Americans shouldn’t concern themselves with facts deemed “superfluous” by their government, even if that means secret CIA wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen go unchecked. That’s the takeaway from President Trump’s latest executive order.
They’re actually open secrets. The CIA drone airstrikes raining down in “noncombat” areas of the world are nothing new, but now it’s likely even fewer Americans will ever know about them. The Founding Fathers have finally reached the core of the Earth, from all the spinning in their graves.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order removing a requirement that the director of national intelligence annually reports the deaths caused by US military or CIA operations overseas. This only makes official what the Trump administration has already practiced, as it declined to release any such report last year.
President Barack Obama instituted the policy in an executive order at the end of his second term in July 2016. Obama, who oversaw rampant acceleration in US drone warfare from the start of his presidency, was under pressure from human rights groups criticizing US airstrikes in Pakistan primarily.
Before getting into the numbers of civilians killed or the global reach of these attacks, the point can’t be driven home enough that the subject here is not just war, but wars. At least 8 of them, all unconstitutional and agonizingly too long. But they’re not called wars by the US Department of Defense. They’re kinetic actions. Or conflicts maybe, in need of some resolution by an adult.
The Founding Fathers were clear, and the US Constitution is explicit when it comes to war. It’s the prerogative of Congress to decide when the US goes to war. There are no “police action” exceptions for the president, as Tenth Amendment Center founder Michael Boldin explains. The Constitution was meant to be interpreted by the plain meanings of the words used.
Both legal and common dictionaries defined war not unlike how the Rev. Frederick Barlow’s 1772 dictionary did. War was “the exercise of violence under sovereign command against such as oppose.”
Maybe you can find an average person who could name Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as places where the US is at war. But Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen? The not-so-secret US bombings there are often times handled by the CIA, but Congress is only requesting estimates of civilians killed by the US military.
The National Security Council, headed by National Security Advisor John Bolton, cited Congress’ policy then derided the Obama rule as “superfluous reporting requirements, requirements that do not improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission,” according to the New York Times.
It’s estimated that Obama killed between 200 to 800 civilians if you ask nonprofits like New America or the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who runs the Long War Journal, also estimates higher than the previous administrations reported a civilian death toll of 64 to 116.
“The United States government is fully committed to complying with its obligations under the law of armed conflict, minimizing, to the greatest extent possible, civilian casualties, and acknowledging responsibility when they, unfortunately, occur during military operations,” the National Security Council statement continued. Obama had said similar things throughout his two terms.
What’s Congress going to do about it? Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, sounded rather defeatist when he told the BBC that there was “no justification” for Trump’s move to eliminate “an important measure of transparency.”
Perhaps it’s for the best if Congress does nothing since they screwed up so badly last time they tried to attach strings to an undeclared war. Imagine if they just impeached Trump for war crimes, then resigned and repented for their own hypocrisy. It’d be morning in America. Unfortunately, however, we may not get a good night.