Groups urge 'robust' drone probes after executive order

Groups urge 'robust' drone probes after executive order
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A dozen human rights and civil liberties groups are urging the Obama administration to investigate 10 specific reports of civilian casualties from drone strikes as part of its efforts to implement a new executive order.

“Now that you have adopted a policy on post-strike investigation and redress for civilian harm, we urge you to apply that policy to these and other past incidents that remain unaddressed,” the groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, wrote in a letter to President Obama on Thursday.

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In July, Obama issued an executive order an addressing civilian casualties that said, among other things, relevant agencies should investigate all incidents using all available sources, including nongovernmental organizations, and acknowledge the government’s responsibility in the casualties.

The order was issued in conjunction with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of statistics on civilian deaths from drone strikes outside of war zone between 2009 and 2016.

At the time, human rights groups gave the disclosure and order tepid praise, saying more needed to be done.

In their Thursday letter, the groups reiterated that sentiment and said the administration should investigate 10 incidents they highlighted.

“We write to request that, as part of a robust effort to implement the executive order this fall, your administration investigate 10 past drone strikes as well as other strikes where there are credible allegations of harm to civilians,” they wrote.

The 10 strikes highlighted happened in Yemen and Pakistan between 2009 and 2014 and allegedly killed a total of at least 118 civilians, according to the letter.

“The signatories of this letter do not consider this an exhaustive list, but ten examples of strikes in which civilian harm has been credibly alleged,” a footnote adds.

The groups specifically want the administration to publicly acknowledge U.S. government responsibility for the strikes, ensure investigations, publicly disclose the methodology, scope and findings of the investigations, explain discrepancies between U.S. government findings and others’ findings, provide details of any lessons learned from the investigations, and offer condolence payments and other forms of compensation to civilians injured or the families of civilians killed in these strikes.

The groups also encouraged the administration to go beyond the executive order. 

“We have broader concerns about the U.S. government’s lethal use of force in counterterrorism operations, and these concerns endure in spite of the recent limited disclosures,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Center for Constitutional Rights, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Open Society Foundations and Reprieve.