A Turf War Over Obama’s Drone War

A U.S. Predator drone in Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the hubs of the Obama administration's aggressive targeted-killing war against al-Qaida. (Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)

As the Obama administration carries out its drone war on al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, a senior lawmaker on Thursday fired the latest shot in a simmering Capitol Hill turf war over which committees will oversee the program.

House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is pushing legislation that would require the executive branch to notify the congressional defense oversight and appropriations committees “of any overseas lethal or capture operations outside Afghanistan,” according to a statement issued by his office. No where in the statement are the congressional intelligence panels mentioned, signalling the increasing efforts of pro-military lawmakers and Obama administration officials to move the controversial drone program under the control of the Pentagon.

“As more and more has been written about and reported on the use and oversight of armed drones in counterterrorism operations, demands for information within Congress and among the public have grown,” according to the statement. “There has been bipartisan support in the House and Senate for more Congressional oversight of such operations to ensure they are carried out in ways that are consistent with the United States Constitution and American values.”

Thornberry’s legislation comes a few months after Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and former Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz., publicly staked out vastly different views on an Obama administration proposal to shift the CIA’s drone program to the Pentagon. Feinstein is skeptical the military would run the program with the methodical practices she sees in use by the CIA; McCain says lethal strikes should only be conducted by the military, and moving it would allow the House and Senate Armed Services committees to publicly scrutinize the drone-strike program.

“Congress is directly accountable to the American people.  We cannot outsource our responsibility to the courts or anyone else,” Thornberry said in the statement. “The American people need to know that their elected officials will hold President Obama and his Administration, or any administration, accountable for their actions. This bill is an important step in formalizing that accountability process.”


John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett