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Lawmakers Want Justification for Signature Drone Strikes

Over two dozen antiwar members of the House have asked the Administration for the legal justification for the Predator drone program, in particular the “signature” strikes which do not target an individual but a general set of suspected terrorist activities abroad. These signature strikes count all adult males operating in the area of the strike as terrorist suspects and not civilian casualties, a controversial practice outlined in a series of articles in the New York Times.

The Obama administration gave the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) the new authority in Yemen to target al Qaeda militants, as the administration has stepped up its drone program there this year.

The House members warned in a letter to President Obama Tuesday that the “signature” strikes can generate “powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment.”

“We are concerned that the use of such ‘signature’ strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States,” they wrote. “The implications of the use of drones for our national security are profound. They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that the targeted communities have.”

Democrat Dennis Kucinich organized the letter, which also includes Republicans Walter Jones and Ron Paul.

We know that there are Office of Legal Counsel memos on the legitimacy of targeting individuals, including US citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, for assassination. But so far, we do not have any record of OLC memos for signature strikes in places like Pakistan or Yemen. Lawmakers have not even been able to obtain the OLC memos supporting the drone program, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse told Majority Report Radio’s Sam Seder that “to the extent that’s happening (a request for the documents), it would come out of the Intelligence and Armed Services leadership.”

The Administration has generally cut Congress out of the loop over the drone program, which they still consider an official secret, in pleadings to courts against lawsuits seeking additional information and documents. But dozens of Administration officials have leaked to the media information on drone strikes. The Justice Department recently started a leak investigation over these kinds of national security disclosures, but tellingly, it does not appear that the investigation includes leaks on signature strikes or the drone program.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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