Administration’s Plan to Transfer Command of Drone Strikes to DOD Welcome; Transparency Still Needed

Washington, D.C. – Reports today indicate that the Obama Administration intends to move drone strikes out of the CIA and consolidate operations within the Department of Defense. Human Rights First welcomes this development as an important step forward in increasing oversight of the targeted killing program. The organization also notes that more transparency is still needed, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee should seek to clarify the legal rules the administration is applying during next month’s hearing.

“It’s welcome news that the CIA is getting out of the drone business,” said Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn. “But while the decision about which agency has the authority to use lethal force in drones strikes is important, it is equally important that the administration get the law and policy right, and be transparent about governing rules,” added Osburn. “If we get the rules wrong, any oversight is flawed.”

Last month the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) released a White Paper which addressed in some detail the legal justifications for the lethal targeting of American citizens. According to the White Paper, an “imminent threat” necessary to give rise to the use of force “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Human Rights First notes that the White Paper’s definition of imminent threat is neither specific nor immediate, which greatly expands the circumstances in which a President could order drone strikes outside an armed conflict against an ill-defined enemy.

“General Stanley McChrystal and other military leaders have correctly cautioned against the blowback being generated by drone operations that are shrouded in secrecy,” concluded Osburn. “In his State of Union Address, President Obama promised additional transparency into the targeted killing program. While his administration has made some signs of progress, more must be done to bring this program to light.”

To learn more, see Human Rights First’s Blueprint: How to Ensure That the U.S. Drone Program Does Not Violate Human Rights.


Published on March 20, 2013


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