Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive orders as Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence look on in the Hall of Heroes at the Department of Defense on January 27, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

'Blank Check to Kill With Impunity': Trump to Quietly Scrap Drone Restrictions

Human rights groups argue the move could led to an upsurge in civilian casualties, which are already soaring under Trump

Jake Johnson

President Donald Trump is reportedly gearing up to roll back even the most limited restrictions on U.S. drone operations overseas, further opening the door for the expansion of airstrikes and commando raids into nations like the Philippines and Nigeria and setting the stage for an upsurge in civilian casualties—already at record highs in Afghanistan and soaring in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

"The administration cannot write itself a blank check to kill with impunity."
—Zeke Johnson, Amnesty International USA
Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs for Amnesty International USA, told the New York Times in an interview that while Obama-era restrictions on drone strikes "fell far short on human rights protections," any move to water down drone warfare rules even further would be a "grave mistake."

The White House appears to be committed to the move nonetheless, the Times reported on Thursday, noting that the plan "has quietly taken shape over months of debate among administration officials and awaits Trump's expected signature."

The Times notes that at least two rules are on the chopping block:

  • "First, the targets of kill missions by the military and the CIA, now generally limited to high-level militants deemed to pose a 'continuing and imminent threat' to Americans, would be expanded to include foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles."
  • "And second, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer undergo high-level vetting."

The plan, in effect, would deepen American military involvement in nations considered to be beyond combat zones and allow the U.S. military—and the CIA, which has for months lobbied for more drone authority—to target individuals that are not even deemed national security threats by the U.S. government.

"[D]rone operators and commanders would face fewer internal hurdles to launching specific strikes or raids," the Times concluded.

As Common Dreams reported last month, Trump has repeatedly shown a willingness to bow to endless war advocates, as he did in his speech outlining the White House "strategy" for the 16-year-war in Afghanistan. Central to his address was the promise to lift restrictions on military operations and "expand authority for American forces."

"The Trump administration needs to ensure that its guidance for operations outside armed conflict comply with human rights law."
—Zeke Johnson, Amnesty International
With his expected drone rule rollback, Trump appears to be moving closer to fulfilling this promise.

According to a recent analysis by the human rights organization Reprieve, the Trump administration's more belligerent and less accountable foreign policy is already having devastating consequences. Trump, the group notes, "has overseen a projected fivefold increase in drone strikes" in Yemen, the site of a U.S. assassination campaign that "eclipses all that came before it in scale and brutality."

Johnson of Amnesty International noted in a statement late Thursday that Trump's ability to expand the use of lethal force abroad is due to the "legally and morally murky" policies that were put in place and maintained by his predecessors, and sustained by a Congress that refuses to debate the merits of the endless "war on terror."

Thus, any proposal that "gut[s] already weak human rights protections" that restrain American forces abroad "would be unacceptable," Johnson concluded. "The Trump administration needs to ensure that its guidance for operations outside armed conflict comply with human rights law. The administration cannot write itself a blank check to kill with impunity."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

House Democrats Request 'Damage Assessment' Following Recovery of Classified Docs

"Former President Trump's conduct has potentially put our national security at grave risk," Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Adam Schiff wrote to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Kenny Stancil ·


Violent Threats Against FBI Soar as Trump Lies About Mar-a-Lago Search

Menacing messages posted online "include a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI Headquarters" and "general calls for 'civil war' and 'armed rebellion,'" officials warned.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Biggest Win for Tax Fairness' in Decades: Progressives Cheer Reforms in IRA, Demand More

"While this bill establishes desperately needed changes to our tax laws and IRS funding, it is still a far cry from the systemic changes that we need in our society to rectify the hold the rich still have on every level of our economy."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Care Can't Wait': IRA a Good Start, Progressives Say, But More Is Needed

"Americans deserve a full loaf of bread," said health justice advocate Ady Barkan.

Kenny Stancil ·


'I'm Back': Fetterman Returns to Campaign Trail Following May Stroke

"I'm not only grateful to be alive, but also for the campaign we're building together," said the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo