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Drone warfare: top 3 reasons it could be dangerous for US

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Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California (2nd l.) meets with Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar (l.) on Capitol Hill on Sept. 19.

Evan Vucci/AP/File

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3. Lack of oversight

It is traditionally the US military that wages war on behalf of the country. Troops have taken an oath to the US Constitution, and in return receive the authority to kill on behalf of the US government. They are also in uniform, and identifiable as combatants.

But what happens when the CIA is waging the wars instead, through drones whose operators may or may not be US military personnel? wonders Holewinski. “When you then have a civilian agency getting involved in targeting and actually pulling the trigger, that becomes very difficult to square with international law.”

What’s more, the CIA works in close cooperation with Joint Special Operations Command, which runs “black” special ops like Delta Force and Seal Team 6, “so the military is subsumed under this civilian spy agency,” which, she adds, is not asking the same questions the US military asks in the wake of drone strikes in Afghanistan, for example.

“After a strike, they look at how much civilian harm they have caused, and how to respond to it. They talk to village elders, they may pay compensation.” But when drone strikes are secret and without US military on the ground to investigate claims, “none of this happens,” Holewinski adds.

The few members of Congress who provide oversight and are briefed on such operations, including the speaker of the House of Representatives, the Senate majority leader, and the chairs of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees – known as the “Gang of Eight” – are not delving into the consequences of drone strikes on civilians, argues Holewinski.

Rather, “they seem to be focused on which targets we’re going after.” This means they get a briefing along the lines of, “ ‘OK, we’re going to go after this guy. Here’s his bio, here’s why we think we we should go after him,’ ” she adds.

While all of the information about potential drone strikes doesn’t necessarily need to be public, Congress's Gang of Eight should be weighing “killing in the short-term people that we don’t want to exist anymore, versus the long-term impact of anger on the ground,” Holewinski says. “I want Congress to know, as the oversight body that speaks for me, and I want them to delve into the process. What are these drones doing to people on the ground, and are they creating more goodwill, or less?"

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