Democrats demand Obama to detail drone policy

Eight lawmakers from his own Democratic Party have urged the US President Barack Obama to make public the details of his Administration`s drone policy.

Updated: Mar 12, 2013, 18:38 PM IST

Washington: Eight lawmakers from his own Democratic Party have urged the US President Barack Obama to make public the details of his Administration`s drone policy, arguing that every American national has the right to know the underlying legal rationale that ensures due process.

"Authorising the killing of American citizens and others has profound implications for our Constitution, the core values of our nation, our national security and future international practice," the lawmakers, in a letter to President Obama, said.

They were referring to the killing of al Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

"The executive branch`s claim of authority to deprive citizens of life, and to do so without explaining the legal bases for doing so, sets a dangerous precedent and is a model of behaviour that the United States would not want other nations to emulate," they said in the letter, copy of which was provided to the media.

The letter seeks a full response and formal report to Congress outlining architecture of the drone programme going forward, including efforts to limit instances and remunerate victims of civilian casualties by signature drone strikes, broadening of access to due process for identified targets and continuing structuring of drone programme within the framework of international law.

"It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones programme. The President has full reign to protect the US as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities," Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who led lawmakers to sign the letter said in a statement.

"We have to protect the checks and balances that are at the heart of our democracy," she added.

The letter cites several concerning factors of the Administration`s drone policy including, "an unbounded geographic scope, unidentified `high-level` officials with authority to approve kill-lists and a vaguely defined definition of whether a capture is `feasible`.

Other factors raised in the letter include "an overly
broad definition of the phrase `imminent threat`, which re-defines the word in a way that strays significantly from its traditional and legal meaning."

The letter comes five days after Republican Senator Rand Paul drew international attention and demanded assurances from the Obama administration that the government would not use drones to kill Americans on US soil if they are not engaged in combat.

Paul ended the speech after the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, provided such an assurance.

In his State of the Union Address, Obama said his administration will work with Congress to make anti-terrorism programs more transparent.

"In the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to American people and the world," he said.

The lawmakers said there are vague legal boundaries that raise the risk of the executive branch authorising the deaths of American civilians, otherwise protected by the Constitution, and appear to effectively vitiate due process of law without meaningful oversight or accountability.

"Therefore, we ask that you release, in an unclassified form, the full legal basis of executive branch claims in the areas which are the subject of this letter," they demanded.

The lawmakers also referred to a 2012 Government Accountability Office study, which reported that 75 countries and "certain terrorist organisations" have acquired drones and either have or are seeking weaponized dairies.

"We are growing increasingly concerned that there is a risk that our country`s `global war` doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights," they said in the letter.