tv Hearing on the Legacy of Drone Strikes CSPAN March 1, 2022 5:44am-7:32am EST
>> welcome. the hearing will come to order. in april of 2013 i held the senate's first and to date the only hearing on the nation's use of drone strikes to lethally target suspected terrorists overseas. at the time i was troubled by stories of innocent people being killed by these strikes. mr. durbin: as well as the potential for these strikes to violate the law and undermine our national security. with very little transparency
and accountability. in the years since that hearing, the watchdog group estimates that as many as 10,000 to 30,000 more civilians have been killed by u.s. coalition strikes. these are not just numbers, these are real people. they include a little girl, 11 years old, in a new purple dress, sitting down to dinner with her family. a wife as she slept next to her husband. a young boy playing soccer. a father and daughter sitting in their car. a young man outside an ice cream shop. a baby in her mother's arms. to start the hearing i'd like to turn to a video to show the hidden cost of some of these strikes.
[video playing] >> i checked on my daughter to see if she was asleep. there was a terrible sound in the air. my back has been injured. my left foot broken. my back was in a v shape which resulted in a break to my hip. i looked to the left, at my wife, and all i could see was debris. i started shouting her name. she did not answer me. i started shouting to my daughter. no answer. i could hear a female sound and then what i started shouting was for -- it was my sister-in-law.
she said, everybody's gone. i felt that i was in a nightmare. >> bob gates, thanks to signature strikes, are out of hand they need to be reined in. there's a no judicial process involved. there's this kill list. in addition to the moral and legal issues involved in drone strikes, there's a policy issue about whether it's effective. >> there was a federal judge and director. others claim that no matter if it works or not, it is against who we are as a people and against every value that we hold dear. >> this is not an issue we can kill our way out of. you cannot kill your way out of this. >> you can't kill your way out of this. that's a mistake. mr. durbin: our nation is at a turning point. in the months after 9/11 we strayed from our values, engaging in torture and indefinite detention at
guantanamo, which continues. we also began conducting lethal strikes in unprecedented ways. it has now been more than 20 years since 9/11. we have ended the war in afghanistan. the longest war in our history. let me be clear. the world continues to face challenges from terrorism. terrorists operate in failed states and ungoverned spaces. they do not wear uniforms, distinguish themselves from civilians or otherwise follow the laws of war. we cannot ignore this reality. and this threat. i want to commend the biden administration for the recent mission against isis leader. rather than a drone strike, the administration deployed ground sources that put our brave service members at risk, but it was an effort to minimize civilian casualties. he nonetheless detonated a suicide bomb that unnecessarily killed innocent people. this is a reminder of the
challenges we face in addressing war and threats from nonstate actors who don't follow the rules of war. but as we grapple with these challenges, we have to ensure that the policies governing our response are grounded in the rule of law and respect for human rights. we also must be mindful that in at least 39 countries in the world today, we have armed drones, including north korea, china and russia. so we could be establishing precedence that other nations will follow. i think i misstated that. be mindful that at least 39 countries in the world today are believed to have armed drones, including north korea, china and russia. and we must make sure that over the long-term we are actually addressing the root causes of extremist threats instead of prolonging them indefinitely. our constitution's clear. only congress has the power to decide when the nation goes war. as the commander in chief, the president must act within that
constitution's boundaries. 20 years ago congress authorized the use of force against those responsible for 9/11. in 2001 the authorization for use of military force, aumf, has been stretched by successive presidents far beyond what i and many of my colleagues who joined in voting for it ever, ever imagined. it has been used as the legal basis for strikes in more than half a dozen different countries and against just as many different groups. including groups that did not even exist when congress voted to pass the aumf. i and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have long urged the congress to take its responsibility seriously and revisit the outdated aumf. even when authorized by congress the use of legal force against nonstate actors raises complex legal questions, questions that only become more complicated with dramatic advances in a.i. weapons.
international war recognizes that lethal force against terrorists is is sometimes necessary and lawful to address imminent threats to life or to target combatants during war. the president also has the authority under the constitution to defend the nation from sudden attack, as was reaffirmed in the war powers act resolution of 1973. but successive administrations have dangerously expanded these legal authorities. the obama administration took tentative steps to limit the use of lethal force, but the trump administration issued its own set of weaker standards. three in all, 20 years and four administrations, the department of justice legal analysis permitting these lethal strikes has remained she rowedded in secrecy -- shrouded in secrecy. the biden administration has rightfully set to restore american leadership on human rights. to do so it will improve its lethal force policies. the branch must address systemic
problems that for two decades have routinely led to erroneous targeting of innocent civilians. in addition to doing more to prevent these mistakes in the first place, we must ensure that erroneous strikes are followed by appropriate investigations and accountability, including redress to the victims and families. following a series of "new york times" investigations revealing systemic flaws in the department of defense mitigates and tracks civilian casualties, secretary austin issued a memorandum directing the department to develop a civil action plan within 90 days. the memo also comes in response to a recent study mandated by congress which found that the department of defense is, quote, not adequately organized a resource to sufficiently reduce and respond to armed incidents. at this point i'd like to turn to ranking member grassley for his opening remarks. mr. grassley: this hearing will cover issues related to the
department of defense's use of force in war on terror. this will include targeted killings and the use of drones. this hearing explores the matter that affect our armed services and our safety as americans. these are important issues and there are issues that are more appropriate to the senate armed services committee. now, if the chairman knew what i was doing in the 1980's before he got here, he'd say, hear, hear. you did a lot of investigation of the defense department leading to the passage of the false claims act. so i am being a little inconsistent, what i just said. but there are, i want people to know -- oh, ok, thank you. there are things within the heart of our jurisdiction that we should be holding hearings on and i know that the chairman and
i and many members of this committee are conserved with the growing spike in violent crime and murders and attacks on police. the administration has acknowledged that violent crime is up and has unhelpfully tried to pivot to gun control as the only response. the top priority of the administration and the justice department will include targeting legal gunsellers with no evidence that they significantly contribute to illegal gun possessions or crimes, ghost guns form a significant cornerstone of the president's policies, but ghost guns are connected to a fraction of a percent of the murders that are occurring in this country. the president's strategy is woefully inadequate to address the spike in murders and police attacks. it will do nothing to stop
people from being pushed into the front of a subway train or to stop trains from being looted or stopping store fronts from being smashed by flash mob attacks or the many other terrible crimes that we're seeing and even seeing them on television. we need a more serious policy over 21,000 people were murdered in the united states in 2020. 5,000 more than the year before. a hearing would provide crucial oversight and may even help save lives. but the order of the day -- but the order of the day by the majority is drones. we all believe in limiting civilian casualties as much as possible, but i hope we also acknowledge that we must achieve military objectives, as well as
protect civilians. we must use methods of fighting wars that reduce the danger and risk to service members. the biden administration just last week used a targeted operation in syria to kill the leader -- a leader of isis that. isis leader was reresponsible for an attack on a kurdish-run prison that killed 500. this attack might not have happened had isis been struck earlier, is what president abraham lincoln once called the, quote-unquote, awful arithmetic of war. our service members take military actions to save the lives of others. today we're going to hear from experts, at least from our side, about the importance of maintaining counterterrorism tools of drone strikes. i have received a number of materials from veterans, experts
this law of conflict and scholars on the importance of maintaining these carefully planned strikes. and without objection, mr. chairman, i'll submit those for the record. drone strikes may become even more necessary after president biden's disastrous withdrawal from afghanistan. members of his own administration have testified that a stronger isis or al qaeda could launch external attacks from afghanistan as soon as april of this year. with the loss of intelligence on the ground, strikes and terrorists may be necessary, but i fear that they will also be less efficient. drones can certainly be very dangerous. they even present a real threat here in the united states. day after day we read about drones being used to smuggle drugs across the border. they're used to smuggle
contraband into prisons. one would be an al qaeda operative attempted to attack the capitol and the pentagon with weaponized aircraft. across the border into mexico, one cartel moved to assassinate members of a rival cartel with weaponized drones. both trump and biden administrations have asked congress to help them by criminalizing dangerous use of drones here in the united states. both administrations approved very similar legislation drafted by experts from across the executive branch. senators kelly, cassidy and this senator have responded by introducing this legislation, improved by broad consultation with stakeholders in the drone act of 2022. i hope that this committee will swiftly take action on this
legislation and i welcome members to join the three of us in co-sponsorship. mr. durbin: thanks, senator grassley. let me say at the outset that i accept your invitation to hold another hearing on the issue of gun violence and the violence in our neighborhoods and streets. i live with it in my state and want to make sure we're doing everything in our power at the federal level to assist state and local law enforcement, which account for about 85% of the activity. but i accept your invitation and i promise you there will be more hearings on the subject. let me proceed with the witnesses which we're fortunate enough to have before us today. five witnesses to testify about the legal and human cost of these u.s. strikes. i'll introduce the majority witnesses and i'll ask senator grassley to introduce his witnesses. first majority witness is henna shamsi. she's the head of the american civil liberties union.
she previously served as senior advisor to the united nations special repertoire on extra judiciary executions -- extra judicial executions. next we'll hear from the chairperson on human rights. a yemeni organization that tracks human rights violations and civilian harm in yemen. she will testify remotely and provide on the ground perspective on the impact of lethal force policies in yemen. last but not least we'll hear from steven pofrper, chief of policy at the crisis group. mr. pofrper previously served in the obama administration as special assistant to the president, the senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights at the national security council. ranking member grassley, would you please introduce your two
minority witnesses. mr. grassley: i thank the general and the ambassador for being here. the general served as the 17th chief of staff of the u.s. air force, as a member of the joint chiefs of staff. he provided military advice directly to the president of the united states as secretary of defense, and national security council. general jumper served as the senior uniformed air force officer responsible for more than 700,000 active duty reserve and civilian forces serving in the united states and overseas during the global war on terror. he oversaw the introduction of numerous air and space combat systems, including unmapped aerial systems. all of us thank him for his 39 years of service in the military. ambassador sales served as ambassador at large and
coordinator for counterterrorism, as well as acting undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights at the state department. he was also the special presidential envoy to the global coalition to defeat isis, leading u.s. relations with 83 member coalition and efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of isis in the middle east and around the world. ambassador sales has also previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy, state homeland security and office of legal policy at the u.s. department of justice. thank you both for your service. mr. durbin: thank you, senator grassley. here's the mechanics of today's hearing. swear in the witnesses. each witness has five minutes to provide opening statements. then we'll have rounds of questioning, each senator will have five minutes each. and i ask them to try to stay true to the allotted time if possible. so we start by administering the
oath. i'd ask all the witnesses to please stand. raise your right hand. do you affirm the testimony you're about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god. let the record indicate that all of the witnesses have answered in the affirmative. ms. shamsi, proceed with your opening statement, please. ms. shamsi: thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the aclu and for holding this important hearing. i was in this room almost 10 years ago when, thank you, senator durbin this committee last held a hearing on these issues. an activist testified that he had seen himself as a cultural ambassador for america because of the scholarships and rich life experiences our country provided him. but then u.s. drone strikes started killing yemeni civilians, traumatizing entire communities, including in his
home village. he explained that strikes were unnecessary and counterproductive. people in his village would have kaoplted with the yemeni government to turn over suspected militants. instead he said what violent militants had failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. there's now intense anger. drone strikes are the face of america. he pleaded for the program to end because of its civilian harms. but it continued. presidents of both parties unilaterally started launching drone strikes in yemen without congress and the american public even having a conversation about it. but the constitution invests only in congress the powers to declare war and authorize force, because that decision is so consequential for life, liberty and rights. yet in multiple countries around the world, successive presidents have used seek retific war-based rules to kill terrorism suspects in places where we weren't or
aren't at war. in doing so, they've crossed the line between war time and peace time powers that are essential to the rule of law, to democratic accountability and the right to life. despite widespread credible accounts of horrifying civilian deaths, the executive branch kept expanding the program and the categories of groups of people who could be targeted. it used vague and ever-shifting legal justifications. if any other country had done this, we would call it unlawful extra skwreurblg killing -- extra judicial killing. yet it's a core component of what americans now call our forever wars. even in congressionally authorized wars like in afghanistan, our country has failed to live up to its civilian protection obligations. the aclu and our partners represent survivors of the august 29 drone strike in kabul which killed 10 afghanistan civilians. i've listened to fathers describe the horror of having to pick up the body parts of their
children. i listened to one of my clients struggle to breathe through her despair after the killing of her husband, an aid working for an american n.g.o., and three of her sons and one of her grandchildren. my clients' grief is compounded by the fact that for 19 days, our government kept up false allegations about their loved ones, wrongly asserting the strike was righteous and successful against isis operatives. the pentagon later admitted its mistake. that the damage is done. for most americans, this kind of fear, horror and life long grief are unimaginable. the civilians in afghanistan, syria, iraq, yemen, pakistan, somalia and elsewhere, it's been their life. the title refers to drones and there's significant concern that reliance on them lowers both barriers to and constraints upon the use of force. but our issues go beyond the weapon to the human and legal
costs of what's now a 20-year war-based aid approach -- war-based approach that damages the rule of law and our country's reputation, fueled conflicts and set a dangerous precedent for other nations. the american people have grown tired of this militarized approach. in the last election, both parties' presidential candidates promised to end endless wars. we're at an inflexion point. we can continue down the costly old path or we can invest in alternatives that actually keep us all safer like a robust array of diplomatic, law enforcement, development and other resources that mitigate security concerns abroad and at home. to help chart our new path, i urge you to take three actions. first, use your oversight powers to demand that executive branch officials testify about and make
public their legal and policy justifications for lethal force where congress did not authorize it. require the executive branch to make public the countries where it uses force and the groups against which that force seussed. if -- is used if our country is to live up to the values it professes, there can be no place for secret law or secret lethal force. second, use your article 1 power of the purse to deny funding for ahn you get rise -- unauthorized, unlawful use of force and, third, please restore our constitutional system of checks and balances and congress' authority on matters of war and peace. thank you for asking me to testify. i looked for to answering your -- i look forward to answering your questions. mr. durbin: thank you very much. general jumper. general jumper: thank you, mr. chairman. i'm pleased to be able to provide testimony today about the use of remotely piloted vehicles and specifically armed r.p.g.'s and to share the table
with those who care so much about these important issues. i've submitted written testimony so my opening remarks will be short. the introduction of the predator to the air force inventory in the mid 1990's marked a significant improvement in our ability to stare at targets over extended periods of time. the predator with an endurance of 24 hours allowed real-time videos streaming back to command centers on large screens where command course study, analyze, corroborate with other means of identification and assess the potential for collateral damage. the first predators were not armed so the targets they identified had to be described using cumbersome voice communications to pilots, much the same as i did when i was working with air controllers in vietnam in 1969. during operation allied forces in kosovo in 1999, we added a lazer designator to the predator so it could queue bomb carrying
aircraft to targets it had located. when predator was first armed some 22 years ago, it allowed to us take action against fleeing targets in nearly real-time this. profound increase in capability prompted stricter resumes of engagement to require predator crews and those in the chain of command to take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties and unnecessary collateral damage. in recent conflicts, whereforeses are deliberately mixed with civilian populations, the same attention has been followed with rules of engagement with the use of precision guided munitions, not just drones and hell fire missiles. still regrettably there have been incidences of casualties due to misidentification of targets, the minute mixing them -- the enemy mixing themselves in with civilians, the use of human shields and a very limited
number of cases, violations of the rules of engagement. our technology has progressed to the point where information and decisions can be made at the speed of light. instead of the speed of voice communications or keyboard input. this will advantage the side that can most rapidly and precisely identify, locate and engage targets from the air, land, sea, space or the cyber domain. stealthy u.a.v.'s and r.p.a.'s and hypersonic r.p.a.'s are available in other countries today. they make us vulnerable to nations who care little about civilian casualties or collateral damage. but the u.s. does care. the united states military, there will always be rules of engagement, even as technology allows decisions. it has been and will continue to be the responsibility of commanders to ensure strict enforcement of rules of engagement and accountability for violations. i know these commanders and i know these crews that operate
these r.p.v.'s. they are mothers, fathers and they do care. we can be sure, mr. chairman, that there is no open debate about protecting innocent civilians such as this one here today in this session being conducted by political leaders of nations and regimes who we have opposed and no such inquiry would ever be considered in those places. sir, i thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to participate in this process. thank you, sir. mr. durbin: thank you very much. our next witness. >> members of the senate judiciary committee, thank you for inviting know speak with you today. i'm joining from you yemen. my country which is known today as the worst military and manmade crisis in the world. i am the chairperson of mwatana for human rights.
we are more than 100 men and women working all over yemen, including documenting human rights abuses by all parties to the ongoing conflict. ms. al-mutawakel: air strikes to starvation, enemies continue to put at risk that the u.s. military will have attacks. today i would like to share with you the impact of these attacks through the eyes of myself and my team. i first documented the devastating civilian consequences of u.s. operations in yemen back in 2013. [indiscernible] -- documented nine u.s. attacks that killed 26 civilians and injured 13 civilians between 2012 and 2014. at that time, i remember a
father whose civilian son was killed by a u.s. strike. they don't know what havoc they have caused. [indiscernible] -- they create for our family. 10 years later, another father of another civilian -- [indiscernible] -- we tried more than once to make our voice heard. i think the u.s. will come and check, but nobody wanted to hear. a new investigation into u.s. operations in yemen, our researchers interviewed 96 witnesses, survivors. they collected photographs, videos, and government documents. u.s. operations killed at least 38 civilians, including 13 children, and -- [indiscernible] -- long lasting harm. between 2017 and 2019.
in an effort to seek justice, there were more than 115 pages of -- [indiscernible] -- highlighting th impact of attacks on u.s. central command. the central command -- [indiscernible] -- was completely insufficient. out of all of the civilian harm, u.s. central command only acknowledged one civilian casualty. the u.s. military did not identify the civilian by name, but we knew who it name. a father of six children was killed. it is hard to know enough to convince the u.s. military to advance this in places like
cameroon. [indiscernible] after all that, the u.s. military dismissed most of the cases with no accountability whatsoever. we heard from the u.s. military. we heard their voices. why did the u.s. ignore this? they would do nothing about it. no justice. [indiscernible] these areas don't have proper schools or any access.
what is it that the u.s. cannot reach us with the most advanced technology? the impact is more the numbers can show. there are painful pictures that flash perform --before my eyes and eyes of my team for the rest of our life. after seeing an adults son gathering his mother's remains while a husband rushes to get his sick wife to the hospital. a mother clutching her child. another mother finding care -- her son's body on fire. [indiscernible] those who called for accountability are still waiting.
the government has controlled the white house. the united states has never fully investigated the civilian harm of these operations in yemen. [indiscernible] 20 years begin in secret unaccountably. [indiscernible] thank you for listening. sen. durbin: thank you for your testimony. ambassador. >> i would like to make three points in my testimony. our important part of an integrated commentary and strategy that includes not just military but civilian sector capabilities. second compared --secondly, drone strikes minimize harm to civilians, essential for moral
and strategic reasons. transparent he --transparency and accountability are essential in the aftermath. brent strikes allow us to move -- remove terrorists with maximum precision and minimal risk. drones cannot solve the problem of terrorism on their own but they are an effective tool to use alongside civilian tools like sanctions, criminal prosecutions, order security, counter messaging, and so on. terrorists recognize the effectiveness of drones. in letters sees from osama bin laden's compound, al qaeda's leader instructed the subordinates to stay indoors except on a cloudy day. another leader lamented the group had suffered from the problem in the spy war, especially the tribal area. in particular, drones can degrade terrorists by eliminating their leaders. new leaders will replace the old
ones but they may not be as care is effective. in addition, deepak -- decapitation can be demoralizing to the terrorist rank and fi le. drones can avoid becoming targets themselves. it is harder to fight offense if you play defense. they can illuminate terrorist act -- networks, creating opportunities for intelligence collection or follow-on strikes. furthermore, drone strikes reduce the risk of injury and death to u.s. military personnel. some operations that otherwise might require ground forces can be carried out remotely by drones with fewer troops and combat zones. they enable our military to fight tam or without putting large numbers -- terrorists without putting large numbers of soldiers in harm's way. because they are precision weapons, they can reduce the risk of civilian casualties when compared to the alternatives.
few military platforms are as precise and discriminating as joan -- drones. other options can risk -- result in greater risk and death. drones can also promote important humanitarian aid like thwarting terrorist plots against innocent civilians. in august 2014, dod carried out 25 strikes in iraq to slow isis's advance and allow civilians to escape genocide, saving thousands of civilian lives. let me say a few more words about why it is important to us of -- protect civilians in drone operations. the distinction principle requires combatants to distinguish between combatants and civilians and target only the former. it includes the proportionality principle under which combatants must avoid causing incidental harm to civilians.
beyond these requirements, the obama and trump administrations both adopted a default rule that a drone strike may not take place unless there is near certainty that civilians will not be harmed. this standard appears to offer even more production to civilians and what is required either law of armed conflict -- by the law of armed conflict. as for morality, protecting human life is a fundamental american value. this is who we are as americans. we fight hard but fair. we play by the rules. one of the most important rules is to avoid inflicting the horrors of war on bystanders. sometimes we make mistakes. i want to pause to acknowledge the testimony of the witnesses joining us from yemen today. we saw this in heartbreaking fashion in the drone strike in kabul last august that killed 10 innocent civilians including seven children. when mistakes are made and civilians are killed, united
states must live up to the high standards of transparency and accountability. the american people deserve to know what we have done in their name and those responsible for wrongdoing should be held to account. at the same time, we also have to acknowledge that in many cases, the alternative drone strikes could involve greater risk to troops and local civilians. mr. chairman, mr. ranking member, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. i'm happy to answer any questions. sen. durbin: thank you, mr. ambassador. >> thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on this important topic. i worked on these issues from the legal side at the department of state and the policy side at the national security council. numbers of the committee, in september 2021, the president told the u.n. general assembly i stand here today for the first time in 20 years with the united states not at war, but the
united states is still waging war. last year marked the withdrawal of forces from afghanistan, but it did not mark the end of its counterterrorism operations around the world. those operations which, to this day, are conducted under the 2001 alteration --authorization for use of military force, directed against an amalgamation of groups like al qaeda, associated forces, and isis. they extend to territories far beyond afghanistan. this campaign is referred to as the war on terror. much about the war on terror is hidden. we hear about it when there is a success like last week and when things go terribly wrong as when service members died in niger in 2017. there is a great deal we the public do not hear about. we do not know exactly who the u.s. is fighting or where or who it it's. we do not have reliable sense of who is being killed.
part of this is because of operational secrecy and part is because these operations are like footprints to reduce the risk of american casualties, which draw u.s. media attention, but there is an institutional explanation that the executive branch has run away with this more. successive administrations developed a doctrine to allow them to expand the scope of the conflict unilaterally. they turn to their own boyars rather than congress and decide the safeguards that are appropriate. this increases the risk of warmaking and all that can follow, shattered lives, destroyed communities, and the potential for grievances to ricochet back against the united states in the form of a new generation of national security threats. it may cause the united states to be overextended militarily when it faces more strategic
challenges that demand its attention. allowing the executive to determine the scope of a conflict without public deliberation that includes a reckoning with the cost of a conflict makes it very difficult for both the public and the congress to assess the extent to which conflict is outlived, some or all of its purposes. that makes it harder to assess when the conflict can be throttled back or brought to an end. last week, the secretary of defense issued a directive that intends to respond to accounts of civilian casualties in the press. i hope it brings change, and i have offered suggestions for how to change in my written testimony. trying to blunt the worst effects of conflict should not be a surrogate for confronting the bigger questions the u.s. needs to ask itself after 20 years of war. i'm not going to make the case the u.s. should stop using military force in counterterrorism, but i will argue the best and probably only wake test arrests and waita costs -- weigh the costs is to
encourage interbranch discussion which has been lacking in recent years. there is a good case this is what the framers wanted when they drafted the constitution. they invested more powers in the congress because of its deliberative nature. the consolidation of power in the executive branch, through the willpower's resolution of 1973 and the 2001 at umf have strong congresses wall -- aumf have lowered congress's role. the executive branch can revoke certain opinions of the justice department's office of legal counsel, which i referred to in my written statement, that aggrandized executive power in a breathtaking way, but to destroy -- restore constitutional balance on war and peace, the main work is legislative. these are our two main tasks. one is amending the 2001 aumf so
it is explicit about who the u.s. is fighting, where and to what end, and require authorization to ensure both political branches of government can be meaningfully held to account by the american public when they determine the scope of the nation's wars. the other is amending the 1973 war powers resolution to restore congressional prerogatives in determining when and where the united states goes to war by defining key terms like hostilities, shortening the 60-day period between congressional notification and mated data -- mandated withdrawal, and denying funding to con lex -- conflicts that don't meet these requirements. an act introduced by senator sanders would introduce the balance that is lacking. i want to express my gratitude for congresses leadership on this issue and members of the community --committee for
holding this hearing and look forward to answering your questions. sen. durbin: we appreciate your testimony. i will eat off in the questions. we will each take five minutes and do as many rounds. it seems to me your testimony ended on an important note. real consideration about addressing this issue has struck this side of the table in terms of our role in light of the new threats to national security and the new tools of war. i can tell you that the vote for aumf, i never envisioned i would be considering the use of drones against civilian casualties in yemen. that was not part of our calculation when we responded to 9/11. we have to take on the responsibility of accepting our constitutional mandate and implementing it in light of
changed circumstances in a dramatic way. secondly, i believe it is naive to think it has an expiration -- terrorism has an expiration date. i don't think that is the nature of the threat. we have to accommodate that as well. we think in terms of classic work, and this is far from classic -- war, and this is far from classic. the third question is what we will do about oversight on the executive branch. by your definition, could you tell me how many countries the united states is using drones in to fight terrorism? lethal drones. >> thank you very much for the question, senator. i think you put your finger on an important point by asking that question. the answer is i cannot tell you with any level of confidence how many countries. the executive branch did, i believe, last report on the
groups it is fighting in a report the obama administration issued at the end of 2016. the subsequent reports, including reports mandated to this body by the ndaa, have included key details in classifieds that are not available to the public. the decisions about which groups the u.s. is fighting under band where it fights them are taken in the first instance within the executive branch. they may be reported to congress through committee channels or three reports that can include classified annexes, but they are not necessarily available to the public, and it can come as a surprise to find out that the united states is using drones or ground troops or other means of projecting force in parts of the world people are not aware the united states is at war.
sen. durbin: we are supposed to declare war on behalf of the american people and ask them to give up their children, loved ones, to serve our nation in noble cause, and yet, at this moment in time, the average, routine members of congress does not include the disclosure of how many countries we are currently at war with. i would suggest if we were using drones in the legal -- lethal capacity to hunt terrorism, let alone kill innocent individuals, that should be disclosed with the american people. just amazing to me that it is not. i think it really betrays the wisdom of this policy and the legality of it. let me go to one example i used earlier, and that is the situation in yemen. as she summarized, she believes
there have been 64 innocent civilians killed and 20 wounded, but the united states and the use of drones in yemen. i would like to ask the ambassador and the general to react to that, establishing that as a premise, but also to react to look wrote -- to a quote from a general about the use of drones. "what scared me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. the resistance created by american use of unmanned strikes is greater than the average american appreciates. they are hated on a visceral level, even by people who have never seen one or seen the effects. i raise that point, because ambassador sales said these are precision weapons. it is hard to argue these are precision weapons if 64 innocents were killed in the country where most of americans
would not list as a combatant in war. >> i am happy to take a stab at that. i think drone strikes are precise compared to the alternatives. consider fixed wing aircraft. consider conventional ground forces going into an objective to use lethal force. to say drone strikes are more precise than the alternative is not to say they don't make mistakes. sometimes intelligence is incomplete. sometimes terrorists are hiding among civilians that operators were not aware of. of course, drones are a tool that can be used in a more precise or less precise way. the key point is compared to the
alternatives, drones do a much better job allowing the united states to comply with our obligations under the law of our conflict -- armed conflict and to put into practice some of the policy standards that are offering more protection to civilians than the baseline requirements of armed conflict. sen. durbin: i don't think there is much precision in the stories we have heard about use of drones killing people at a wedding or funeral. you really described it in a fashion that is belied by the realities in the countries around the world. senator grassley. sen. grassley: i want to thank the chairman for responding to our request to have a hearing on the increase in crime in the united states. i want to emphasize the increase of crime in the united states and hope it does not turn into a gun-control hearing. thank you for appearing today.
in your 39 years in the military, use all capability of drones developed and evolved. you described in your written testimony of drones at could see serbian forces invade and kill civilians, but could not do anything to stop it. as chief of staff to the air force during the first four years of the gulf -- local war on terror, as drones became a vital tool in precision targeting and terrorist combatants. what are the advantages of using weaponized drones, and why were drones first -- why were they first armed? >> thank you for the question in the invitation here today. when i was a young captain in vietnam, and for all the time from 1969 up to the mid-1990's,
when we went on a mission, we essentially had all the information about the target we were going to strike. we had pictures that were at best hours but usually days and weeks old. we would go to an air controller that was circling the target in a light aircraft, and we would take verbal cues off roads and geographically distinctive features to try and locate the target and then we would bomb the target. in some cases, these were troops and contact in urgency was palpable. you could see enemy forces in the wiring, the special forces camps. the process of communicating the information was laborious and mistakes were made and if it was fire coming from a building, the
standard was to destroy the building. we did not know other than it was fire from the building, what else was in the building. if you look at the estimates of civilian casualties in vietnam, the korean war, and wars earlier, they are astounding, large, large numbers. with the invention of the predator uav and the ability to hover over targets for long periods of time, with infrared, and corroborate that information with signals and intelligence that came from the same area, we elevated our capabilities to be more precise and to characterize targets and assess collateral damage by orders of 92. if this is not satisfactory and
something we continue to have to work on, i certainly agree with that. we need to do better. this capability has given us the ability to discriminate in ways that we have never done before. been able to do before. the hellfire missile was a 20 pound warhead. when mistakes are made, they have to be addressed. when rules of engagements are violated, people have to be held accountable and i think commanders that i know would agree with those statements, so this capability is increasing by orders of magnitude, our ability to be more discreet, and it is something we need to work on still. sen. durbin: what is the effect of afghanistan's fall to the taliban and the creation of a safe haven in afghanistan, which i stated about in my opening
comments, on the need for continuing drone programs? if we abandon the drone program and isis and i kinda --al qaeda can get stronger, what do we expect? >> i think one thing we should fear is that of gunny stunt could return to the terrorist safe haven it was -- afghanistan could return to the terrorist safe haven that it was in the years leading to 9/11 get up my concern is with the complete withdrawal of u.s. personnel from afghanistan, the supporting elements necessary to carry out an effective companion -- campaign of drone strikes against isis or al qaeda elements would not make it possible for us to apply counterterrorism pressure to these growing terrorist threats. to do drone strikes, and this goes to their precision and also to how discriminating operators can be when using this tool, in order to use drone strikes in a country, you need to have
intelligence collection capabilities, human sources on the ground who are prepared to tell information to the united states, that puts their own lives at risk, and they are willing to do it because they know the united states will have their back. we don't have those assets in the country anymore, and so my fear is that as isis begins to grow its capabilities and al qaeda looks to grow its capabilities under the projection of the taliban, the united states will have neither the intelligence we need to know what our adversaries are printing -- planning, nor the strike assets to take action and collect targeted weight against the reconstituted terrorist threats. sen. grassley: i will submit the rest of my questions. sen. durbin: senator lahey. sen. leahy: i want to thank the chair for holding this hearing. i have long been concerned about
the human consequence of the u.s. military actions abroad. we don't want to justify -- we have so many others that we don't know why they are being done, since 9/11, drone strikes in particular have created legal in human rights concerns. they have looked at -- left untold number of civilian deaths in their wake. it is not reported accurately. we have a strong national interest in supporting -- reducing the number of innocent lives lost. i have a question for ms. shamshi. while the most important focus is preventing us -- civilian casualties in the first place, when they occur, the u.s. government has to provide redress, including -- redress. we have a specific law on that.
unfortunately, the department of defense's track record at conducting credible investigations have been abysmal. congress recently -- repeatedly authorized payments. most recently allocated $3 million in annual funding to compensate civilians. in 2020, there are a significant number of civilian casualties. the pentagon did not make a single offer of compensation. that is not withstanding the law that we have passed. how does a damage our moral standing and our reputation when the u.s. government fails to provide redress after causing civilian casualties? what steps should the defense department make to ensure credible investigations are done, innocent people receive
timely compensation? ms. shamsi: thank you. it is significantly damaging to our reputation, but also our obligations to provide amends to people we have harmed. let me start by saying, of course you are right that after congress authorized $3 million in payments in the first year, it was reported none were made. it also goes back to a significant issue of the military needs to know that it has actually conducted operations that are lawful. what we know, and i know personally from having advised civilians who reach out to us
from yemen or somalia or elsewhere, it is extremely hard for civilians to even access the military and to provide their information about innocent lives wrongly taken. it is important to recognize that where that starts out is application of civilian harm prevention methods. to recognize that in the context of actual recognized wars, for example, like iraq or afghanistan or syria, there have been fundamental problems with tracking civilians' deaths and injuries, gaps between the military's own assessments because it relies on its own data, does not incorporate information from civilians or witnesses.
sen. grassley: sometimes the delegation of authority is faulty and doing that. i realize since september 11, republican and democratic administrations have developed a secret body of law for drone strikes in countries where congress has never authorized. the use of military forces. the executive branch is acting as judge and jury and saying whether it is complying with its own rules for drone strikes. what does that accomplish, the lack of transparency? >> it is a fundamental problem. when it goes back to is where we started with the hearing, which is that secret legal interpretations applied to secret facts based on secret evidence. after 2001, the successive
administrations came up with interpretation of authorizations for use of force, the 2001 and 2002 authorizations, that went far beyond what congress permitted. the secret interpretations, some of which only came to light after the aclu and new york times sued, these are important things this committee can demand transparency of using the powers it has, because it is under this body of secret law that successive administrations have grabbed power, that belongs to congress, under article one. to declare war, and through interpretations of terms like associated forces, successive forces, novel series of self-defense, have gone far beyond what congress intended or
authorized in acting with the use of force in multiple countries around the world. sen. leahy: my time is up, but i will submit for the record a question to you. why, from a human rights perspective, is it important for the u.s. government to aggregate those numbers of civilian casualties and what can dod do to improve the reorting of the knob -- reporting the number of civilian casualties? sen. durbin: senator lee. se.-- sen. lee: presidents of both political parties have expanded beyond any rating i believe is permissible, based on their text, of the 2001 and 2002
authorizations for the use of military force. i have consistently heard the 2001 aumf referred to as the cornerstone of u.s. counterterrorism authorities. this is despite the fact that terrorist groups the u.s. battles from time to time did not exist in 2001 and congress provided this authority and in some cases may or may not be fairly considered offshoots of a group. ms. shamshi, i would like to ask you about this. can you share the major flaws you see in these existing authorities, for purposes of future u.s. counterterrorism efforts? ms. shamsi: certainly, senator lee, and may i begin by thanking you for the bipartisan
legislation you have introduced with respect to congress's reassertion of its power and authority to declare war? i would like to start with that, just because it is so incredibly important, because as we have talked about for 20 years now, over 20 years, successive presidents have grabbed power that belongs solely to congress. as you know, under article one, only congress has the authority to declare war, except in the event of a genuine emergency, in response to an attack, or an imminent emergency where congress does not have the time to act and even then, the president needs to come back and seek authorization for those uses of force to continue. that is what the 1973 war powers resolution is supposed to do. that safeguard against a previous era of use of force
violations, but system of checks and balances is broken, senator lee. your legislation, your cosponsored legislation, recognizes that and does some very important things, i think. one is that it rains in presidential authority. to use force. it defines important terms that have been left or redeemed ambiguous under the war powers resolution like hostility. it reins in definitions of immanence. successive administrations have done violence to the english language as well as lies in their interpretation of what this means. it provides important reporting, transparency requirements, as well as a funding cut off, reversing the switch so that congress itself can be the deliberative body and needs to be. the final thing i would add is
that what we see now with successive interpretations of the 2001/2002 aumf is an opportunity for congress to rein in these powersp and to ensure that any future processes are defined with respect to objective, temporal limitation, and what outcomes are expected, so that congress may fulfill its role under the constitution. sen. lee: i appreciate your remarks regarding the bipartisan legislation i introduced with senator murphy and others. that is helpful. on the time constraint in particular, considering it is 2022 and the 2001 aumf is still in effect, my youngest child was an infant at the time of the '01 aumf. that has been in place her
entire life literally. she will be graduating from college next year. considering how long that one has lasted, how important would you say it is for us, as a congress, to limit, to impose a time limit on future authorizations for the use of military force, to make sure that we are not just creating a roving, open-ended commission, to make war, investing that power within the executive branch? ms. shamsi: i would say it is imperative. in fact, congress has had more specific authorizations in the past, so congress knows how to impose these limits when it wants to, and this ensures the executive would come back to congress, should authorities be limited, but it is now 20 years later. opponents have to bear the burden of making the case.
we have to take into account, as a nation, the cost and consequences of broad-based authorities to civilian lives but also imperatively to our rule of law and democratic accountability. sen. lee: thank you very much. thank you, mr. chairman. sen. durbin: senator feinstein. sen. feinstein: excuse me. in 2016, the obama administration, for the first time, released data regarding the number of civilian deaths from drone strikes. i commended the administration at the time for taking this important step toward transparency. unfortunately, in 2019, the trump administration halted this annual requirement. i strongly believe, mr. chairman, that greater transparency with drone strike data is away way for the public to gauge the true value of the drone program and understand the
care with which these operations are conducted. hiding this information moves us in the wrong direction. various numbers have been tallied by outside organizations, but the government has access to unique information to help determine the number of civilian deaths. i believe the american people deserve to know more about this program and its effects around the world. in 2019, president trump removed the requirement to annually report. i would like to ask this question to everyone if they would quickly answer it. what do you believe the value in reinstituting the requirement for an annual report on u.s. drone strikes outside of war
zone that includes civilian casualty numbers would have? >> i am happy to jump in. i was part of the effort in 2016 to come to the arrangement that allowed that level of disclosure. i will say stepping outside, that is extremely important, that transparency be promoted by the executive branch, this branch, that requirement be reinstated, but we also want to make the caveat that there is an enormous discrepancy between the number the executive branch recorded back then and the number reported by outside consolidators. one of the reasons, i think, that transparency by the executive was so important is because it created pressure, i think, on the different operating agencies to explain why there was that discrepancy. i know that the story that the
executive branch tells is that this is because it has information that outsiders do not have, but as we have seen from reporting by the new york times, sometimes outsiders have information the executive branch does not have or does not make its way to washington. in terms of creating a positive dynamic that sheds light on the cost of conflict, it is extremely important to create that requirement but is also important to take a very appraising eye of the information the executive branch provides. sen. feinstein: thank you very much. mr. chairman, i have followed this. i think this last witness just made very important point about where we should go. there is no question that we take great care with this program. there is also no question that we had annual reports. we were able to follow it closely. in 2019, president trump removed that. i think we should put it back.
this committee should have annual reports and be able to follow this issue very carefully. it's really important. i have a lot of numbers. i will not go into them but my seminal point, there is more that could be shared, and let me ask this last question of the panel. what data did you believe should be included in that annual report, which i would hope to have? >> i have a few things. it would be incredibly useful to have the terms the military use is defined. one of the issues civil society groups have raised over and over again is understanding what terms -- who the military
applies civilian status to and who it applies combat instead is to your another important issue -- this is one of the concerns we have -- repeated in a very important study that came out at the end of january, that added to what we and other groups have been saying, which is that the military tends to undercount civilian casualties in part because it provides only on its own record and gives the privileges its own record, where it is skeptical of external sources that turn out to be more accurate, such as report from civil society and media, because they conduct investigations curate more information about methodology and its reflection of lessons learned after four years, five years of criticism
of why these numbers are not accurate. sen. feinstein: could i ask for another comment on this point? i think it is important. sen. durbin: i would ask very brief comments. >> i would say that it is particularly important that the executive be explicit about the methodology a uses to determine civilian casualties and who is regarded as a civilian and combative because these are not clear on the face of the document made available to the public. sen. feinstein: thank you, mr. chairman. sen. durbin: any other comments from other witnesses? >> i would say transparency is important. >> please proceed. >> even when the data is available, from the ground, nothing has happened from the u.s. having the information in the data is very important for
understanding the reactions and the mechanisms. [indiscernible] we provided the u.s. with all the data we have. sen. durbin: general, would you like to conclude? >> i think commanders in the field know they are responsible and accountable and that they are not responsible for the definitions that are used, but i think any ability -- transparency we can get is helpful in this situation as time goes on. sen. durbin: i'm not going to presume any member of the committee -- senator feinstein has made a valuable suggestion and i would like to join her in preparing a letter to call on the emeritus duration -- the administration to respond and invite anyone else to join us. senator leahy will also join.
senator graham, your next. sen. graham: i have a different take. the general, is america at war? >> to the american serviceman, we have bennett wore war a long time. -- been at war with a long time. sen. graham: who are we at war with? >> weird fighting and emanate -- an enemy who is determined to kill us, terrorist organizations. sen. graham: do you agree or do you believe that if al qaeda and isis could strike -- attacked the american homeland, they would? ms. shamsi: senator graham, i think what is important -- sen. graham: what is important is you answer the question first and then explain.
do you believe if al qaeda and isis had the ability, they would strike america today or tomorrow if they could? ms. shamsi: the reason i'm having a hard time answering that with a yes or no answer is because -- sen. graham: that is all i need to know, because nobody in the world should have a hard time answering that yes or no. if you cannot answer that yes or no, you have no idea what you're talking about. you're living in a dream world, because i can tell you right now if they could kill us all, they would. the only reason 3000 americans died on 9/11? they couldn't find a way to kill 3 million of us. if they could find a way to kill 3 million of us, they would do it. mr. sales, what is the threat to america from al qaeda and isis? is it less, more, the same? amb. sales: i think it is substantial, senator. it is not what it was before 9/11, in part because we have
used force to degrade their networks and destroy their sources of fundraising and harden our borders. their capability to strike the homeland may be less than 20 years ago but the intention to strike the homeland in around the world is still very present. sen. graham: would you say the ability to plan an attack in afghanistan against the american people has gone up since our withdrawal? ms. shamsi: i'm sorry to agree with you it has gone up. we don't have the intelligence, collection capabilities to know what our enemies are doing in afghanistan, nor do we have strike assets that can take action when necessary. sen. graham: you are an air force guy. i'm a lawyer, you are a pilot. has it prevented -- the drone program prevented pilots from putting at risk? >> i don't think that is the main point of the program but yes. sen. graham: has it been an effective tool in terms of killing terrorists? >> very effective.
sen. graham: has it killed civilians? >> it has. sen. graham: name any weapon sylvia -- system that has not killed civilians. name a war that has not killed civilians. i want to know more about the drone programs but i cannot believe we are talking about this. we have a witness that cannot answer the question, would al qaeda and isis strike the american people? of course they would. afghanistan is a breeding ground for another attack on our country. the border is broken. as much as i respect the chairman, i cannot believe we are focusing on closing gitmo at a time when international terrorism is getting stronger. we are now talking about neutering the drone program at a time we need it the most. secretary mayorkas has an a for effort when it comes to securing our border. i will give him an f for result.
it is a matter of time until some terrorist group, probably from afghanistan, maybe from syria, maybe from africa, maybe from somalia, goes to our southern border to kill a bunch of us. in this committee, -- america's threat from radical islam has gone up, not down. our policies containing the threats are not working. afghanistan is a breeding ground for terrorism. everybody that we have worked with as being slaughtered. we want to talk about limiting -- closing gitmo and restricting the drone program. you're living in a world that does not exist. count me in for transparency and accountability, but i think we have lost our way. i think the biden administration is sitting on it sass while the border is completely broken.
people are flowing through by the hundreds of thousands and afghanistan is hell on earth. they are not doing a damn thing about it so i wish we could have a hearing about the threat america faces from our debacle in afghanistan in a broken border and what that means for our future security. it is just not if we are going to be attacked, it is when and how much damage will be done. thank you. sen. durbin: senator, my friend has addressed me indirectly for my suggested -- actual hearing on guantanamo. i hope he and both agree that paying $13 million a year to hold each detainee -- each one -- in gitmo is certainly not a wise expenditure to taxpayers resources in fighting terrorism. our next senator to speak is senator blumenthal. sen. blumenthal: thank you, mr.
chairman. last month, i joined my colleagues in sending a letter to president biden, urging the administration to review and overhaul the united states counter is -- counterterrorism policy to focus on human rights and align with the united states and international law prioritizing nonlethal tools to address conflict and fragility, and using force only when it is lawful and as a last resort. do anyone --does anyone on this panel disagree with those basic principles? ok. thank you.
the letter outlined numbers that we have discussed today, mainly that as many as 48,000 civilians across seven countries were killed by the united states strikes over the last two decades. as you all know, january 27, general austin published a memorandum on civilian harm mitigation and response. does anyone on this panel take issue with the principles and tactics and strategies general austin articulated in the memorandum? again, no one disagrees. i want to commend the administration for addressing these issues. i think we need to reach consensus on those basic
principles in the way that they are implemented in the field, in combat, in the arena, and mem bers of this panel, some of you had direct experience with the exigency and challenges of the battlefield. it let me ask, do you think the administration is moving quickly enough to implement those principles? >> unfortunately not, and thank you for your question. i think it is important to clarify a couple of things that i think your letter helped fully raise the point. why is it that when we talk about this program, what are we actually talking about? we have been using drones, but also other airstrikes, in
recognized armed conflict in afghanistan, where my clients' love ones were recently killed. in fact, it is more airstrikes in afghanistan and in places like that, what applies is the law of war. in other countries where drones started being launched, the u.s. was not at war, and so when we talk about where we stand and what the biden administration is doing, it is important to step back and say 20 years later, when we look at how the concerns that you and your colleagues so importantly raised in your letter, how are they going to be addressed going forward? strategically, taking into account the costs and consequences? it is so important that as you pointed out, take into account
where congress has authorized war and what their conduct has been, and where the executive branch unilaterally took on the authority to start using drones or other weapon systems with what costs and consequences and how does congress take back its power to address the things you have raised? sen. blumenthal: i agree that congress should safeguard its authority and many of these areas, which we have foregone. general, do you agree with secretary alston that standard of excellence is a good idea? >> i do. sen. blumenthal: should more be done? >> one thing in my experience that has not happened when we get into -- i think afghanistan is an excellent example -- is when we transition from the military operations, which in afghanistan are the military
mission was essentially accomplished in a matter of months, we transitioned to nation building. we don't have the presence of the other embassy of the government to implement the change in direction. it often follows to do the military does not do well. it is the full participation of the government, when it is appropriate, something else that has to be seriously looked at and funded and governed appropriately in proper oversight of course. sen. durbin: thank you for your testimony. sen. durbin: next is senator hawley. sen. hawley: thank you to the witnesses for being here. i want to talk about the drone strike that has gotten the most recent attention and rightly so, talking about the strikes on august 29. in kabul.
that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. in the process leading up to that strike. i understand that i'm sure all of you are familiar with the strike i'm talking about. if you are familiar with the new york times reporting as early as the day after on august 30 that indicated it was inefficient civilians killed, including the seven children, and the military denied it but it turns out the reporting was correct. i want to get a sense of how it got to this position, how we could have a strike in this magnitude, and the military deny it. dod, the biden administration, deny it for weeks when it turns out innocent civilians were killed. let me just ask you, and you can tell me if you are not the right person to address this question, but i understand that sometimes in the fog of war, mistakes are
made. what interests me is that the spokesperson at dod, john kirby, admitted a significant breakdown in process, those are his words, that led to this drone strike that killed these innocent civilians. yet, there has been no discipline or accountability for anyone involved. involved in the process. it it to put -- typical to have a breakdown in the process with no remedial action? >> i will have to refer to the general. >> i do not know the details. the operation was classified. i'm not on the inside with classified information anymore in my current retired position. what i can tell you is that the people who were on the scope and looking at the events i think actually did believe that this
vehicle was about the cause greater harm, was laden with explosives and was about the cause much greater harm that they were frantic to try to prevent. and the mistakes that were made i cannot characterize, but i think the situation was one that they thought there was a very extensive threat that was about to take place. >> that makes perfect sense to me. here's with a little more puzzling. we've learned since that the intelligence community, the cia sent a warning to the military before the strike happened, before the drone strike happened. this is per public reporting. forget what congress may or may not have been briefed on at the classify level. but a public reporting from cnn says the cia sent an urgent warning before the missile hit the car warning that civilians were in the car, not isis-k,
civilians were in the car. that's in real time. so the ic is morning and real time that the target was wrong, and as you say, general, mistakes happen. i understand that. there's what i don't understand entirely. the cia and the ic is morning, you got it wrong, you are targeting civilians. they ended up killing civilians. once you launch that missile there's no place to dump it off because it was a heavily populated area. you can't divert it anywhere. so civilians are killed, however, the next day after the warning, after the death of the civilians, the next day the commander of central u.s. command goes out and says that this strike had dealt isis-k a crushing blow. the next day the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff mark milley said it was a righteous strike. the next day the president of
the united states goes out and claims victory for the strike. what's strange to me about this is, already we know that the military had been warned they had gotten it wrong and yes, the president of the united states, the chairman of joint chiefs all go out in public knowing this, claim victory and say we got terrorists. does that seem unusual? >> are not in a position to gauge the reaction. i can tell you that notice in the press that a message went out, where did it come from, who did he go to, how long did it take to get to the people responsible for the engagement? all of that stuff is fog of war stuff that requires a much more closer investigation that i know about. >> i could not agree more about the need for a close investigation. and i would say, that is exactly why this congress ought to be holding meaningful oversight
hearings into what happened. these folks ought to be testifying under oath in public as to what happened. because i suspect, general, i suspect that if we put the commander general mckenzie under oath and ask him about what he knew, when he knew it and when those who made the decision to launch this drone strike, when they were informed, i suspect we will find they were informed that a very early day and knew that they got the wrong targets and yet you have the commander, the chairman of the joint chiefs and the president of the united states claiming victory. that suggests there was a severe breakdown in process and you are not informing the president before he goes out to claim victory that you may well have killed innocent civilians or else he did it knowing anyway. either way, we've got a big problem and we need to get to the bottom of it. you wanted to say something and i will yield back. >> my colleagues and i represent
the survivors of that drone strike as well as the california-based ngo whose employees were killed. and i just want to be clear, we do not take pollution -- the citizens on the political decision -- positions on the political decisions to get into war -- into war. we work on the legal consequences. i think it's very important to note that what happened there was unusual for certain reasons but not unusual for other reasons. it wasn't unusual in that there was a 2013 joint chiefs of staff study that identified misidentification of a target as the primary cause of civilian hostilities in afghanistan particularly due to perceived hostile intent from individuals who would later revealed to be civilians. that's critically important
because that goes to the legal obligation of u.s. forces to comply with the laws of war. and yet, we came to find out that with this august 29 drone strike, the same finding, the confirmation bias played a critical role in the wrongful death of the killings of people alongside him. so what we have here, and why it's so important to look at these measures is a systemic issue and need for a structural overhaul of how civilian harm prevention mitigation happens in order for it to be addressed properly. and i will say this and i'm sorry to go over time, but, it is unfathomable that this would've happened given that an
employee of a u.s. ngo who flowed for eight hours. his employer keeps asking us how can it be that they couldn't do a simple search to see that he worked for a humanitarian aid organization? that water bottles were water bottles, not explosives. and the need to address systemic civilian harm, to mitigate against it in the context of armed conflict is key, but also we need to think 20 years later about preventing it entirely in places where congress has not authorized war or considered costs or consequences. thank you. >> thank you. senator blackburn. >> thank you, mr. chairman, i really appreciate this hearing and each of you being here.
i am from tennessee and i represent many of the men and women at fort campbell. and this week when i was headed back up here i had a great conversation with someone who is a part of the one 60th. and i'd tell you, these special operators have very dangerous missions and they are delicately carried out. they have to be very precise in their missions. the utilizations of isr assets, the new technologies that are there help to save their lives and help them to a better job. i'm deeply appreciated for the service that they give this country and deeply appreciative for a lot of the work that they have done in trying to bring forward tools that they can use
to be more precise in their work. as a matter of fact, and you all may know, tarp adjust recently turned a blackhawk into an av and fluid at fort campbell. that is something that will help keep our men and women in uniform safe. and it came as kind of a surprise to me that in the raid last week in syria, when he was killed, that the president declined to use a drone and instead sent in special operators so they could carry the mission out and of course we had an aircraft that had to be disabled and destroyed, which was of concern to us.
so let me ask you, general, are you concerned by the president's decision to use a raid instead of using a drone strike to carry this out? >> i think the answer to this always depends on the details of the target area at the moment. if the choice is level the building and not worry about who's inside or send in a group who can try to discriminate who's inside, you go for the ground option. if we can catch the person who will be walking out and recognize him and catch him going to the restroom and catch a move between buildings, and we can have him positively identified, that's another situation. commanders make these decisions and recommendations based on the tactical details of the moment.
>> let me ask you this. i've been a little bit perplexed with what is the strategy around the over the horizon capability for afghanistan. ambassador, let me come to you, we want to make certain we can prevent terrorists attacks and we know that because of this there will be a greater need to rely on drones to have that capacity, to prevent those from originating in afghanistan. and i've heard a lot from some of our military men and women on concerns about the length of time the drones will be able to fly. where you will be able to launch from. so taken that over the horizon, if you could address that for me, please. >> i share that concern, i am
worried that over the horizon, limiting ourselves to over the horizon counterterrorism cube abilities in afghanistan will not be sufficient to degrade the growing threat we already see from groups like isis and al qaeda. i believe we have witnesses that al qaeda and isis could redevelop the capability as suit is april of this year. to my knowledge we have not been applying pressure to the organizations the way we did when we had a substantial military presence in afghanistan. if drones are flying in from the middle east seven hours into the country, seven hours back, subtract from your 24 hour time, that's not a lot of time collecting intelligence information. it also increases the risk of damage to civilians. the lower the fidelity we have in terms of our intelligence information about the location,
identity and actions of our targets, the greatest of our risks. that doesn't mean we will fail to get the person we are intending to get, it could mean we strike a civilian. as we all know, the united states as to minimize that. greg's over time, but the senate armed services was that a hearing with the general who will go, and having these isr athletes -- assets and what it means within the area if it will be important and then how we deal with china. thank you. >> i want to thank the witnesses for appearing this morning. we will put into record a statement signed by veterans groups, state-based groups and racial justice organizations throwing it outside recognized
balance fields. i understand the debate will continue because technology pushes us into questions that weren't obvious to us 20 years ago. keeping america safe is important. i think these witnesses for their testimony today. i witnesses joining us from a virtual fashion. thank you very much. this is adjourned.
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