WASHINGTON (Middle East Eye) – More than 40 House and Senate Democrats have urged U.S. President Joe Biden to review and overhaul Washington’s so-called counterterrorism policy and its use of lethal force and drone strikes.
The letter, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, comes after U.S. Central Command (Centcom) released the first public footage of a 29 August drone strike in Afghanistan which killed 10 civilians.
“Over successive administrations spanning nearly two decades, presidents have claimed virtually unilateral power to use lethal force around the world and without congressional authorization, killing not only armed actors but also innocent civilians - even American citizens,” the lawmakers said in their letter.
When “there is little policy change or accountability for repeated mistakes this grave and this costly”, they wrote, it sends a message that civilian deaths are “the inevitable consequence of modern conflict, rather than avoidable and damaging failures of policy”.
The letter was also signed by ten other senators including Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin, as well as 40 House members including Ro Khanna, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Barbara Lee, and Pramila Jayapal.
“We strongly urge your administration to review and overhaul U.S. counterterrorism policy to center human rights and the protection of civilians, align with U.S. and international law, prioritize non-lethal tools to address conflict and fragility, and only use force when it is lawful and as a last resort,” the lawmakers wrote.
In their letter, the lawmakers said up to 48,000 civilians may have been killed by U.S. airstrikes over the past two decades, while the U.S. has also conducted at least 14,000 drone strikes since 2002, “killing as many as 2,200 civilians - including 450 children”.
A trove of Pentagon documents obtained by The New York Times show how “deeply flawed intelligence” used to conduct U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
Those civilians include American citizens. In separate drone strikes two weeks apart, the U.S. killed Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdelrahman, in Yemen. Then, in 2017, Awlaki’s eight-year-old daughter, Nawar, also an American citizen, was killed in a U.S. commando raid.
Over the past year, lawmakers and advocacy groups have been calling for the Biden administration to end the use of lethal force, including drone strikes, in order to follow through on the president’s pledge to end America’s “forever wars”.
Advocates have also said, however, that the U.S. was unwilling to reconcile its use of lethal force, as shown in the sentencing of Daniel Hale, a former military analyst who leaked government documents revealing the civilian toll of Washington’s drone program.
Hale was sentenced in July 2021 to 45 months in prison, after pleading guilty to the dissemination of the documents that exposed secrets about U.S. drone warfare, including how often civilians were killed during strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.