Senate drone hearing challenges "targeted kill" claims

Witness testimony undermines administration claims that only al-Qaida leaders are drone targets

By Natasha Lennard

Published April 23, 2013 9:22PM (EDT)

Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill saw the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, host a hearing on drone warfare. Just last week a formidable group of human rights advocates and legal experts including the ACLU, Amnesty International, clinics from NYU School of Law and Columbia Law School among others, wrote to the president to challenge the "accountability and transparency" of the drone program, as well as the government's contention that drone strikes are carefully targeted.

Whether the Senate hearing will yield answers to crucial questions about Obama's drone wars is unclear. Witnesses scheduled to testify include retired Gen. James Cartwright of United States Marine Corp; activist and journalist Farea Al-Muslimi of Sana’a, Yemen; Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation; and a number of legal experts. Although the Senate committee tried to have a witness appear from the Justice Department, this request was denied.

Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola reported on the testimony of Yemeni writer and activist Al-Muslimi, whose village was struck just six days ago by a drone strike (he had been asked to testify in advance of this). American-educated Al-Muslimi testified:

For me personally, it is deeply troubling, astonishing, and challenging to reconcile that the very same hand that taught me English, awarded me scholarships, and dramatically improved my life is the hand that droned my village, terrified my people, and now makes it harder for them to believe the good things that I tell them about America and my American friends.

In line with recent findings from government documents obtained by McClatchy, the New America Foundation's Bergen during his testimony has taken to task the administration's claims about drone targets. As noted, the documents revealed -- contrary to government statements -- that not only senior al-Qaida operatives are targeted in strikes. Bergen told the Senate committee Tuesday that only "2 percent" of drone casualties in Yemen could be described as al-Qaida "leaders."

We will update this post with any further important news from the hearing.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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