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The Senate Intelligence Committee was expected to receive a classified document yesterday that seeks to justify the administration’s policy of targeting Americans overseas via drone attacks, chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said, CNN reported. The announcement came shortly after an administration official said President Barack Obama had yielded to demands that he turn over to Congress the classified Justice Department legal advice that seeks to justify the policy. President Barack Obama’s choice for CIA director, John Brennan, was likely to face questions on the programme during a Senate confirmation yesterday. The drone campaign against al Qaeda has been a Brennan legacy as chief counterterrorism adviser. On Wednesday it was revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency had been operating a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for the past two years.
The US media had agreed not to publish details of the base because the government had argued it would endanger the US campaign against al-Qaeda. Rights groups and legal experts have raised a number of concerns about the targeted-killing policy. They say the decision-making process is shrouded in mystery, and it is unclear how an individual ends up on the list of targets. The legal regime that justifies the killings in terms of a global war against al-Qaeda has also been called into question. US government officials rarely admit that the programme even exists. But the leaked memo outlined some of the legal arguments the officials use to justify the policy. In the undated memo, officials argue that al-Qaeda and the US are engaged in armed conflict, that al-Qaeda militants pose an “imminent threat” to the US, and that the US Congress authorised the president to use force against the group following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
U.S. officials have consistently claimed that offering too many details about the covert drone program could threaten national security. Fair enough; some classification for national security is understandable. But the secrecy surrounding covert drone use is unduly excessive and not in keeping with the transparent government President Barack Obama promised.
Since the bulk of Brennan’s hearing will be behind closed doors, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has no reason to shy away from asking tough questions about the drone program, CNN says. It matters that Congress is there to represent the American people. On their behalf, Congress has a duty to ensure the use of lethal force beyond our borders is being considered and carried out responsibly, with due consideration for the harm it may inflict on civilian populations.
Senators might ask a very basic question to Brennan, one that is seldom clearly answered by the administration: “What impact is the drone campaign against al Qaeda and its associates having?”