Obama Administration Increases Transparency of Targeted Killing Program
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First welcomed an announcement from the Obama Administration today that it will publish civilian and combatant casualty assessments for lethal counterterrorism strikes outside areas of active hostilities. The organization noted, however, that there are significant additional steps the administration should take to increase transparency around the targeted killing program. The announcement came just hours after the Pentagon announced that it killed 150 suspected combatants with a combination of drone and manned aircraft strikes in Somalia.
“The targeted killing program has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception. Today’s announcement is an important step towards fulfilling the president’s commitment to transparency around the drone program. It is vital to the functioning of our democracy that Americans understand the scope of this program, including the number of civilians and combatants killed. Perhaps even more importantly, Americans must understand the legal basis on which these life-and-death judgments rest,” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino.
Today the Obama Administration announced that it will provide casualty assessments for strikes going back to 2009 and then going forward on an annual basis. Human Rights First notes that this information, including the data on past drone strikes, is essential for fully evaluating the legality of the program. However, for data on the number of casualties to be meaningful, the administration must provide more than numbers. The administration should also provide information on how it defines and assesses who is a civilian and who is a combatant, which terrorist group the killed combatants were members of, and where the strikes occurred.
Human Rights First notes that confidence in the U.S. targeted killing program also depends on full clarity about its governing laws and the measures taken to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized. The Obama Administration should commit to ensuring that the U.S. targeted killing program is consistent with the rule of law by increasing transparency and oversight of the program, including releasing the full Presidential Policy Guidance and all Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions on the legality of targeted killings.