On Wednesday, President Trump reversed an Obama-era rule requiring defense and intelligence officials to publicly report the number of civilian casualties from U.S. military drone strikes outside of war zones.
The rule was introduced by President Barack Obama on July 1st, 2016 and required the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on civilian casualties caused by US military operations by May 1st of every year.
President Trump rolled back the ruling by signing an executive order on Wednesday. The move was expected after the Trump Administration failed to release the annual accounting of casualties last year.
Human rights groups condemn the move:
Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at the Human Rights Watch, called Trump's decision "deeply troubling."
The reporting requirement was the first attempt by the US government to track the number of people killed by targeted strikes outside of designated war zones in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. That effort has now ended.
Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s director of security with human rights, said: “This is a shameful decision that will shroud this administration’s actions in even more secrecy with little accountability for its victims.
The limits included a requirement that targets of missions by the military and the C.I.A. be limited to high-level militants rather than foot-soldier jihadists without any special training or leadership role.
Since other legislation still requires the release of an annual report of “civilian casualties caused as a result of United States military operations,” President Trump’s decision is widely seen by watchdog groups as an attempt to conceal the number of deaths from drone strikes carried out specifically by the CIA.
“The public deserves to know how many civilians are killed by US actions. This is an unconscionable decision and in complete disregard of fundamental human rights,” said Eviatar.
“It is incomprehensible that this vital work will be left only to human rights organizations such as ours.”
The move sparked a debate military reporting:
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that Mr. Trump’s move “eliminates superfluous reporting requirements” that “distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission.”
“The United States government is fully committed to complying with its obligations under the law of armed conflict, minimizing, to the greatest extent possible, civilian casualties, and acknowledging responsibility when they, unfortunately, occur during military operations,” the official said.
However, Adam Schiff, the Democrat chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said that there was “simply no justification” for the president’s move, and noted that it was “a troubling retreat from transparency.”
“Today’s decision underscores the need for Congress to make this reporting mandatory, something I intend to pursue through the Intelligence Authorization Act this year,” he added.