Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mark Warner on Drones

From U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a thoughtful response to a hasty group e-mail:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your views on U.S. unmanned aircraft policy. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have been deeply engaged on this issue and worked hard to ensure robust oversight of the intelligence and counterterrorism activities that are undertaken to provide for the safety and security of the American people while ensuring we are attentive to civil liberties. I do not believe the President has the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.
Although the U.S. has used remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists overseas, these are conducted because they have been deemed necessary to mitigate current operational threats, prevent future attacks, and save American lives. The U.S. government takes great care when conducting an operation to ensure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life. That said, we can do more, and as a member of the Intelligence Committee I have devoted significant effort to provide rigorous oversight of our policy on the targeted killings of terrorists by unmanned aircraft.

The Committee receives notifications with key operational details of each strike shortly after it occurs, and holds regular briefings and hearings on these operations—reviewing the strikes, examining their effectiveness as a counterterrorism tool, verifying the care taken to avoid deaths to non-combatants and ensuring that a prudent, deliberate process is followed.
In addition, the Committee's staff has held 35 in-depth oversight meetings with government officials to review strike records (including video footage) and verify every aspect of the program. I believe that our intelligence and counterterrorism programs must often remain classified to be effective, but also that we need a strong system of oversight of these sensitive programs, given our democratic system of government and its checks and balances.

I believe it is imperative that our efforts to secure the nation do not come at the expense of our civil liberties or our laws and ideals. I will work to ensure that in reviewing our unmanned aircraft policy, we measure the programs' effectiveness objectively and independently, and not merely leave the review to those who are charged with implementing the program.
Ultimately, I believe our counterterrorism policies should comport with the rule of law, the Geneva Conventions, and who we are as Americans. I also believe any policy we authorize must ensure the safety and security of our military, diplomatic, and other personnel stationed overseas. That is why it is so important that this issue not be the subject of partisan rhetoric, but of a careful and systematic review by the Senate committees charged with oversight of the intelligence community. I look forward to continuing this vital undertaking.

Again, thank you for contacting me. For further information or to sign up for my newsletter please visit my website at
United States Senator