Monday, November 25, 2013

Only 3 of 9 Dems on the House Intel Committee Want to Rein in Drone Strikes

On Thursday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence finished its markup of the FY14 Intelligence Authorization Bill.

I would like to call your attention to two committee votes in particular.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) offered an amendment to ban certain strikes. Rep. Schakowsky recently hosted a hearing with Rep. Alan Grayson, Rep. Barbara Lee, and CODEPINK with the families of drone victims. I could not find the text of the amendment, but I would surmise that it related to the use of signature strikes, which Schakowsky has criticized in the past. It could have also regarded double tap strikes.

I often describe signature strikes as like stop-and-frisk, where instead of getting stopped and frisked, you get killed by a flying death robot. Signature strikes kill unidentified targets chosen because of patterns behavior that are similar to those of militants.  However, in conducting these strikes, the administration labels all males above age 18 ("military age") as militants after the fact. As we all know, you can't tell a 17 year-old from an 18-year-old. So, effectively, if you have passed puberty, the White House sees you as fair game in a tribal area in Pakistan or Yemen. Remember, these people have not been charged with any crime, and the White House has no evidence of their having committed a crime. But they will be killed anyway in a shameless example of profiling. (That doesn't even begin to address the killing of women and children as false targets or "collateral damage.")

How did Jan Schakowsky's amendment do? The Committee voted it down 17 to 3.

The 3 supporters were all Democrats: Luis Gutierrez (IL-04), Ed Pastor (AZ-07), and Schakowsky herself.

The other six Democrats on the Committee all opposed it:

Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)
Adam Schiff (CA-28)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)

All of the Republicans voted no as well:

Mike Rogers (MI-08)
Mac Thornberry (TX-13)
Jeff Miller (FL-01)
Mike Conaway (TX-11)
Pete King (NY-02)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02)
Devin Nunes (CA-22)
Lynn Westmoreland (GA-03)
Michele Bachmann (MN-06)
Tom Rooney (FL-17)
Joe Heck (NV-03).
Mike Pompeo (KS-04) was not in attendance, but we can all assume how he'd vote.

Adam Schiff offered an amendment to require that U.S. agencies involved in drone wars produce annual reports in which they account for all deaths in U.S. drone strikes overseas and identify the civilians and alleged combatants killed. The amendment already passed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Schiff issued the following statement on the amendment:
“The production of this report will require minimal resources, but will provide a modest but important measure of transparency and oversight. It will help to fulfill the promises made by the President in his May 2013 speech at the National Defense University. As the President articulated, when we order a drone strike, ‘there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.’ Never the less despite our best efforts these strikes unfortunately do result in civilian casualties and the death of innocents who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps that is unavoidable and simply the nature of fighting the enemy we confront, an enemy that places no value on civilian life. But what we can do is be accountable and transparent, both with ourselves and with the world. And as the President pointed out in his NDU speech, ‘There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports.’ This amendment would help narrow that gap.”
The amendment failed 5 to 15. 

As before, Schakowsky, Gutierrez, and Pastor (all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) voted for it. Adam Schiff, its sponsor, and Jim Himes did as well.

The other four Democrats on the committee oppose such simple transparency measures:

Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)

All Republicans, of course, opposed it.

These amendments may get another chance when the bill comes to a full House vote.

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