Panel gives Obama poor grades on establishing drone strike guidelines

The Obama administration earned two Cs, three Ds, one F and two "unknown" grades from the new report.
By Doug G. Ware  |  Feb. 23, 2016 at 3:06 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Nearly three years after President Barack Obama pledged to use "clear guidelines, oversight and accountability" to execute military drone strikes, the letter of the law has still yet to be written on that matter, a new investigative report says.

The Stimson Center, a Washington-based think tank, issued the report Tuesday based on the findings of a drone task force that consists of former military generals and policy experts. In a report titled "Grading Progress on U.S. Drone Policy," the panel sought to find such guidelines used by the administration when making decisions on potentially lethal drone strikes overseas.

The report issued grades on government progress toward drone use specifications Obama mentioned in May 2013 and followed up on eight main recommendations the task force made in June 2014:

1. Strategic review and cost-benefit analysis in counterterror strikes
Grade: U

The report card issued a "U" grade to the first recommendation, meaning it's "unknown" if steps have been taken by the government to implement the panel's recommendation.

2. Improve transparency in targeted drone strikes
Grade: D

The administration received three sub-grades for this recommendation -- a "C" for acknowledging the use of lethal force in foreign countries, both to Congress and to the American public, and two "F" grades for the government's releasing information and preparing a summary report detailing the legal basis for the strikes.

3. Transfer general responsibility for lethal drone strikes from the CIA to the military
Grade: D

The report says the Obama administration has taken very few steps to achieve this, "though the White House is discussing creating a dual command structure shared by the CIA and Defense Department."

4. Develop oversight and accountability mechanisms for strikes outside traditional battlefields
Grade: F

The report says Obama's administration opposes this recommendation and is "obstructing efforts to develop greater oversight and accountability mechanisms."

A sub-grade for the creation of a nonpartisan, independent commission to review lethal drone strike policy received a "U".

5. Foster development of global norms for lethal force outside of traditional battlefields
Grade: D

The report says the administration has done little to achieve this objective, even as use of targeted drone strikes grows.

"The minor exception was the 'principles for proper use' that were issued as part of the revised U.S. drone export policy," the task force wrote.

6. Assess drone-related technological developments/future trends, and develop research and development strategy in advancing national security in a manner consistent with U.S. values
Grade: U

"Based on publicly available information, it is not clear whether the administration has taken steps toward conducting such a strategic review and/or cost-benefit analysis of lethal drone strike," the report states.

7. Review/reform drone-related export control and FAA rules
Grade: C

The task force gave the administration some credit for this recommendation.

"Drone export policy is one area where the Obama administration has made progress. On February 17, 2015, the administration released a new export policy for [drones]," the task force wrote.

8. Accelerate FAA efforts to meet the requirements of the 2012 Reauthorization Bill
Grade: C

The administration also received some credit in this area, as well, which called for clearer guidelines and regulations regarding the use of personal drones inside the United States.

"Since the enactment of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, the FAA has been slow to adopt rules regulating the use of civil drones in the U.S. airspace," the report states.


The Stimson Center issued the Obama administration two Cs, three Ds, one F and two U grades.

"In the last year of the administration, there is a finite opportunity to establish a sustainable legacy on drones beyond the numbers of strikes and those killed or injured. But in the months since the task force released its recommendations, there has been virtually no progress and little has changed," the report said.

"This is the last chance to place the program on firmer footing and ensure that it is on a more transparent and accountable track for the next administration," it continued in its conclusion. "In short, a sustainable U.S. drone policy should be based on core U.S. values and protect U.S. national security, foreign policy and commercial interests."

The Obama administration, which unveiled Tuesday its plan to close the Guantanamo Bay naval prison in Cuba, did not immediately respond to the Stimson report.

The Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy is chaired by former commander of CENTCOM Gen. John P. Abizaid; Rosa Brooks, Georgetown University law professor and former Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; as well as eight other members that represented three administrations, a variety of key government agencies -- including the Departments of State and Defense, the CIA, the FBI, and the military — and experts with experience in the private sector, legal community and academia.

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