President Donald Trump on Wednesday revoked an Obama-era requirement for reporting civilian casualties that resulted from US intelligence operations in non-combat areas across the globe.
Trump struck a section of an executive order issued by former President Barack Obama that required both the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies to report on civilian casualties that occurred during their operations. There are other provisions that still require the Pentagon to report on civilian casualties caused by military operations outside of combat areas.
“I don’t know why they’re being coy,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the private Federation of American Scientists. “They are not saying, ‘We don’t want to report CIA operation casualties,’ but that’s what they’re doing. They are eliminating reporting of casualties arising from CIA operations.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the US government is fully committed to “minimising — to the greatest extent possible — civilian causalities and acknowledging responsibility when they unfortunately occur during military operations.”
The spokesperson, who spoke only on condition of anonymity to elaborate on the president’s written order, said Trump’s action eliminates “superfluous” reporting requirements that don’t “improve government transparency, but rather distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission”.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, said Trump’s action increased secrecy about the United States’ killing of people abroad and was “deeply wrong and dangerous for public accountability”.
“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.
Republican Adam Schiff, D-California, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said there was no justification for Trump to no longer require the national intelligence director to produce an annual report on civilian casualties that result from the US government’s use of targeted legal force abroad.
Schiff called the move a “troubling retreat from transparency” and pledged to make the reporting by the intelligence agencies mandatory again by including it in this year’s intelligence authorisation bill.