Donald Trump ends order to publish drone death data

The measure to improve transparency came after criticism of civilian casualties

A Yemeni woman walks past a graffiti depicting a US drone in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on October 17, 2017. EPA
A Yemeni woman walks past a graffiti depicting a US drone in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on October 17, 2017. EPA

US President Donald Trump has ended a requirement for intelligence officials to report the number of people killed in drone strikes and attacks on terror targets outside conflict zones.

Mr Trump ended the requirement, introduced by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, in an executive order this week.

Last year, the administration missed the annual deadline to file reports on civilians and enemy combatants or terror suspects killed.

During his time in office, Mr Obama ordered the casualty reports to improve accountability of the process by which drone strikes are authorised.

Congress also passed a law last year that requires the Department of Defence to provide it with a report of civilian casualties, although parts of it may be classified.

Under Mr Obama, the number of US drone strikes rose significantly and became a key tool for the US in the war against terror.

But as civilian casualties mounted, with figures often at odds with official accounts, Mr Obama was criticised for relying on drones.

Under the administration of president George HW Bush between 2001 and 2009, the US carried out 51 drone strikes in Pakistan.

Under Mr Obama, that number rose rapidly to 372, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. In 2010 there were 122 drone strikes in Pakistan.

Drone supporters say the ability to remotely monitor targets for long periods and then strike from a distance keeps US and local troops away from fighting that could put them and civilians at risk.

They say this makes drones better suited to counter-terrorist operations than conventional forces.

But leaked documents reported by The Intercept detailed how the US referred to many casualties of drone strikes as “enemies killed in action” because they were males of military age.

By 2012, the Obama administration had given approval for his intelligence agencies to carry out strikes against those suspected of endangering the US in Yemen and Pakistan without needing to know their exact identities.

The US drone programme was deeply unpopular in Pakistan and in April 2012, the parliament voted to revoke approval for the US to carry out such attacks.

In 2011, three US nationals were killed in drone strikes in Yemen leading to questions of whether the method was constitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union launched but ultimately lost a legal bid against the government for the killing of Samir Khan, Anwar Al Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al Awlaki, saying that it was unconstitutional as it deprived the men of their right to a fair trial.

Khan was suspected of running the online English language magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while Al Awlaki was believed to be involved in planning attacks with Al Qaeda.

Al Awlaki was killed two weeks after his father but rights groups in the US have questioned why the teenager was targeted.

Bilal Abdul Kareem and Ahmad Zaidan, US nationals, have been living and working in Syria for years.

They two journalists deny being members of militant groups but both suspect they are on a classified US kill list.

Zaidan was Al Jazeera’s Pakistan bureau chief and one of the few to have interviewed Osama bin Laden before 9/11, and Abdul Kareem is a former stand-up comic who now reports from rebel-held areas of northern Syria, where he has filmed interviews with Al Qaeda members.

Having survived several strikes, they have launched lawsuits against the government to clarify and end their designation.

Updated: March 8, 2019 12:59 AM


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