Ever since taking office, President Joe Biden has faced calls to end “forever wars” once and for all. However, those calls have been freshly ignited and even more powerful after Biden’s administration released the secret set of rules employed by former President Donald Trump regarding the use of lethal force in areas that weren’t designated as war zones.
The 11-page document which was partly redacted, titled “Principles, Standards, and Procedures for U.S. Direct Action Against Terrorist Targets,” was released by the Biden administration to the ACLU as well as the New York Times late on Friday, both of which had transparency lawsuits open in an effort to see the guidelines that the Trump administration operated under.
The Times reported that President Biden pretty much immediately suspended the secret Trump-era rules as soon as he took office, and began a review of them in March. Biden’s move apparently prompted the director of the ACLU’s national security project, Hina Shamsi to urge the current administration to end the program, not just “review” it.
“Tinkering with the bureaucracy of this extrajudicial killing program will only entrench American abuses,” Shamsi stated at the time.
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The Times writes, “The review, officials said, discovered that Trump-era principles to govern strikes in certain countries often made an exception to the requirement of ‘near certainty’ that there would be no civilian casualties. While it kept that rule for women and children, it permitted a lower standard of merely ‘reasonable certainty’ when it came to civilian adult men.”
Karen J. Greenberg, author and director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, recently summed things up, writing:
In his second term, [former President Barack] Obama did try to put some limits and restrictions on lethal strikes by [remotely piloted aircraft], establishing procedures and criteria for them and limiting the grounds for their use. President Trump promptly watered down those stricter guidelines, while expanding the number of drone strikes launched from Afghanistan to Somalia, soon dwarfing Obama’s numbers. According to the British-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Obama carried out a total of 1,878 drone strikes in his eight years in office. In his first two years as president, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes.”
The release of the once-secret documents came on the heels of a court order back in the fall that ruled the Trump administration was no longer allowed to keep the rules a secret or deny that they even existed.
“The United States will continue to take extraordinary measures to ensure with near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed in the course of operations, using all reasonably available information and means of verification,” the Trump-era rules document reads. However, it goes on to add, “Variations to the provision… may be made where necessary.”
In a statement, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, Brett Max Kaufman, said, “We appreciate this release, which confirms our fear that President Trump stripped down even the minimal safeguards President Obama established in his rules for lethal strikes outside recognized conflicts.”
“Over four administrations,” Kaufman went on, “the U.S. government’s unlawful lethal strikes program has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black civilians in multiple parts of the world. Secretive and unaccountable use of lethal force is unacceptable in a rights-respecting democracy, and this program is a cornerstone of the ‘forever wars’ President Biden has pledged to end. He needs to do so.”
In a tweet on Saturday, associate director and counterterrorism lead with Human Rights Watch’s Crisis and Conflict Division, Letta Tayler, shared the Times’ report and said the deadly force rules document was “Not surprising but no less repugnant: Trump stripped down already minimal safeguards from U.S. targeted killings.”
“Eighteen years ago, George W. Bush stood in front of a ‘mission accomplished’ banner backdrop and told the nation that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended,'” California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee noted in a tweet. “After the loss of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, it’s time to finally put an end to our forever wars.”