Stimson Center: Obama drone policy needs more transparency

By Eliza Larson, Medill News Service  |  June 27, 2014 at 10:53 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 27 (UPI) -- A prestigious think tank wants the Obama Administration to tell the American public more about its drone policy. The experts believe the solution is easy.


The use of drones away from territorially bounded battlefields has prompted a debate of overall U.S. drone policy. Current policy gives high-level officials authority to kill American citizens by drone strike if they pose an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States or its people.

To avoid confusion, the Stimson Center's Task Force on U.S. drone policy recommends that – after a strike -- the "U.S. should acknowledge the use of lethal force in foreign countries both to Congress and the American public." That would eliminate any confusion about the U.S. military's targeted killings with drones.

The Stimson Center, a nonpartisan research group focused on global security challenges, created a 10-member task force to address the issues facing current U.S. drone policy.

A plan for action came after President Barack Obama's speech at the National Defense University in May 2013, in which he pledged to "review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of war zones that go beyond our reporting to Congress."

"The opinion of the panel is the Obama Administration's strategic plan has been lacking," task force co-chair, retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid said.

The task force released its eight recommendations for the Obama Administration in a report on Thursday. One of them calls for the president to publicly release information on number and location of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle or drone) strikes, the number of individuals known to have been killed, their affiliations, the number and names of any civilians killed, and number of strikes carried out by military versus the CIA.

The CIA was contacted but had no comment.

"This is not a political issue, it's an issue of national security," Abizaid said.

The Stimson report said although the use of drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes has not been controversial up to this point, the growing use of lethal UAVs for targeted counterterrorism action has drawn criticism. Another task force member, former George W. Bush administration official Peter Lichtenbaum, said public issues with drones distract from the larger problems. Stimson Center's Rachel Stohl said the importance of transparency, therefore, is to "face terrorism propaganda."

"New technologies are always controversial... but technology is not a strategy," said Janine Davidson, task force member and senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"There are pieces of this that are hard, and pieces of this that are easy," Abizaid said.

National Security Council and Defense Department officials were not immediately available for immediate comment.

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