advisor said in a press release. “Bringing these strikes under military control could bring greater transparency and accountability to the public.”
The move is expected to be in direct response to nationwide criticism of John Brennan’s CIA director nomination, which prompted Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul to hold a near-13-hour filibuster on the senate floor, during which time he questioned the legality of the drone program and Brennan’s role as counterterrorism advisor.
Brennan has been the overseer of the program since Obama took office, at which point U.S. use of drones escalated. In 2008, 36 drone strikes were carried out in Pakistan. That number increased to 122 by 2010, according to the New America Foundation.
“The Obama administration basically had to promise to come clean on the drone program in order to get Brennan approved,” Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio said.
While Rand made the loudest — and longest — argument against the CIA program, he wasn’t alone. Joined by more than a dozen other Republican congressmen and women and other concerned lawmakers and activists around the nation, the controversy grew with momentum on its side.
Human Rights activist organization Code Pink even emerged as a supporter of the conservative senator’s actions, representing an unlikely united front against a democratic president’s policies.
The transition to the Pentagon won’t quell criticism of the program completely, but it will provide answers being raised by those who said the program lacked transparency and oversight. Obama will no longer have the ability to order the strikes, creating instead a set of rules and procedures that would need to be met before strikes are ordered.
What would change?
HRW’s approval of the possible move does come with the request that transparency be increased. Specifically, the group is calling for the Defense Department to adopt a policy of acknowledging strikes immediately after they occur, along with details regarding who the target was and the “legal basis” for the attack.
“Transferring the targeted killing program from the CIA to the military is a start on the road to transparency, though it is certainly not the end,” Pitter said in the press release. “The U.S. needs to ensure that all credible allegations of civilian casualties are fully investigated, wrongdoing punished, and the victims of violations compensated.”
While figures for U.S. drone strikes have been compiled by outside human rights and journalism organizations, the U.S. has not released all details regarding its strikes, except when key al-Qaeda members are killed.
The requests of HRW and concerned members of Congress were addressed during Obama’s most recent State of the Union address in 2012, when he claimed the need for checks and balances — this followed the now famous article published in the New York Times, which shed light on the president’s drone “kill list.”
“I will continue to work with Congress to ensure that not only our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remain consistent with our laws and systems of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world,” he said.
Now, the nation will have an opportunity to see if that promise will be carried through — or if this is just an attempt to pass the buck on to the Pentagon.