Towards Congressional Oversight of the Drone Program, and Public Accountability

In the constant flow of news on the flat plane of social media, it can be hard to ‘pin’ even one major story per day — to mark a point where researched journalism has established what is now publicly known. Yesterday, The Intercept​ published two such huge stories in “The Drone Papers”: one on the DoD authorization chain for drone strikes, and one on the known results of the President Obama / CIA drone program. Christopher Hayes​ praised them yesterday as “incredible journalism all around: reporting, editing, writing, presentation.”

Shouts to All in With Chris on substantive reporting as always — deep six minute video interview w/ The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill last night.

To underscore, this info on American military actions was only liberated thanks to an unknown whistleblower — per Daily Mail UK: “Yahoo has reported that the FBI identified a ‘an employee of a federal contracting firm’…”. Context reminder, back in March, The Guardian US reported: “Since Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, his government has waged a war against whistleblowers and official leakers. On his watch, there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act — more than double those under all previous presidents combined.”

And the info, per Jeremy Scahill​: “…between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.” Read Scahill’s report, published yesterday morning, share full The Intercept reporting hub.(And yeah, how about those nifty web interactives these days, not too shabby.)

The straightforward next question, given CIA’s unchecked status in the Administration, is: “What accountability exists in Congressional oversight of the drone program, what levers are there to unwind and bring this back to rule of law?” More specifically, for several years, military & oversight experts have called for the drone program to be transferred from the CIA to the Pentagon, and to “Unify congressional oversight of specific operations under the armed services committee” — CFR, 2013.

Taking that particular Senate committee as an example, you can see the membership broken down by party by scrolling down on official page — fellow New Yorkers, for example, Sen. Gillibrand is a member, and bi-monthly constituent meetings could be organized with her office to spread knowledge on how to gain drone-program info for Senate committee staff and encourage their capacity. Towards a continual, years-long dialogue with Congressional offices, not just climactic exposes and show hearings on the Hill with recalcitrant defense officials.

The oversight functions in our federal system have atrophied so much in the past 30+ years, in part due to the lobbying revolving door & ethics watchdogs defunding, but the moral shock of the U.S.’ ongoing drone program ought to compel renewed controls towards adhering to international guidelines. I trust Americans don’t disagree: “The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government.”

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