Trump quietly signs order to hide number of civilians killed by drones


The Trump administration has already ramped up drone strikes at an alarming rate — and now it's trying to keep the public in the dark about them.

Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that will make it easier for his administration to avoid accountability for killing civilians in drone strikes.

The executive order rolls back an Obama-era mandate that required the director of national intelligence to release an annual public report summarizing all strikes against terrorist targets outside of war zones — as well as all combatant and civilian deaths resulting from those strikes.

The White House completely ignored the reporting requirement last year, and now it's canceling the mandate altogether.

The reporting obligation was initially enacted by the Obama administration to increase transparency and accountability, with the goal of reducing the number of civilian casualties stemming from U.S. drone strikes in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Troublingly, Trump's move comes just months after a joint report by the Associated Press and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that the number of drone strikes carried out by the U.S. has increased sharply since Trump took office.

As of November 2018, less than two years after Trump took office, the U.S. had carried out 176 strikes in Yemen — compared to 154 strikes carried out during President Obama's entire eight years in office.

Since Trump took office, "U.S. drone policy appears to have become less restrained, transparent, and accountable," Axios reported in June.

Among other things, the Trump administration has made it easier to target people in drone strikes by eliminating the requirement that a person pose an imminent threat to be considered a legitimate target.

To make matters worse, officials have refused to confirm or deny that such changes to policy have even been made.

The Trump administration has also increased the geographic scope of lethal drone strikes, lowered the threshold for authorizing drone strikes, and expanded the role of the CIA in carrying out drone strikes in locations where they would not have been previously authorized.

Explaining the rollback of the Obama-era requirement to report on civilian drone strike deaths, the White House National Security Council said Wednesday that Trump's executive order removes "superfluous reporting requirements" that "distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission."

Put differently, the Trump administration doesn't want to take time away from killing people to actually report on the people being killed.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.