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.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House is expected to take up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act. Amendments will be offered to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan, to oppose war with Iran, to cut the military budget, and to stop "signature" drone strikes that target people without knowing who will be killed.
According to the way the House operates, the authorization bill is the most open opportunity to challenge current policy. When the House considers the appropriations bill, amendments can be offered to cut money for specific programs. But it is difficult to otherwise alter policy when the appropriation is considered, according to the rules of the House. On the authorization bill, there is much more scope to try to direct policy.
Every American who cares about war and peace ought to be calling Congress. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has established a toll-free number that connects you to the Capitol Switchboard: 1-877-429-0678. Then you can ask to be transferred to your Representative's office. [If you can't call, you can write here.]
What should you tell your Representative's office? Whatever else you do, you should tell them that you are a constituent and give them your address to document that fact.
Then you have some choices to make about what to emphasize. Many amendments have been offered. At this writing, we don't know which amendments will be allowed on the floor by the Rules Committee. Once the Rules Committee has decided which amendments it will allow, there might not be much time before voting begins. So it's better to call when you can and emphasize broad themes.
Twenty-six Members of Congress sent the following letter to President Obama asking that Congress be provided with information on the CIA and JSOCs use of "signature" drone strikes. Signers were: Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, Rush Holt, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Maurice Hinchey, Charlie Rangel, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Raul Grijalva, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, Lynn Woolsey, Hank Johnson, Luis Gutierrez, Ron Paul, John Lewis, George Miller, Jim McDermott, Yvette Clarke, Peter DeFazio, Peter Welch, Donna Edwards, Jerrold Nadler, Keith Ellison, Walter Jones.
The text of the Dear Colleague sent by Rep. Kucinich on May 10 follows below, then the text of the final letter as it was sent to President Obama on June 12.
The PDF of the letter as it was sent to President Obama on June 12 is here.
ENSURE TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE U.S. COMBAT DRONE PROGRAM
From: The Honorable Dennis J. Kucinich
A recent article published in The Washington Post revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have been given new authority that allows them “to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence ‘signatures’ – patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicated a presence of an important operative or plot against U.S. interests.” Allowing the CIA and JSOC to conduct drone strikes without having to know the identity of the person they’re targeting is in stark contrast to what the Administration has previously claimed regarding its drone campaign: that they are targeted strikes against suspected terrorists on lists maintained by the CIA and JSOC.
Until this week, it seemed like the conventional wisdom in Washington was that stopping U.S drone strikes in Pakistan was outside the bounds of respectable discussion.
That just changed. Or it should have.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus notes that counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen has told Congress that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are backfiring and should be stopped. Until now Congress has been reluctant to challenge the drone strikes, as they are reluctant in general to challenge “military strategy,” even when it appears to be causing terrible harm. But as McManus notes, Kilcullen has unimpeachable Pentagon credentials. He served as a top advisor in Iraq to General Petraeus on counterinsurgency, and is credited as having helped design the Iraq “surge.” Now, anyone in Washington who wants to challenge the drone strikes has all the political cover they could reasonably expect.
And what Kilcullen said leaves very little room for creative misinterpretation:
“Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism. … The current path that we are on is leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population.”
Presumably, causing the Pakistani government to lose “control of its own population” is not an objective of United States foreign policy.