Obama won't send witness to Senate to explain legality of drone war

 

McClatchy Newspapers

The Obama administration does not intend to send a witness to testify at a Senate hearing next week on the legality of the U.S. targeted killing program, the White House said Wednesday.

The decision illustrates the limits of President Barack Obama’s pledge in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 12 to provide greater transparency into top-secret drone operations that have killed thousands of suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution subcommittee was to have held a hearing Tuesday on the legality of targeted killings, those who can be targeted and the creation of a “transparent legal framework for the use of drones.” The session, however, was postponed until April 23 to allow more time for the White House to agree to send a witness.

That effort, however, appeared to have fallen through.

“We do not currently plan to send a witness to this hearing and have remained in close contact with the committee about how we can best provide them the information they require,” Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, wrote in an email to McClatchy.

She added that the White House would continue working with lawmakers “to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and the world.”

Hayden declined to say why the administration doesn’t plan to provide a witness for the hearing.

The office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the subcommittee chairman, said it would have no comment. Durbin was expected to proceed with the session next week whether or not an administration witness attends.

Obama’s targeted killing program has come under increased examination amid charges by some human and civil rights groups and others that it violates international and U.S. law, has claimed hundreds of civilian lives and has provoked intense popular anger that has helped al Qaida and other violent extremist groups recruit new radicals.

Earlier this month, McClatchy published a review of classified U.S. intelligence reports showing that scores of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other militants.” That finding contrasts with the administration’s contentions that they’ve only targeted identified senior leaders of al Qaida and associated forces planning imminent violent attacks on the United States.

On Friday, 10 civil and human rights groups wrote a joint letter to Obama urging him to make public the secret Justice Department legal opinions underpinning targeted killings, ensure adequate congressional oversight and create mechanisms for tracking and responding to civilian casualties.

C. Dixon Osburne, director of the law and security program at Human Rights First, one of the letter’s signatories, said the administration’s decision not to send a witness to the hearing ran counter to Obama’s transparency pledge.

“The president made pretty clear in the State of the Union (speech) that the administration owed Congress and the public more transparency about its drone operations. Sending a witness to the hearing would be a good step in that direction. Not sending a witness keeps the targeted killing program cloaked in secrecy,” he said.

The administration contends that the strikes comply with domestic and international laws, including the laws of war, and are conducted only after rigorous reviews by top officials. Officials say U.S. drone attacks have crippled al Qaida’s core leadership and undermined its ability to conduct complex attacks against U.S. and other targets. It also says that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”

Nearly 4,000 people have been killed in some 420 targeted killing operations since the first U.S. drone strike was conducted under the Bush administration in October 2001.

About 90 percent have been staged by the CIA, the vast majority since Obama took office, against suspected extremists in Pakistan’s tribal area bordering Afghanistan, according to Micah Zenko, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent policy institute. The rest were launched by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen and by the latter in Somalia.

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - This combination made from file photos provided by the National Institute of Health, Pasteur Institute shows, at top, a form of human T-cell leukemia virus, or HTLV, discovered by U.S. Dr. Robert Gallo and his team at the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md. The image at bottom shows a lymphadenopathy-associated virus, or LAV, discovered by French Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute. Both Gallo and Montagnier are credited with isolating the HIV virus that causes AIDS, or the human immunodeficiency virus. The discovery was announced 30 years ago, on April 23, 1984, at a news conference in Washington.

    AP WAS THERE: Probable cause of AIDS found

    EDITOR'S NOTE: In 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first cases of a rare pneumonia that had sickened five Los Angeles gay men. The AIDS epidemic had begun.

  •  
Neighbors and friends of the late Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira play soccer in a plaza near the site where Silva Pereira's body was found in the Pavao Pavaozinho slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. On Tuesday night, angry residents blaming police for his death set fires and showered homemade explosives and glass bottles onto a busy avenue in the city's main tourist zone following the killing of the popular local figure.

    Mother of slain man blames Rio police

    News reports say the mother of a young man whose death sparked clashes in a Rio de Janeiro slum blames police for her son's death.

  • How Piketty's research shaped wealth gap debate

    French economist Thomas Piketty and his research partners have transformed the wealth gap debate by popularizing the concept of a financially elite 1 percent.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category