drone strikes

Call the Senate Intelligence Committee: Hold A Public Hearing on CIA Drone Strikes!

If you live in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Maine, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana, or Idaho, you have a Senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Please call one of your Senator's local offices on Monday—or anytime during the Senate recess this week when you can—and urge them to support a public hearing on CIA drone strikes in the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Local offices and phone numbers are listed below.

Our goal in this campaign is to get the Senate Intelligence Committee to publicly commit to holding a public hearing on CIA drone strikes before the Senate confirms John Brennan to head the CIA. (Not necessarily to hold a public hearing before then, but to get the Committee to publicly commit to holding a public hearing in the future.)

After you're done, report your call here.

If you don't live in one of the above listed states, please forward a link to this page to folks you know who do who might be willing to call.

Also, you can sign our petition to Senator Feinstein: Hold a Public Hearing on CIA Drone Strikes

Dianne Feinstein, California, Chair
San Francisco Office: (415) 393-0707
Fresno Office: (559) 485-7430
Los Angeles Office: (310) 914-7300
San Diego Office: (619) 231-9712

Ron Wyden, Oregon
Portland Office: (503) 326-7525
Eugene Office: (541) 431-0229
Bend Office: (541) 330-9142
LaGrande Office: (541) 962-7691
Medford Office: (541) 858-5122
Salem Office: (503) 589-4555

Martin Heinrich, New Mexico
Santa Fe Office: (505) 988-6647
Alburquerque Office: (505) 346-6601
Farmington Office: (505) 325-5030
Las Cruces Office: (575) 523-6561
Roswell Office: (575) 622-7113

Mark Udall, Colorado
Denver Office: (303) 650-7820

Could the Senate Intelligence Committee Do Oversight of CIA Drone Strikes?

Different Senate committees are supposed to do oversight of different federal agencies. The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to oversee the Department of Justice. The Senate Armed Services committee is supposed to do oversight of the Pentagon. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to do oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the CIA is conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and since this is, to say the least, a controversial policy, the Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to be doing oversight of that.

But contemplating the Senate Intelligence Committee's past oversight of the drone strike policy evokes the quote attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea."

Now that criticisms of the drone strike policy are getting some play in the press, people are floating ideas for various reforms. That's great! Let a hundred flowers bloom. But please call on me. I have an idea for a reform.

Why don't we ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to do its job of overseeing the CIA?

Now, you might think, that's a pretty arrogant claim, saying that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been asleep at the switch. Here, therefore, are three pieces of evidence for the claim.

Exhibit A: No public hearings.

Reporting on the Senate Intelligence Committee's confirmation hearing of John Brennan to head the CIA, Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Senate Intelligence Committee

Hey, Sen. Feinstein, Read the New York Times!

California Senator Dianne Feinstein said something recently that's making our heads spin.

Following John Brennan's confirmation hearing last Thursday in which the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned him on US drone policy, Politico reported Sen. Feinstein as saying that

she was unaware of reports that in some instances U.S. officials assumed any male of fighting age killed in a strike was a combatant - a method that could undercount the number of civilian deaths. [1]

Apparently, Sen. Feinstein doesn't have a subscription to the New York Times. Last May, the Times ran a major expose on US drone policy that featured the revelation that the CIA was counting all “military-aged males in a strike zone” as “combatants” in their drone strike kill counts. [2]

What makes this situation even more outrageous is that Sen. Feinstein is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the CIA and US drone policy. How is it possible that she was unaware of a widely-noted New York Times article on a policy she is responsible for overseeing?

We think "oversight" of drone strike policy includes the responsibility to know what's being reported about it in the press and to ask government officials about these concerns. That means someone needs to get a subscription to the New York Times ASAP. Don't you agree?

Join us in telling Sen. Feinstein and her staff to get subscriptions to the New York Times and to read the articles related to drone strikes.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/feinstein-nyt

Thank you for all you do to help bring about a more just foreign policy,

Robert Naiman, Chelsea Mozen, Sarah Burns and Megan Iorio
Just Foreign Policy

Help support Just Foreign Policy! With our small staff and minimal overhead, you know your contribution will go a long way.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/donate

References:

Pressure Works: Urge the Senate to Press Brennan on Drone Strikes

At long last, the Administration has released a "white paper" explaining its legal rationale for conducting drone strikes on Americans. Why did this happen? Because of pressure.

What might more pressure accomplish?

John Brennan is appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday for his confirmation hearing as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Urge your Senators to press John Brennan on US drone strike policy.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/brennan-hearing

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department "white paper" closely tracks a classified memorandum in which the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel signed off on the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in U.S. drone strike in September 2011. [1] Members of Congress, the press, and human rights groups have been pressing the Administration for disclosure of this memo (which still has not been disclosed).

In January, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter demanding to see the memo. [2] On February 4, a bipartisan group of Senators made the same demand. [3]

This shows that the Administration's policy can move under the pressure of Senators' questions. More questions will generate more movement.

There are many other questions Senators should ask Brennan:

- How many civilians do you believe have been killed by drone strikes?
- Is it true that the CIA counts all "military-aged males" as "militants" when they are killed by a drone strike?
- Do you agree with those who say that drone strikes should not be conducted by the CIA?
- Is it true that the CIA has conducted "secondary strikes" where they hit the same target twice, after rescuers have come to the scene of a strike?
- Is it true that the CIA has targeted funerals and weddings with drone strikes?
- Is it true that the CIA has targeted unknown persons with "signature strikes," simply on the basis that they were carrying weapons?

WaPo: Ask the Public an Unbiased Question on Drone Strikes

A key reason many in Congress haven't spoken up against the drone strike policy is that many believe the public overwhelmingly supports the policy. A key reason many believe the public overwhelmingly supports the drone strike policy is that the Washington Post said so in February 2012.

But the question the Washington Post asked in its February 2012 poll, and the way the Post reported it, were highly misleading. And in the last year, a lot of criticism of the drone strike policy has appeared in mainstream press that hadn't appeared before.

As the Senate considers the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, where he will oversee CIA drone strikes, urge the Washington Post to ask the public an unbiased question on drone strikes.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/wapo-drones-poll

In February 2012, under the headline, "Poll finds broad support for Obama's counterterrorism policies," the Washington Post reported that "The Post-ABC News poll found that 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s drone policy." [1] This Post report had the effect of convincing many people that the drone strike policy was overwhelmingly popular. But here is the question that was actually asked: [2]

… thinking about the following decisions of the Obama administration, please tell me whether you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove ... c. The use of unmanned, "drone" aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas

The Post assumed there was no meaningful distinction between current policy and targeting "terrorist suspects." That was the "official story" the Administration had just put out.

We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes If We Focus on Where They're Politically Vulnerable

[Adapted from a talk given for Chicago Area Peace Action, January 17, 2012.]

I'd like to begin by asking you all two questions about your current opinions on U.S. drone strike policy and what we can do about it. Be honest in your responses, because for Just Foreign Policy, understanding how people view these questions is crucial to understanding how to engage more Americans in reforming the drone strike policy. There's no wrong answer. No-one is going to be judged or compared favorably or unfavorably to anyone else based on their answers. It's not an exam. It's an opinion poll or focus group for people trying to engage more Americans in the task of reforming U.S. drone strike policy. Your answers are going to shape Just Foreign Policy's activity on these questions going forward. And they're also going to shape my presentation this evening.

Here is the first question:

Is it your current opinion that there are significant ethical, legal, or political problems with the current drone strike policy?

The responses I'm looking for are either yes, I think there are significant problems, no, I don't think there are significant problems, or I don't know, I'm not sure. Ignore any peer pressure you might perceive in this room. What was your opinion was when you woke up this morning? The mainstream media claims that according to opinion polls, 80% of Americans, including the majority of liberal Democrats, support the current policy. Are you more like the 80%, or are you more like the 20%?

Shut your eyes and cover them with a hand, a scarf, a book, or piece of paper, so we can have something like a secret ballot and you won't be intimidating the people around you.

Raise your hand if your current thinking is that there are significant ethical, legal, or political problems with the current drone strike policy.

A Reformist Strategy to Downsize the Drone Strike Policy

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.

Prominent Americans Call for End to U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan

The following letter was delivered to the US embassy in Pakistan on October 3, 2012. Read the press release here.

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. [1] 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. [2] Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, because US drone operators might strike them. [3]

Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes

There's a conventional wisdom in Washington that there's nothing we can do politically to stop the U.S. government from killing innocent civilians with drone strikes.

But it ain't necessarily so.

Speaking only for myself, I'm willing to stipulate that killing "high value terrorists" who are known to be actively preparing to kill Americans is wildly popular, regardless of whether it is constitutional and legal.

Here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians.

This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an American issue. Go to the reddest of Red America. Stand outside a megachurch or military base in the Deep South. Find me twelve Christian Republicans who are willing to sign their names that they want the U.S. government to kill innocent civilians. I bet you can't do it. Killing innocent civilians is un-American.

Consider: after what widely reported news event did even Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say maybe we ought to get our troops out of Afghanistan? After it was reported that a U.S. soldier massacred Afghan civilians.

The historian Howard Zinn suggested that it's a backhanded compliment to the American people that our government lies to us about what it's doing in other people's countries. Because it suggests that if the American people knew, they would never stand for it.

Thanks to a New York Times report this week, we now know. In an echo of the Colombian military's "false positives" scandal, our government is killing people with drone strikes and then decreeing that "military age men" killed by U.S. drone strikes are automatically "combatants." Born a chicken, raised a chicken, now you're a fish.

CIVIC, Amnesty, CCR et al letter to Admin pressing transparency on drone strikes

The PDF of this letter is here.

This NGO letter tracks a Congressional letter to the Administration pressing for greater transparency in the drone strike policy. That letter is here:

Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1219

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June 5, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As leading organizations working to protect civilians caught in conflict, we write in support of the request [1] by members of Congress for greater transparency regarding remotely piloted aircraft (RPA or drone) operations and, specifically, “signature” strikes.

We echo Congressional requests that information be released to Congress regarding US drone use including: targeting criteria for “signature” strikes; mechanisms used by the CIA and JSOC to ensure that such targeting is within the confines of international law, including which laws are being applied to these cases and definitions of a civilian; the procedure in place for investigations when civilians are known to have suffered losses of life, limb or property as a result of strikes; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties.