Not so targeted

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The administration and many members of Congress have insisted that the US’s targeted killing program focuses on surgical strikes against Al Qaeda leaders and “associated forces,” with the utmost care given to avoiding civilian casualties.

New information uncovered by McClatchy confirms what outside experts and advocates have long argued–armed drones are being used irresponsibly in a much broader way than the administration claims.

Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.

The administration has said that strikes by the CIA’s missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones are authorized only against “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans.

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.”

It’s worth reading the whole story here.

Congress needs to ask much tougher questions about these policies, and the administration should provide the public with enough information for an informed debate. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights is holding a hearing next week entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing.” That would be a good place to start.

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