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Groups Urge Obama to Finally Come Clean on Drone Strikes

Rights organizations say Obama must reveal supposed legal justifications for drone killings

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A drone model burned Friday at a protest in Sana, Yemen. (Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency)

Ten civil and human rights organizations came together this week to urge President Barack Obama to disclose the shadowy details of his administration’s targeted killing program, including the supposed legal justifications for its lethal drone strikes around the world.

In a joint letter sent to the President on Thursday, and made public Friday, the groups called on Obama to “publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful Congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm.”

In response, the White House remained ambigous on the deadly program, which has taken the lives of thousands of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, stated late Friday:

We cannot discuss the sensitive details of specific operations but we will continue to disclose as much as we can – as soon as we can – regarding the framework, the standards, and the process through which we approve such operations.

And as McClatchy reports:

Hayden noted that in February and March the president directed the Justice Department to provide the House and Senate intelligence committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice. However, that came only after repeated requests from the committees for access. Obama, however, has refused to make public the top-secret Justice Department legal opinions outlining the U.S. and international legal justifications for the targeted killing program, on the grounds that they are privileged legal advice to the president.

A Senate Judiciary Committee panel was to have held a hearing on the issue Tuesday. But the session was postponed a week because the White House so far has declined to send a witness, said a congressional aide who requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

The nine-page letter sent by the rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch and six others, asserts that the “commitment to the rule of law requires the administration disclose the legal constraints on its lethal targeting operations. Greater disclosure of legal and policy standards, and procedural mechanisms, is a necessary prerequisite to informed assessment and debate by the U.S. public, policymakers charged with conducting oversight, and the international community.”

On the letter, Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, stated:

The more the administration is rightly forced to disclose about who it is killing and why, the more obvious it becomes that the practice is growing, is illegal in its scope, is causing large-scale civilian casualties and is a slow-moving train wreck with serious blowback consequences to U.S. national security.

Earlier this week, McClatchy reported that a leak of top-secret intelligence reports, obtained by the news agency, shows that the Obama Administration has long been guilty of misrepresenting the kind of groups and individuals it has targeted in the targeted killing program—that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to the standards put fourth in public statements and press interviews by White House officials.


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