from the more-transparency-please dept
While much of the recent conversation here surrounding the United States' use of drones has centered on the fear of how they might be used domestically, there can be little doubt that their use is highly controversial around the world as well. In that arena, the questions that arise are more about transparency in their use, collateral damage, and whether or not there is even a legal argument for their application at all. As the pressure continues to mount, President Obama finally began to at least respond, suggesting in his most recent State of the Union address that he is seeking moves that will "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." Many of us who have paid attention to Obama's actions versus his promises when it comes to transparency may have rolled our eyes, but there may shortly be a move coming in which, in the case of drones at least, progress will actually be made.
Reports are circulating via senior U.S. officials as sources that the President is going to take the CIA drone program, one of two in the United States, and unify it with the Defense Department's drone program. If it does indeed happen, this move should not go under-appreciated by those of us who wish for more accountability and transparency when our government decides to kill people abroad. As The Daily Beast notes:
The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program's accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. “This is a big deal,” says one senior administration official who has been briefed on the plan. “It would be a pretty strong statement.”While any move that occurs will be phased in gradually, the report suggests it will be completed within the President's second term. The likely pusher for this shift, oddly enough, is coming from John Brennan, newly appointed CIA Director, who also has headed up the administration's drone program since the start of his first term. Reportedly, Brennan wants to get back to gathering intelligence, the CIA's longstanding role prior to the September 11 attacks over a decade ago. For the President, the one who dramatically upped the ante with America's drone strikes from the previous administration, this would be a serious move. Why?
Perhaps most important is that the CIA’s program is “covert”—which is to say it is not only highly classified, it’s deniable under the law. That means the CIA, in theory, can lie about the existence of the program or about particular operations. The military’s targeted killing program, however, is “clandestine”—which means it is secret but not deniable.The cynical may not see much in such a move, but it's an important step. I'll leave it to other arenas for any debate over whether we should be using drones in the war on terror at all, but I would at least hope that we could all agree that when America, the nation, decides we're going to kill people overseas, America, the nation, should demand that choice be scrutable.