Rights advocates are calling on the Biden administration to reinstate transparency measures and reveal the civilian death toll from its covert drone programme.
Former US President Donald Trump rolled back guidelines on the use of drone strikes put in place by Barack Obama, including a requirement that intelligence officials report the number of people killed in drone strikes outside of war zones.
Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s director of security with human rights, told Middle East Eye that reversing Trump’s drone policies “would be a very easy thing for Biden to do”.Biden administration temporarily suspends drone strikes outside of war zones
“If the US is killing and injuring civilians in drone strikes anywhere in the world, particularly outside war zones, the American people deserve to know that,” she said.
“The new administration needs to confront head-on the destruction and civilian lives claimed by the US drone war and pledge to put a stop to it or all these claims of ending forever wars will ring hollow.”
During her confirmation hearing, director of national intelligence Avril Haines said she would advocate for a new order that would report “on strikes taken by and civilian casualties caused by all US government agencies”.
Chris Woods, founder and director of the UK-based watchdog Airwars, said Haines’ statement was a step in the right direction in increasing both transparency and accountability of the US government’s actions.
“We very much welcomed the comments by the new director of national intelligence that she wants to restore that reporting obligation for CIA actions in countries outside of active war zones,” Woods said.
Woods noted that the reinstatement of such transparency measures would be crucial in Yemen, where he says there is evidence of an active CIA campaign.
Revealing civilian deaths
Last week, the Pentagon announced that any drone strikes outside of war zones where American forces are operating would have to be reported to the White House for approval, effectively reversing one of Trump’s policies that had given the military and the CIA greater authority.
Still, the administration has not indicated whether it plans to reverse any other measures regarding the drone programme, including reporting on civilian casualties.
‘The US program of secretive lethal strikes in multiple parts of the world has destroyed lives’
– Hina Shamsi, ACLU
The New York Times reported that the Biden administration had quietly issued a review of its drone policy and was weighing the option of whether to require the government to disclose estimates of how many civilians were killed in US strikes outside of war zones.
In response to MEE’s request for comment, the State Department and Pentagon told MEE to refer to the White House.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Security Project, told MEE the ACLU was waiting for “the Biden administration to end these harms”.
“Over the last 20 years, the US has taken a war-based policy approach that has resulted in a cascade of human rights and law of war violations,” Shamsi said.
“To take just one example, the US program of secretive lethal strikes in multiple parts of the world has destroyed lives, primarily of people who are civilians, Muslim, Black, and Brown.