WASHINGTON, Feb 8: While US senators consider setting up a special court system to regulate drone strikes, a senior Obama administration official tells a senate panel that the strikes are legal and will continue.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday afternoon that people in Al Qaeda-infested areas had ‘welcomed’ drone strikes on terrorist leaders.
Testifying before the committee on his nomination for the post of CIA’s director, Mr Brennan urged the Americans to understand “the care we take, the agony we go through, to make sure we do not have any collateral injuries and deaths”.
Although it was a confirmation hearing, the debate focused intensely on the use of drones, causing the panel’s chairperson Diane Feinstein to reveal that she and some other senators were working on a proposal to set up a special court system to regulate drone strikes.
It will function like another judicial set-up that authorises government surveillance of US citizens in espionage and terror cases.
Senator Feinstein told reporters after the hearing that she believed it was time to lift the secrecy off the drone program so that US officials could correct exaggerated reports of civilian casualties. The secrecy does not allow US officials to answer questions about the strikes.
Mr Brennan, the man behind the dramatic rise in the use of drones, also defended the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and other Americans in the drone strikes.
He said that al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American killed in 2011, was involved in efforts to kill other US citizens, which made him a legitimate military target.
Mr Brennan insisted that US President Barack Obama always acted legally when authorising a drone strike. The president ensures that “any actions we take will be legally grounded, will be thoroughly anchored in intelligence, will have the appropriate review process, approval process before any action is contemplated, including those actions that might involve the use of lethal force”, he said.
Mr Brennan said his role as the president’s counter-terrorism adviser was to ensure that “we do everything possible before we need to resort to lethal force”.
On Thursday, the Obama administration gave the House and Senate intelligence committees copies of a secret document that outlined its drone policy. At the hearing, Republican Senator Susan Collins noted that even the former US commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, had begun questioning the efficacy of the drone program and had warned that it was breeding resentment and backlash within the Muslim world.
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, reminded Mr Brennan that last year President Obama had promised to “be more open with the public about the use of drones” and urged the future CIA director to implement this promise.
Mr Brennan agreed. “It is part of my obligation to make sure the truth is known to the American public and the world,” he said.