The Trump White House has scaled back an Obama-era mandate requiring the military and intelligence services to disclose the number of civilians killed during U.S. and allied airstrikes against terrorist targets.
Mr. Trump on Wednesday canceled portions of the Obama-era reporting mandates on civilian casualties, outlined in Executive Order 13732. The sections deemed unnecessary deal with airstrikes by U.S. drones or warplanes “against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities.”
Reporting requirements for airstrikes conducted in active war zones would not be affected, National Security Council officials said.
While the Pentagon says the U.S. government remains committed to minimizing civilian losses and acknowledging responsibility, Wednesday’s order eliminates previous reporting requirements for drone strikes carried out against terrorist targets by the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies.
The move, according to White House officials, eases the burden on intelligence agencies conducting counterterrorism operations by ending “superfluous reporting requirements … that do not improve government transparency,” the NSC spokesman said.
Such requirements only “distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” the spokesman added.
Human rights advocates were quick to chastise the White House’s decision, saying Wednesday the move only further constricts public knowledge on the already opaque counterterrorism operations conducted by the intelligence community.
“President Trump has already weakened rules that sought to limit civilian deaths caused by this country’s illegal and immoral lethal force program, in which it kills suspects in places where we are not at war. This order now shrouds those killings in even greater secrecy,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said in a statement.
The reporting requirements, codified by the Obama administration, and reversed by the Trump White House, did not allow for a full accounting of the intelligence community’s actions regarding drone strikes, Ms. Shamsi noted. The number of clandestine drone strikes against terror groups actually accelerated under President Obama.
But the effort “provided an imperfect but still important official record of deaths” of civilians due to American-led operations, she said, adding Wednesday’s decision “will hide from the public the government’s own tally of the total number of deaths it causes every year in its lethal force program.”