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Congressman Keith Ellison wants accountability on drone strikes

Critics of the Obama administration's drone program point to the secrecy it is shrouded in as one of its major flaws. How can we judge the morality or the legality of the attacks if the government keeps secret even its legal justification for executing them? The ACLU is appealing a verdict that said the government doesn't have to disclose its justification under the Freedom of Information Act, but in the meantime not even Senator Ron Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has seen the legal memos.

This stonewalling of even our most powerful senators, regularly entrusted with sensitive information, appears to be coming to a head. The public wants answers, and now other members of congress are speaking out, too.

Today the Washington Post published an op-ed written by Congressman Keith Ellison that argues for greater transparency and a codification of congressional rules to govern the strikes. Even though Congress' role is to serve as a check on executive power, the Congressman writes, it has "yet to hold a single hearing examining U.S. drone policy." Mr. Ellison is concerned about a lack of accountability here in the United States, but also about what's actually happening on the ground in the countries the US is bombing.

…the costs of drone strikes have been ignored or inadequately acknowledged. The number of innocent civilian casualties may be greater than people realize. A recent study by human rights experts at Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported: approximately 700 since 2004, including almost 200 children. This is unacceptable.

Ellison encourages his colleagues to develop a "legal framework to guide executive action on drone strikes," guided by three core principles: avoiding civilian casualties, independent judicial review of any "kill list" strikes, and collaboration with other countries to establish norms.

Read Congressman Ellison here. Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko has published a text on "Reforming US Drone Strike Policies."

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