U.S. President Donald Trump ends an Obama-era directive that requires civilian deaths in non-war zones to be reported. Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI | License Photo
March 6 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump revoked an Obama-era directive requiring U.S. intelligence officials to publicly disclose the number of civilians killed due to air strikes outside of declared war zones.
Trump eliminated the requirement for the numbers to be released annually on May 1 with an executive order Wednesday, claiming it to be redundant as other laws require for similar statistics to be disclosed.
Former President Barak Obama had pushed the policy through with an executive order July 2016 as part of improving the administration's accountability for civilian deaths due to drone strikes in countries the United States was not at war with such as Yemen, Pakistan and Libya.
"Civilian casualties are a tragic and at times unavoidable consequence of the use of force in situations of armed conflict or in the exercise of a state's inherent right of self-defense," the 2016 executive order said. "The U.S. Government shall maintain and promote best practices that reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, take appropriate steps when such casualties occur and draw lessons from our operations to further enhance the protection of civilians."
Wednesday's executive order justifies the move stating a 2017 law "similarly requires the Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees, by May 1 each year, a report on civilian casualties caused as a result of United States military operations."
The move follows Trump removing Somalia from the list of countries in which the United States was required to announce the number of casualties as a result of counterterrorism strikes.
Trump has long been a critic of the disclosure of military reports and in January questioned their value as they may actually arm the enemy.
"One of the things I have told the secretary and other people, we do these reports on our military," Trump said. "Some [inspector general] goes over there - who mostly appointed by President Obama, but we will have ours too - and he goes over there and they do a report, every single thing that's happening and they release it to the public. What kind of stuff is this? We are fighting wars and they are doing reports and releasing it to the public. The public means the enemy, the enemy reads those reports, they study every line of it. Those reports should be private reports."
The Trump administration also failed to release the numbers last year.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that there is "simply no justification" to cancel the requirement.
Schiff called it "an important measure on transparency" and a signal of the nation's "commitment to holding ourselves accountable."
"The Trump Administration's failure to issue the report required under the Executive Order in 2018, and now to withdraw the requirement altogether is a troubling retreat from transparency," he said in a statement, adding that he will pursue reimposing the requirement in this year's Intelligence Authorization Act.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, condemned the revocation, saying that the government can now conceal killings committed by "this country's illegal and immoral Lethal force program."
"Trump revoked a transparency order that provided an imperfect but still important official record of deaths caused by the military and, critically, the CIA," she said in a statement. "This decision will hide from the public the government's own tally of the total number of deaths it causes every year in its lethal force program."