Trump admin removes policy requiring transparency over civilian drone deaths

President Donald Trump’s administration has reversed an Obama era policy requiring US intelligence services to report the number of civilians killed by American drones.

On March 6, Trump signed an executive order revoking the requirement for intelligence agencies to publicly announce the number of non-combatants killed by US drone strikes or other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones.

The justification for this move is that Congress has already passed new legislation on the reporting of civilian casualties and Obama’s executive order is therefore redundant. The Trump administration labelled Obama’s executive order as “superfluous” and “distracting” to intelligence agencies according to the BBC.

The problem with that argument is that the Congressional legislation only requires reporting on civilians deaths for military operations. Many US drone strikes occur in non-military zones. This means that should there be a US assassination attempt on, say, a Pakistani warlord, and the Hellfire missile accidentally kills 20 women and children, the Trump administration will be under no obligation to make that information known to the public.

Critics of the move argue that the lack of transparency will allow the likes of the CIA to carry out their “targetted killing program” with no accountability for the toll paid by innocent civilians.

How drone strikes work?

For those not in the know, the US military has an extensive arsenal of weaponised UAVs that are used for military operations and assassination around the world. The Pentagon is said to have some 7000 drones in total and the CIA has around 30 Predator and Reaper drones.

Predator drones range in size but one of the most well-known models, pictured below is the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone. It is 27 feet long (8.22 m), 6.9 feet high (2.1 m) and has a relatively moderate maximum travel speed of 135 mph (217 kph).  It can carry a 1100 lb (500 kg) payload and fly for periods of up to 24 hours.

Most often, the pilot of these drones is not in the country the drone is in operation. Rather, they are typically sitting at a desk chair at a warehouse somewhere in America, such as one base located in Syracuse, New York. The pilot has a range of computer screens in front of him, as well as instruments, maps, a video feed and a joystick through which he controls the drone. The pilot is often tasked with monitoring a site

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