The Senate Intelligence Committee and the Obama administration agree on this: the American people should not know the number of people killed by U.S. drone attacks overseas, nor should they hope to understand the circumstances under which such lethal killings are authorized or executed.
This high-level agreement was confirmed on Monday after a "modest" provision designed to add transparency to the US drone assassination program was killed in the Senate committee following objections by the Obama administration's intelligence chief.
“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, Amnesty International
As The Guardian reports:
At the behest of the director of national intelligence, US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims.
The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “noncombatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. It did not require the White House to disclose the total number of strikes worldwide.
But the Guardian has confirmed that Senate leaders have removed the language as they prepare to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes.
Critics of the Obama administration's use of drones and ongoing assassination program say that even though the language of the provision was mild, it was at least a step towards transparency and oversight.
“Congress is charged with oversight of the administration and this is a matter of life and death,” Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told the New York Times. “A basic report on the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask.”
And Hawkins' colleague Zeke Johnson, Zeke Johnson, who directs the group's security and human rights program asked:
“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."