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We need answers for drone slayings

Posted By Ellen Ratner On 11/24/2013 @ 3:50 pm In Commentary,Opinion | No Comments

The drone policy of the Obama administration has been more of a focus this week as Code Pink brought to the U.S. the relative of two family members killed by a drone in Yemen. They were “collateral damage” from the drone attack, and he has not had any direct explanation from the administration.

Yemeni civil engineer Faisal bin Ali Jaber walked the halls of Congress and spoke to who ever would listen to the story about a drone that killed his brother-in-law, an iman who spoke against al-Qaida and a police officer nephew who was protecting his brother-in-law.

The New York Times and the Guardian and even NBC gave ink and video this week to the issue of Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s visit to the U.S. and the lack of transparency he found from the U.S. government. What does he want? Compensation for his village for the drone strikes, a completely reasonable request.

The problem with drone strikes, says Reprieve.org.uk, is, “The CIA killer drones program is the death penalty without trial, and the new face of state lawlessness in the name of counter-terrorism.” Reprieve says that they are assisting victims’ families to seek legal accountability for drone attacks and that their goal is “exposing the program to scrutiny and restoring the rule of law.”

Some members of Congress are as concerned, too. They want to know: How is it that we can kill people with an unmanned airplane and not let our fellow citizens know what we are doing and who is being killed? Even if you take a hard line on the war on terror and believe that the use of drones is justified, you would think that the government should give its citizens a report as to which drones killed for the prevention of terrorism, who was killed and who became “collateral damage.” In addition, it would be important to know what they have done to help and support the people who were not targets of the drones.

Reprieve says there is now language for a bill to give Americans the accountability we deserve, if passed by Congress. The bill’s language would require an “unclassified annual report on the use of targeted lethal force outside the United States.” The language included in this bill says:

(a) REQUIREMENT FOR ANNUAL REPORT – For each year, the president shall prepare and make public an annual report that sets forth the following:

(1) The total number of combatants killed or injured during the preceding year by the use of targeted lethal force outside the United States by remotely piloted aircraft.

(2) The total number of noncombatant civilians killed or injured during the preceding year by such use of targeted lethal force outside the United States.

(b) TARGETED LETHAL FORCE DEFINED – In this section, the term “targeted lethal force” means the act of directing lethal force at a particular person or group with the specific intent of killing those persons.

This bill has not yet passed, but it should. It does not require weekly or even monthly reports, just yearly reports. It means that specific targets would not be revealed, and targets would not be compromised.

I think the language in the bill does not go far enough. There is no definition of combatants. One source told me that any male of military age is considered a combatant. It is a broad definition and the American people also deserve to know how people who are being killed by drones are defined.

We can’t call ourselves a democracy and a government for and by the people if our transparency stops at our borders. Now with some of the government collection of Internet and phone records, it is doubtful that we even have transparency within our borders.

The issue of the use of drones has never been an open discussion the way that taxes or abortion or other issues are. We don’t spend much time on it, and it’s time that this becomes part of debated national conversation.

A common expression among talk-radio hosts is that Americans don’t care about foreign affairs until a tank is coming up their driveway. Currently, we don’t have tanks coming up our driveways, but we have drones close by and soon overhead. It is time to get transparency into our use of drones and to get accountability of our government.

 


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