Why Not Have a Hearing on Civilian Drone Casualties?

Yesterday, I suggested that Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger’s certainty that public accounts of drone casualties are overstated may say more about our failed intelligence oversight than it does about the number of civilians who have died in our drone strikes.

Later yesterday, Steven Aftergood posted a must read reflection on how our intelligence oversight has backed off public accountability. I’ll have more to say about Aftergood’s post, but for the moment I wanted to look at a measure of public accountability he uses: the number of public oversight hearings, particularly those with outside experts.

Over the past decade, however, the Committee’s priorities appear to have changed, to the detriment of public accountability.  In fact, despite the Committee’s assurance in its annual reports, public disclosure even of the Committee’s own oversight activities has decreased.

In 2012, the Committee held only one public hearing, despite the prevalence of intelligence-related public controversies.  That is the smallest number of public hearings the Committee has held in at least 25 years and possibly ever.  A non-governmental witness has not been invited to testify at an open Committee hearing since 2007.

Breaking! Under Dianne Feinstein’s leadership, the Senate Intelligence Committee has had its fewest public hearings in at least 25 years!

Aftergood’s point, though, suggests one remedy for the problem with Mike Rogers’ boasting (or more lucrative assurances from DiFi that her oversight is all we need on drone strikes).

Why not have a public hearing at which the major contributors to the discussion of drone casualties testify in the same place?

The Intelligence Committees could invite both The Bureau for Investigative Journalism and the AP to explain how they conducted independent assessments of civilian casualties and what those assessments showed. They could invite Peter Bergen to explain his dubious numbers publicly (at one point, after all, Bergen actually knew as much about Osama bin Laden as the people hunting him in secret).  They could invite Pepperdine professor Gregory Neal–who has a paper saying that when the government uses its collateral damage estimation process, it does a remarkably good job at keeping collateral damage low, but admits that “due to the realities of combat operations, the process cannot always be followed.” Hell, they could even invite John Brennan to lie publicly about civilian casualties, as he has done in the past. Maybe, too, Brennan can explain how all militant age men are treated and counted, by default, as militants.

The point is there is a partial remedy to the grave problems with the cognitive challenges overseers like Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein face. One of those is to publicly accept the testimony of those who have different investments than the intelligence community.

Right now, continuing to rest the drone program’s legitimacy on repeated public calls to “trust me” actually undermines its legitimacy.

Sadly, resting our national security policy on repeated “trust mes” appears to be what Rogers and Feinstein like.

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5 Responses to Why Not Have a Hearing on Civilian Drone Casualties?

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bmaz Also in the totally awesome to meet at #NN2014 department: @StephanieKelton @NadiaKayyali and @alexisgoldstein
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JimWhiteGNV RT @RaysBaseball: That moment when a pitcher who hasn't batted since high school executes a perfect safety squeeze. @JakeOdorizzi http://t.…
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bmaz Despite their limited stay no two more fun+incredibly awesome people I finally personally met at #NN2014 than @astepanovich + @McElweeWhite
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JimWhiteGNV RT @TBTimes_Rays: You can only hope to contain #Rays C Jose Molina, who swiped his 3rd bag of the season at the back end of a double steal.…
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JimWhiteGNV RT @ArifCRafiq: Please also visit Gaza. MT @MikeBloomberg This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to demonstrate that it is safe…
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bmaz @WilliamOckhamTx Pretty much that whole area of the world appears to be GohmertLand.
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bmaz The only way in the world @John_Dingell could earn more love is to say he doesn't know similarly worthless chumps Kanye West, JayZ+Beyonce.
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bmaz I have never been prouder of @John_Dingell in my life than him not knowing squat about the worthless Kardashian idiot clan.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @onekade: The rockets are extremely dangerous and horrible but also Israel is open for business as usual, nothing to fear! Ok
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bmaz It appears the Ukranian government has the combined credibility of Peter King and Steve Stockman. #GoodEnoughForJoshEarnestAndCNN
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JimWhiteGNV RT @Ali_Gharib: We are so terrorized by rockets that we need to make war. We are so safe that you should fly all your planes here.
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emptywheel After Bloomberg proves it's save to fly into Ben-Gurion, can he also prove it's safe to sail a relief flotilla into Gaza?
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