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Trump Ends Rule Requiring US to Disclose Number of Civilians Killed by Drones

The Trump administration will be able to continue expanding the use of drone strikes with even less oversight.

U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicles prepare to launch from a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016.

In his latest attack on transparency, President Donald Trump on Wednesday rescinded a rule requiring U.S. intelligence officials to publicly disclose the number of civilians killed by drone strikes.

“Shameful, indefensible, dangerous,” tweeted Elizabeth Beavers, associate policy director with progressive advocacy group Indivisible. “Time for Congress to step in.”

Trump used an executive order to scrap the three-year-old rule, which instructed the Director of National Intelligence to produce an annual report on all civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes outside of official war zones.

As Common Dreams reported at the time, the White House ignored last May’s deadline for disclosing civilian deaths from drone strikes and suggested it could rescind the transparency requirement.

Now that the rule has been canceled, critics feared that the Trump administration will be able to continue expanding the use of drone strikes overseas with even less oversight.

“This is a shameful decision that will shroud this administration’s actions in even more secrecy with little accountability for its victims,” Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. “The public deserves to know how many civilians are killed by U.S. actions. This is an unconscionable decision and in complete disregard of fundamental human rights.”

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project, said that while the drone transparency requirement that Trump scrapped was “imperfect,” it still provided an “important official record of deaths caused by the military and, critically, the CIA.”

“This 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,” Shamsi said in a statement. “Now, the government is also no longer committed to providing reasons why its total death count is different from independent credible reports by media and rights groups.”

The executive order comes as reports show that Trump has escalated the drone wars he inherited from his predecessor Barack Obama, who was widely criticized for expanding the use of drone strikes.

“Since Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has approximately tripled the number of strikes that it conducts each year in Somalia, according to figures confirmed by the Pentagon,” Amanda Sperber, a freelance journalist based in East Africa, reportedin The Nation last month.

Trump has similarly ramped up the use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

“In 2009 and 2010, Obama launched 186 drone strikes on Yemen, Somalia, and especially Pakistan. Donald Trump’s drone strikes during his own first two years on the three pivotal undeclared battlefields, however, eclipse Obama’s,” according to a Daily Beast analysis published last November. “In 2017 and 2018 to date, Trump has launched 238 drone strikes there.”