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Gates: Drone program would benefit from more oversight

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that the number of innocent victims of drone strikes remains "extremely small." He also said that the program doesn't outweigh the benefits of using drones to take out al Qaeda operatives. However, in an interview this past weekend, he said that the drone system would benefit from an oversight system.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Gates suggested that a better system of checks and balances could be constructive when the drones are used to target Americans.

Gates served under George W. Bush during the beginnings of the drone program. He also served under President Barack Obama as the use of drones spiked. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have since have questioned the use and oversight of the lethal devices.

"I'm a big advocate of drones," Gates told CNN on "State of the Union." Gates detailed how as CIA director under Bush, he pressed for expediting the use of the devices to monitor and target suspected terrorists.

Gates assured that while innocent bystanders are killed by drones, "the numbers, I believe are extremely small. "You do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapons system that you have."

The New America Foundation estimates that in Pakistan, between 1,953 and 3,279 people have been killed by drones since 2004. Between 18 and 23 percent of them were not militants. The nonmilitant casualty rate was down to about 10 percent in 2012, the group says.

The group estimates that in Yemen, between 646 and 928 people have been killed in a combination of drone strikes and airstrikes, and 623 to 860 of those killed were militants. Only about two percent of those killed have been high-level targets, the group said.

Gates' remarks came as the U.S. Senate considers the nomination of John Brennan to become the next CIA director, who has previously been a vocal advocate for using drones to target America's enemies.

Human rights organizations and civil libertarians have questioned the oversight procedures dictating the use of drones, particularly when they're used to target American citizens overseas.

There was the instance when New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who officials said played an operational role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed by a U.S. drone in 2011.

Two senators -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky and Angus King, the independent senator from Maine have decried the system currently used for deciding when to use drones to take out Americans overseas. They say it was a constitutional violation that demanded reform.

"It's very unseemly that a politician gets to decide the death of an American citizen," Paul said on CNN.

"There needs to be a trial for treason. The president, or a politician, Republican or Democrat, should never get to decide someone's death by flipping through flash cards," Paul continued.

"I don't know how often this will happen, but I agree with Rand Paul," King added. "The Fifth Amendment says that no person shall denied life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. These may be Americans that have committed treason by signing up with another country or another group against us, but it just makes me uncomfortable that the president, whoever it is, is the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner, all rolled into one," King said.

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