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October 06, 2016

Administration Urged to Implement Executive Order to Increase Transparency of Drone Strikes

Washington, D.C.—In a letter sent today Human Rights First, along with 11 human rights, civil liberties, and faith organizations, urged President Obama to take steps to implement an executive order issued this summer that aims to increase transparency and limit harm to civilians when the United States uses force during armed conflict or self-defense.  

“The Obama Administration has taken an important step by requiring government agencies to investigate incidents involving civilians, acknowledge U.S. responsibility for civilian deaths, and compensate victims and their families, but President Obama must see that these important policies are implemented before he leaves office,” said Human Rights First’s Rita Siemion. “Unless the president undertakes a robust effort to implement the executive order before he leaves office, these important gains may become lip service rather than substantive change.”

Human Rights First notes that it is essential that the public be given the necessary information to assess the harm to civilians, the legality of individual strikes, and the overall effectiveness of the targeted killing program. Confidence in U.S. counterterrorism operations depends on full clarity about the governing policies and the measures taken to minimize harm to civilians. Earlier this year the administration released data on civilian casualties outside areas of active hostilities from 2009 to 2015 and the executive order requires this information to be released on an annual basis going forward. These disclosures are an important step forward for greater transparency, but for the data to be meaningful, the administration should explain the process used to estimate the number of casualties, disclose the criteria used to classify individuals as combatants or non-combatants, disaggregate the number of casualties by strike location and date, and specify the organized armed group to which any individuals classified as combatants allegedly belonged.

Today’s letter highlights ten drone strikes between 2009-2014, urging the administration to investigate these strikes, as well as any others where there are credible allegations of harm to civilians. 

Human Rights First notes that the Obama Administration should commit to ensuring that the U.S. targeted killing program is consistent with U.S. obligations under international law and should increase transparency and oversight of the program by releasing Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions and other legal analysis on the use of lethal force with minimal redactions. The administration should also transfer authority for conducting strikes from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Department of Defense, and conduct a comprehensive strategic review of the impact of lethal strikes on national security and human rights. 

For more information or to speak with Siemion contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.