Washington- The United States Senate has removed a vital section of a major intelligence bill that would have compelled the Obama administration to publicly disclose the number of people killed or injured by US drone strikes.
The removal of Section 312 from the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 was partially due to opposition from director of national intelligence James Clapper, who wrote in a letter to the Senate that such disclosures would “require context and be drafted carefully so as to protect against the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods or other classified information.” Clapper also wrote that “the Executive Branch is currently exploring ways in which it can provide the American people more information about the United States’ use of force outside areas of active hostilities.”
Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was the originator of the drone disclosure provision but also agreed to remove it. Feinstein, a supporter of drone strikes, said in 2013 that the number of civilians killed by drones has been in the “single digits”. That estimate has been challenged by many, including U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who told NBC News that civilian casualty numbers are in the hundreds.
The section of the intelligence bill that has been removed would have offered more transparency that Obama has promised in his campaign and throughout his presidency. Critics of the removal of the drone strike disclosure consider this action discouraging. “How many people have to die for Congress to take even a small step toward transparency?” asked Zeke Johnson, Amnesty International’s human rights program director. “It’s stunning that after all these years we still don’t know how many people the Obama administration has killed with drones.”
Amnesty International USA director Steven W. Hawkins said that “a basic report on the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask.”