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      The Path to Curbing the Use of Drones

      Pakistani demonstrators burn a U.S. flag during a protest against drone strikes in Multan, January 8, 2013.

      Peace advocates will have a new opportunity to rein in US drone attacks if the Pentagon takes over from the CIA, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

      The grassroots movement can demand that Congress amend the annual Pentagon authorization act in ways that might choke off the use of drones, or at least sharply change the cost-benefit calculations driving the current program. In addition to demanding an end to funding, among the options are attaching conditions to the annual US drones budget, for example:

      • Banning so-called “signature strikes”;
      • Narrowing targeting criteria to real threats to US citizens, troops or territory;
      • Requiring explicit approval by countries like Pakistan;
      • Creating an inspector-general as an independent monitor during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars;
      • Requiring independent casualty reports, and victim compensation.

      The drone issue is wider than the Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts, however. A strategy of pressuring Congress to choke back the program through yearly amendments is consistent with the past decades community-based lobbying against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. There is no shortcut to overcoming the significant Drone Lobby in Congress, although the process might accelerate if there is an unexpected catastrophe. Litigation and the coming findings of the UN Rapporteur will have significant impacts, too. But citizen activism on the ground is a proven way to rouse Congressional hearings, oversight and action, no matter how gradual the pace. Amendments are organizing and educating tools, which can be used by local groups to reach out to undecided constituencies, a necessary task given substantial acceptance of drones among many voters.

      But a path is better than a wall. A transparent path is better than a secret labyrinth.

      The opponents will be many. Incredibly, for example, the Senate intelligence committee chair, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), says the CIA has a record of “patience and discretion” in its drone policy. Feinstein would lose much of her secret oversight power if the drone program shifts to the Pentagon instead of the CIA.

      The proposed shift may be the central reason that President Barack Obama pushed for confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director. Brennan is apparently amenable to transferring drone authority over to another Obama pick, Defense Secretary “Chuck” Hagel.

      Meanwhile, responding to citizen calls for reform, key Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is openly questioning the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Durbin, who is holding a drone hearing in April, told the Wall Street Journal editorial board that Congress never imagined they were voting for “the longest war in history” when supporting the AUMF shortly after 9/11. 

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