ACTION ALERT: Senators: Question Brennan and Other Admin Nominees on Drone Policy!

January 7th, 2013 - by admin

Just Foreign Policy & Human Rights Watch – 2013-01-07 23:43:51

Senators: Question Brennan and Other Admin Nominees on Drone Policy!
Just Foreign Policy

Tell President Obama and Congress to use Senate hearings on the leadership transition to make US drone strike policy more transparent and accountable.
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(January 7, 2013) — President Obama has announced his new national security team: Chuck Hagel at Defense, John Kerry at State, John Brennan at the CIA. Each of these officials will have a say in whether US drone strike policy will be further entrenched than it is today, or whether US drone strike policy will become more transparent and accountable, and be brought into full compliance with US and international law.

Each of these nominees must face a confirmation hearing in the Senate. When the President’s nominees appear before the Senate, they should answer questions from Senators about current drone strike policy, and that should happen in open session, so the questions and answers can be reported in the media, and the public can exercise its right to know.

Sign our petition to the President and the Senate here:

In an editorial, the Washington Post called for the CIA’s removal from the drone strike program. [1] Human Rights Watch has been calling for the CIA to be removed from the drone strike program for a year, noting that the CIA is less transparent than the US military and less accountable to US and international law, and that there is no program to compensate civilian victims of CIA paramilitary actions. [2]

The Post has also reported that the Administration has made moves to institutionalize the current program, suggesting the program could be at its midpoint — in other words, the program could go on for another ten years. [3]

But the Post has also reported that Brennan, the Administration’s pick to lead the CIA, has led efforts in the Administration to curtail the CIA’s role in drone strikes over opposition from the CIA. [4] This is an opening for Senators to press for a significant change in policy that could help save the lives of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Senators should press Brennan in open session to get the CIA out of drone strikes.

Osama bin Laden is dead, but the drone strike policy is very much alive, and until now there has been almost no public Congressional debate. We’re at a fork in the road. If the President and Congress miss this opportunity to reform current drone strike policy, the status quo will get further entrenched. Urge the President and Congress to use the Senate hearings on the leadership transition to make US drone strike policy more transparent and accountable.

Thank you for all you do to help bring about a more just foreign policy,

Robert Naiman, Chelsea Mozen, Sarah Burns and Megan Iorio
Just Foreign Policy

1. “Pulling the US drone war out of the shadows,” Editorial, Washington Post, November 1, 2012,
2. “US: End CIA Drone Attacks,” Human Rights Watch, December 19, 2011,; “US: Transfer CIA Drone Strikes to Military,” Human Rights Watch, April 20, 2012,
3. “Plan for hunting terrorists signals US intends to keep adding names to kill lists,” Greg Miller, Washington Post, October 23, 2012,
4. “A CIA veteran transforms US counterterrorism policy,” Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, October 24,

US: Transfer CIA Drone Strikes to Military
Ensure Intelligence Agency Abides by International Law

Human Rights Watch

NEW YORK, NY (April 20, 2012) — Remarks by a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official suggesting the agency is not legally bound by the laws of war underscore the urgent need for the Obama administration to transfer command of all aerial drone strikes to the armed forces, Human Rights Watch said today.

The CIA’s general counsel, Stephen Preston, in a speech [1] entitled “CIA and the Rule of Law” at Harvard Law School on April 10, 2012, said the agency would implement its authority to use force “in a manner consistent with the … basic principles” of the laws of war. The laws of war are not mere principles but legally binding restrictions on all forces of the parties to an armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

“When the CIA general counsel says that the agency need only act in ‘a manner consistent’ with the ‘principles’ of international law, he is saying the laws of war aren’t really law at all,” said James Ross [2], legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Obama administration should make it clear that there’s no ‘CIA exception’ for its international legal obligations.”

Preston’s statement coincides with a report [3] in the Washington Post that the CIA is seeking authority to expand its drone campaign in Yemen. In the decade since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush and Obama administrations have engaged in a campaign of “targeted killings” — deliberate, lethal attacks aimed at specific individuals under the color of law.

Most of these attacks are reported to have occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs.

The CIA is playing an increasing role in drone attacks with no transparency or demonstrated accountability, Human Rights Watch said. Pending transfer of command for drone strikes to the military, the Obama administration should ensure and publicly affirm that the CIA is bound by international law in conducting its drone operations.

While the laws of war do not prohibit intelligence agencies from participating in combat operations, states are obligated to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and provide redress for victims of unlawful attacks.

The US government’s refusal to acknowledge the CIA’s international legal obligations or provide information on strikes where there have been credible allegations of laws-of-war violations leaves little basis for determining whether the US is meeting its international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

The lawfulness of a targeted killing hinges in part on the applicable international law, which is determined by the context in which the attack takes place. The laws of war permit attacks during situations of armed conflict only against valid military targets. Attacks causing disproportionate loss of civilian life or property are prohibited.

In situations outside of armed conflict, the use of lethal force is addressed by international human rights law, which permits the use of lethal force only when necessary to save human life. In these law-enforcement situations, individuals cannot be targeted with lethal force merely because of past unlawful behavior, but only for imminent or other grave threats to life when arrest is not reasonably possible.

The US government has downplayed the applicability of international human rights law to drone attacks in situations in which there is no evident armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Obama administration seems to have decided that wherever it conducts a targeted killing, it is by definition engaged in armed conflict, even far from any obvious battlefield,” Ross said. “What would the US say if Russia or China took the same approach to attack perceived enemies in the streets of New York or Washington?”


Copyright 2013, Human Rights Watch

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