This is slightly adapted from a presentation given at a Congressional briefing on drone strike policy on November 16, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
I want to talk about what Congress could do about drone strikes in the next 1-2 years.
To begin with, some political context, as I see it.
First, I don't think anyone will argue with me if I say that for the last ten years Congress has done very little.
Second, I think it would be extremely helpful if Congress would do something. I think Congress doing something is intrinsically important in itself, in addition to whatever the thing is. The reason is that the media, the public and the Administration take cues from what Congress is talking about. If Congress isn't talking about something, then it's perceived as not very controversial. More people would contact Congress if we had a vehicle for them to contact Congress about.
Third, I don't think it's as hard for Congress to do things on this as some people seem to think. There's a kind of conventional wisdom that Congress can't do anything because no-one cares because no U.S. soldiers are being killed by the policy. I think this conventional wisdom is completely wrong. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Honduras and yet a hundred Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Honduras, and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Bahrain but Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Bahrain and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. Conversely, plenty of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan before 2009 and Congress didn't do much about that. So whether or not American soldiers are being killed is not as decisive as some people seem to think.
During the last two presidential debates, the foreign policy discussion—what little there has been—has largely centered around the murder of four members of the US embassy staff in Benghazi. But while these four deaths were certainly grievous, the killing of hundreds of civilians in Pakistan from US drone strikes has so far been ignored—and that's outrageous.
But we may be able to change that. Next Monday, October 22, President Obama and Mitt Romney will face off in the final debate before election day—and the entire debate will be dedicated to foreign policy issues. Drones deserve a place in the discussion.
In the last four years, the use of unmanned drones to engage in so-called “targeted killing” has escalated dramatically. In Pakistan alone, US drone strikes have increased five fold during the Obama administration. Drone campaigns have also expanded in other countries, such as Yemen and Somalia, and recent reports suggest that the administration is considering further expanding the CIA drone fleet and using drones to hunt down the terrorists involved in last month's Benghazi attack.
Yet, the Obama administration has failed to engage substantively on the morality, efficacy, and accuracy of US drone strikes.
Video: Robert Naiman delivers your petition to US embassy, challenges charge d'affaires on drone strike policy
The petition against US drone strikes in Pakistan has been delivered! On Wednesday, a delegation of peace activists organized by CodePink, including our Policy Director, Robert Naiman, met with the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Pakistan, Richard Hoagland. During the meeting, Robert presented Hoagland with the 3,000 signature petition, as well as a letter signed by twenty-six prominent Americans, including Alice Walker, Naomi Wolf, and Noam Chomsky. The letter and petition delivery earned reports by The Independent, The Express Tribune, Asian News International (ANI), and others.
But that's not all. When Hoagland took questions from the delegation, Robert challenged him to respond to reports that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have targeted civilian rescuers, an action which international law experts say constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law. Hoagland disputed the allegations. When pressed to follow-up on recent reports indicating that civilian rescuers have been targeted, Hoagland agreed that that would be a good idea, though he did not commit the Embassy to any specific action. You can read more about the exchange in Robert's article at the Huffington Post.
You can speak out against US drone strikes by signing our petition.
To: U.S. and Pakistani officials who have influence over the U.S. policy of conducting drone strikes in Pakistan
From: Citizens of the United States
We urge you to do everything in your power to end U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan; to bring the drone strike policy into compliance with international and U.S. law; to permanently end all "signature strikes" against unknown persons; to permanently end "secondary strikes," particularly those that target and endanger civilian rescuers, in grave violation of international law; to address questions about civilian casualties from drone strikes publicly and in detail; and to compensate civilian drone strike victims and their families.
US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed and harmed too many civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported 474 to 884 civilian deaths caused by US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, including 176 children.  Moreover, as a recent study from researchers at NYU and Stanford law schools notes, "US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury," as civilians live in a state of constant fear, since drones could strike at any time.  Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, because US drone operators might strike them. 
The Kucinich-Conyers amendment to prohibit the military from conducting drone strikes against unidentified targets ("signature strikes") has been made in order.
I have heard that it will be considered early.
Some things worth noting:
- Whatever one thinks about drone strikes against specific suspected terrorist leaders, nothing in the amendment would prevent them. If the amendment were law and policy, it would not have prevented the recent killing of Fahd al Quso, the senior commander of al Qaeda's wing in Yemen, who was killed in a drone strike two weeks ago; he was specifically targeted based on intelligence indicating where he was. The amendment only prohibits the military from conducting a drone strike when it does not know who it is targeting.
- The amendment only applies to the military, that is, to the Joint Special Operations Command, not to the CIA. According to press reports, JSOC is not carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan. According to the Washington Post, JSOC did not ask for authority to conduct "signature" drone strikes in Yemen, but they were granted it anyway.
- According to the Washington Post, senior U.S. officials expressed concern about authorizing "signature" drone strikes in Yemen, both because it would increase the risk of civilian casualties, and because by killing "militants" who have a dispute with the Yemeni government but not with the U.S., such strikes would increase the perception that the U.S. is taking sides in Yemen's civil war.
- Just in the last week, Yemeni officials say that a U.S. drone strike killed eight civilians in Yemen, CNN reported 5/15.
After ten years of war, now is a perfect time to act to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has set up a toll-free number for us to call Congress: 1-877-429-0678. A Congressional "Supercommittee" is charged with coming up with $1.5 trillion in reduced debt over ten years, and the wars and the bloated Pentagon budget dangle before the Supercommittee like overripe fruit.
So what else is new, you may say. The Pentagon wants to stay everywhere forever.
Hey guys, did you all hear? We're getting out of Afghanistan! Yes, finally, after nearly ten years, over 1,500 American lives, countless Afghan (and Pakistani) lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, the President says we're pulling our forces out and the war is going to end! Hold on, I have the quote right here:
… starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.
Wait a second—what did he say? Only 10,000 troops? But, does he know that we have over 100,000 in Afghanistan? And that there are less than 100 al Qaeda left in the country?
Let's do the math: 10,000 out by the end of this year leaves us with over 90,000 troops in Afghanistan. Another 23,000 by summer 2012 brings us down to roughly 68,000. There were about 34,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan when Obama took office. So, one year from now, the President's proposed drawdown will leave us with double the amount of U.S. troops in Afghanistan than were there when he got involved in this whole mess. Is this sounding less like a withdrawal plan and more like a bait and switch to anyone else?
And then the remaining 68,000 American forces … wait, what is the plan for the rest?
There is a tradition among some peace activists of striking a pose of annoyed indifference to the question of how to get out of an unpopular war. "There are three ways to get out," goes one waggish response. "Air, land, and sea."
This is funny and emotionally satisfying, and also represents a truth for peace activists: ending the war is a first principle, not something contingent on whether a particular means of doing so satisfies someone else's notion of what is practical.
On the other hand, peace activists can't be satisfied with being right; they also are morally compelled to try to be effective. And part of being effective is giving consideration to, and seeking to publicize, arguments are likely to end the war sooner rather than later. It's not likely, for example, that discussing ways in which the war might be useful for the long-term maintenance of the "capitalist world system" will turn the Washington debate against war in the short run. If, on the other hand, central to the official story is a claim that the war is a war against Al Qaeda, but senior U.S. officials publicly concede that there is no significant Al Qaeda presence today in Afghanistan, that is certainly a fact worth knowing and spreading.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this afternoon on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This morning, the Senate version of the Afghanistan war supplemental was brought up under "suspension" rules, which require a 2/3 majority to pass. This expedited procedure is generally used for measures considered "uncontroversial," which is odd, to say the least, since the war in Afghanistan is anything but uncontroversial, with the most recent evidence being the release by Wikileaks of secret documents on the war, which the New York Times reported "offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal."
House Appropriations Chair David Obey, who will vote no on the war supplemental, asked for a roll call, which is expected this afternoon, some time after 2pm Eastern.
On July 1, 162 Members of the House voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the position of 54% of Americans, according to a recent CBS poll. The measure being voted on this afternoon contains no provision concerning a timetable for withdrawal. Nor does it include the money to prevent the layoffs of teachers that the House attached to the war supplemental on July 1.
If 90% of the Members who voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment on July 1 vote no this afternoon on the war supplemental, the measure will fail.
The top United Nations official for Afghanistan has called for direct talks with senior Taliban leaders. Is anyone in Washington listening?
The New York Times reported Sunday that Kai Eide, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, "called on Afghan officials to seek the removal of at least some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations' list of terrorists, as a first step toward opening direct negotiations with the insurgent group."
Eide also called on the U.S. to speed its review of the roughly 750 detainees in its military prisons in Afghanistan - another principal grievance of Taliban leaders.
Eide said he hoped that the two steps would open the way for face-to-face talks between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders.
"If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority," Mr. Eide said. "I think the time has come to do it."
It's an unquestioned dogma in official Washington that while of course every informed person knows that the endgame in Afghanistan is a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, the time is not ripe for negotiations; the Afghan Taliban have to be weakened first through military escalation, because their leaders are not ready to talk peace.
It's never explained how U.S. officals know that Afghan Taliban leaders are not ready to talk peace, unless the definition of "talking peace" is "acceding to U.S. demands." A reasonable inference is that these statements by U.S. officials are a dodge: U.S. officials are not ready to talk peace.