Obama admin gets F for transparency on drone program

MQ-9 Reaper © Patrick T. Fallon
President Barack Obama’s administration has made little to no progress in taking steps to make US drone policy more transparent, accountable and consistent with national security goals, a new study says.

A report card by the nonpartisan think tank Stimson Center released Tuesday graded the US government on how it has improved its accountability since the center made recommendations on the matter in 2014. 

"Little progress has been made during the past year and a half to enact reforms that establish a more sensible US drone policy consistent with America’s long-term security and economic interests. The lack of a clear drone policy risks leaving a legacy on drone use that is based on secrecy and a lack of accountability that undermines efforts to support the international rule of law," the study’s author, Rachel Stohl, said in the report.

Stohl’s assessment was formatted as a report card to give school-style grades to the US government. The Obama administration received a failing ‘F’ in three areas laid out by a task force composed of top military and intelligence officials in 2014: Public disclosure of targeted drone strikes, reviews of their effectiveness and explaining the legal basis of lethal drone programs.
In other areas, the administration received grades no higher than D’s and C’s.

“With less than a year left to make final policy changes, the administration would do well to focus on ensuring that the drone program is viewed with greater confidence globally, sets a positive precedent and helps develop appropriate international norms and standards,” Stohl wrote in a USA Today Op-Ed. “President Obama could take three meaningful steps during his remaining time in office to fulfill these goals.”

The US government has heavily relied on drones to monitor enemy territory and launch strikes on suspected terrorists in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Obama has continuously expanded the drone program during over his two terms, drawing heavy criticism for the extent of civilian deaths and infrastructure damage that they cause. Though the White House insists that it does whatever possible to reduce this collateral damage, many point to it a contributing factor to extremism in the Muslim world.

At least dozen countries now host US drones, and at least nine others have lethal drone programs of their own.

“Given the rapid spread of drone technology around the world, it is important that the Obama administration – and any administration that follows – develop a transparent and accountable US drone policy that is both practical and comprehensive, and that sets a constructive international precedent for future drone use worldwide,” Stole’s report said. “In short, the lack of a clear US policy risks damaging consequences for the United States, at home and abroad, and undermines efforts to support the international rule of law.”

Data collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that over the past 10 years, drone strikes have killed up to 1,000 civilians in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.