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Lawmakers Vote to Keep Drone War Deaths Secret

House Intelligence Committee rejects provision that would count those killed in US bombings

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Students gather outside of their madrassa in in Hangu, Pakistan after it was struck by a drone in the early hours of the morning Thursday (Photo: REUTERS/Syed Shah)The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday rejected 15 to 5 what supporters call a "modest" proposal to require that the Obama administration publicly report those killed by U.S. drone strikes overseas.

"By blocking transparency the House [committee] denies accountability for the slaughter committed against innocent lives in drone strikes," said Suraia Sahar of Afghans United for Justice in an interview with Common Dreams. "This is a gross disregard for human life."

The provision, proposed by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), had already passed the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month. It would have required that U.S. agencies involved in drone wars produce annual reports in which they account for all deaths in U.S. drone strikes overseas and identify the civilians and alleged combatants killed.

"The production of this report will require minimal resources, but will provide a modest but important measure of transparency and oversight," said Schiff in a statement released Thursday. While the bill failed along party lines, with Republicans voting "no," Schiff said he plans to continue efforts to advance the legislation in the House. Supporters say that in order for this bill to move forward, constituents must pressure Republicans both in the House and Senate to get on board.

The bill failed despite a lobbying blitz earlier this week by attendees of a global summit demanding an end to Obama's ongoing drone wars. Groups including delegates from regions terrorized by U.S. drones, such as Yemen and Pakistan, appealed directly to Congress to end the deadly strikes. The groups charged that, at the very least, an increase in transparency and oversight is needed.

"People complain justifiably that the Obama administration is not being transparent," said Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, in an interview with Common Dreams. "But Congress also is not being transparent. Every day this drone policy continues, Congress is voting through its inaction to do nothing."

While Obama administration officials have been famously secretive about the lives lost in U.S. drone attacks, they have repeated the unverified claim that civilian deaths have been minimal. Yet this is contested by experts and witnesses, including Bureau of Investigative Journalism researchers who have documented high numbers of civilian deaths in Pakistan and Yemen.

In a drone war that operates behind a veil of secrecy, critics charge that any step towards transparency, no matter how small, is a positive one.

"Even this defeat is a victory," said Naiman. "It is the first time in ten years of drone strike policy that there was any congressional vote on anything. Now we can see who is trying to do something and who is blocking. There has been a dramatic increase in transparency just as a result of this vote."

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