Bill would require lawmakers be told of 'kill/capture' missions

House members introduced legislation Thursday that would require the administration to provide advance notice to defense lawmakers of any so-called "kill/capture" counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. 

The "Oversight of Sensitive Military Operations" bill sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) would also require the administration to give advance notice on such missions to members who do not sit on the congressional intelligence panels.

ADVERTISEMENT
Thornberry, who heads up the House Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and intelligence, said his legislation will provide more transparency and Congress greater oversight on the secretive missions. 

ADVERTISEMENT
"We must ensure that every action is consistent with our civil liberties and freedoms," Thornberry said in a statement. "This balance can only be achieved by proper oversight and accountability, and it is Congress’s job to provide both.” 

The operations targeted by the bill run the gamut from armed drone strikes against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups to night raids by U.S. special operations forces. The operations targeted would be similar to the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Abottabad that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden. 

If approved by Congress, Thornberry's legislation would require notification not only to the House and Senate defense panels but also the defense subcommittees on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. 

However, kill/capture missions by U.S. and allied forces as part of ongoing operations in Afghanistan would not require notification, according to Thornberry. 

The bipartisan group of 28 House members co-sponsoring the bill include House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) 

Senior House defense committee members Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) have also signed onto the legislation. 

As part of the notice given to the panels, U.S. military and intelligence officials will have to provide a report "outlining all legal and policy considerations" taken before a kill/capture operation. 

Along with notification, defense lawmakers will also receive "in-depth quarterly updates" on all counterterrorism missions carried out by U.S. forces. 

Thornberry's bill is part of a renewed push on Capitol Hill for transparency in the Obama administration's counterterrorism strategy, particularly the White House's aggressive use of drone strikes. 

"There has been bipartisan support in the House and Senate for more ... oversight of such operations to ensure they are carried out in ways that are consistent with the United States Constitution," Thornberry said. 

Earlier this year, top Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary panels pushed for the creation of new authorities for federal courts to oversee the use of armed drone strikes against suspected terror targets worldwide.

That authority would likely be patterned after the intelligence oversight responsibilities under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, told reporters at the time. 

But Senate Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), argued that type of legal oversight would hamstring the White House's ability to take out key al Qaeda figures. 

Drone strikes have been critical in the Obama administration's counterterrorism campaign against Islamic militant groups. 

U.S. national security officials claim the strikes have decimated the terror group's top leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

But top civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, claim the counterterrorism tactic denies suspects — particularly U.S. citizens — their rights to due process in favor of national security objectives.