Trump nixes public report on drone-strike deaths

President Trump on Wednesday ended an Obama-era requirement that the U.S. government publish an annual report on the number of people killed in drone strikes or other counterterrorism operations outside of war zones.

Trump issued an executive order revoking the requirement, capping months of speculation that he would revoke the disclosure rule.

{mosads}The order says the director of national intelligence must no longer issue “an unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from those strikes, among other information.”

The White House last year chose not to publish the unclassified report detailing the number of strikes carried out against terrorist targets and the number of combatants and civilians killed. The administration was facing a May 1 deadline to issue the next report.

Former President Obama mandated the public report in a July 2016 executive order following years of criticism that his administration’s use of drone strikes against terror groups in countries such as Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen was not transparent.

“This action eliminates superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” a National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

Officials pointed to a major defense law passed by Congress last year that requires the administration to submit a civilian casualty report to lawmakers. That measure, however, allows the Defense secretary to classify the report if he decides that its publication would pose a national security threat.

The provision applies to military operations and does not cover drone strikes carried out by the CIA, which oftentimes carries out strikes in areas where U.S. forces are not present.

Former Obama administration officials criticized Trump’s decision, which they said will deprive the public of the ability to hold the government accountable for civilian deaths.

“This requirement was about more than transparency,” Ned Price, an NSC spokesman under Obama, wrote on Twitter. “It allowed, for the first time, the US to counter disinformation from terrorist groups with facts about the effectiveness and precision of our operations. It was an important tool that we’re again without.”

Daphne Eviatar, an official with Amnesty International USA, blasted Trump’s decision as “unconscionable” and a “complete disregard of fundamental human rights.”

“This is a shameful decision that will shroud this administration’s actions in even more secrecy with little accountability for its victims,” she said. 

The use of drones in targeted anti-terror operations began under former President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was dramatically expanded by Obama, who viewed it as a way to fight extremists without a large-scale U.S. troop presence overseas.

But Obama drew criticism from human-rights groups and others over the hundreds of civilians who were killed in the strikes, as well as the 2011 killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was allegedly working with al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Obama adopted a number of reforms to the program during his second term, including the casualty reporting requirement.

After Trump took office, he expanded the use of drone strikes across the Middle East and in places like West Africa. The Trump administration expanded CIA’s drone mission in Niger and Libya after Obama had limited the agency’s involvement in lethal strikes, The New York Times reported in September.

Updated at 2:36 p.m.

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