For years, US drone strikes were the exclusive purview of the CIA, putting them in the realm of extrajudicial assassinations, and the shift toward the Pentagon running the show was initially seen as a significant step toward accountability and abiding by the laws of war.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Rather, some lawmakers as well as some CIA officials are warning that the transition has reduced what accountability there was, effectively eliminating Congressional scrutiny of individual strikes.
Congressional oversight of the drone war was limited even when the CIA was doing it, but it appears misplaced faith in the Pentagon to “do things different” had reduced a lot of the interest in keeping an eye on them, and unlike the CIA the military doesn’t have a legal requirement to disclose individual drone strikes to Congress.
From the military’s perspective, it makes sense. They argue the drone is no different from any other warplane, and they don’t have to give Congress an individual account of every other airstrike. Yet the drones are used differently, mostly for assassinations, and there is less resistance to using them than there would be for more expensive piloted aircraft.
The military sold their takeover of the program on the idea they’d be less secretive than the CIA, but it simply hasn’t borne out, and with the military blanketly denying virtually all civilian deaths in all airstrikes, and refusing to even say how often the drones were used.
Rights groups are urging Congress to try to revue the strikes, since the Pentagon claims Congress can always request more info, but so far most of the leadership doesn’t want to show a lack of confidence in the military.
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