President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday which overhauls policy on the reporting of civilian casualties caused by U.S. operations.
The “Executive Order on Revocation of Reporting Requirement” begins by describing the purpose of Section 3 of Executive Order 13732, which was signed by then-President Barack Obama in July 2016.
“[It] requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), or such other official as the President may designate, to release, by May 1 each year, an unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and non combatant deaths resulting from those strikes, among other information,” the order notes.
Just below this, Trump declares that “Section 3 of Executive Order 13732 is hereby revoked,” meaning that the DNI will no longer be required to provide unclassified information about combatant and civilian deaths that resulted from U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
The order was immediately received as a strike against transparency.
BREAKING: @realDonaldTrump just revoked a requirement that the govt provide annual aggregate statistics on counterterrorism strikes. This is a self-inflicted wound to transparency & public confidence in continuing critical efforts to protect Americans. https://t.co/oLY61zAblm
— Joshua A. Geltzer (@jgeltzer) March 6, 2019
This is a major headline that shouldn't get lost amidst all of the other news:
Because of how feckless Congress has been in constraining presidential warmaking, this data is one of the only markers we have for the scope of the current conflict with al Qaeda et al. Without it… https://t.co/9ptjyBviyo
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) March 6, 2019
The order also noted, however, that the Department of Defense must also submit “by May 1 each year, a report on civilian casualties caused as a result of United States military operations during the preceding year (civilian casualty report).” This report may be “submitted in unclassified form,” but may also “include a classified annex.”
Furthermore, the the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, dictates that the “scope of the civilian casualty report” will be publicly available unless the Secretary of Defense “certifies that the publication of the report would pose a threat to the national security interests of the United States.”
National security lawyer Mark Zaid told Law&Crime that the move appears to reinforce the idea that the U.S. is above criticism for its actions abroad.
“It would appear that this move by the Trump Administration exemplifies their view that the US will not be held answerable to foreign or human rights criticism. This revoked requirement was an attempt by the Obama Administration to minimize concerns by the international community of the number of civilian casualties occurring from drone strikes,” Zaid said. “It was nothing less than an accountability exercise.”
“Although this Executive Order relieves the Intelligence Community from public reporting, Congress still requires annual reporting from the Department of Defense,” he continued. “Unfortunately, it is well known many drone strikes are carried out by CIA and those numbers will no longer be captured.”
[Image via Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images]