The U.S. Senate has dropped a provision from an intelligence bill that would have required President Barack Obama's administration to disclose the number of people killed or injured in drone attacks conducted by the U.S. in other countries.
The change in the bill's language now means that the Obama administration need not report to the public details about civilian casualties from drone attacks on foreign soil. The move by the Senate's leaders follows a letter from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, stating that the Obama administration will find a different way, other than a public report, to provide more information about its drone attacks, news reports said.
“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,” Clapper said, according to The Guardian, in the letter, adding: “As we continue to work with the Committee towards making public additional information regarding the United States’ use of targeted lethal force in counterterrorism operations outside the United States and other areas of active hostilities, the Executive Branch will continue to ensure that appropriate Members of Congress are kept fully informed, including updates on specific counter-terrorism operations.”
The provision was passed last year by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act and required Obama to make a public announcement stating “the total number of combatants killed or injured during the preceding year by the use of targeted lethal force outside the United States by remotely piloted aircraft,” according to the New York Times.
But officials reportedly said that the provision faced stiff resistance both from intelligence officials as well as Republican lawmakers, who argued that the effectiveness of the country's drone operations might be reduced if such public reports were released. Obama had announced, in 2013, that he wanted to restrict drone attacks though not eliminate them completely, even as he reiterated that such operations were needed to combat terrorism.
In 2013, nearly 55 drone strikes killed about 271 people in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia while 532 people were killed in 2012.
“How many people have to die for Congress to take even a small step toward transparency? It's stunning that after all these years we still don't know how many people the Obama administration has killed with drones,” Zeke Johnson, the director of Amnesty International’s security and human rights program, said according to The Guardian.