In response to the U.S. military releasing footage of a botched drone strike that killed 10 innocent Afghan civilians, including seven children, 50 legislators recently sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting him to overhaul U.S. counterterrorism policy to center human rights and the protection of civilians, only using lethal force when it is lawful and as a last resort.
In the letter sent to President Biden on Thursday, the lawmakers wrote, “We write today as your Administration reportedly conducts a review of United States counterterrorism (CT) policy. Over successive administrations spanning nearly two decades, presidents have claimed virtually unilateral power to use lethal force around the world and without congressional authorization, killing not only armed actors but also innocent civilians—even American citizens. Without systematic reforms centered on human rights and international law, the status quo will continue to undermine counterterrorism objectives, produce significant human and strategic costs, and erode the rule of law and the United States’ image abroad. We cannot accept a continuation of the status quo that has repeatedly resulted in the needless deaths of innocent civilians. We strongly urge your Administration to review and overhaul U.S. counterterrorism policy to center human rights and the protection of civilians, align with U.S. and international law, prioritize non-lethal tools to address conflict and fragility, and only use force when it is lawful and as a last resort.”
Since 9/11, the U.S. military has launched at least 91,340 strikes across seven major conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. At least 22,679, and potentially as many as 48,308 civilians, have been likely killed by U.S. strikes, including 450 children.
On Wednesday, the U.S. military released declassified surveillance footage of the botched August 29 drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including 7 children and an aid worker employed by an American NGO. The footage was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against United States Central Command, which oversaw military operations in Afghanistan.
The legislators added, “When there is little policy change or accountability for repeated mistakes this grave and this costly, it sends a message throughout the U.S. Armed Forces and the entire U.S. Government that civilian deaths—including deaths where there was no military target—are the inevitable consequence of modern conflict, rather than avoidable and damaging failures of policy. Repeated civilian casualties arising from secretive and unaccountable lethal operations undermine human rights, the rule of law, diplomacy and other non-lethal efforts to address conflicts and fragility; and fuel the very insurgencies and causes that we are fighting to defeat.
“Following the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, your Administration has an opportunity to end this pattern and develop a rights-based counterterrorism strategy that emphasizes the rule of law, with sufficient controls and limitations on the use of targeted strikes; leads with diplomacy, peacebuilding, and human rights; prioritizes the protection of civilians; and only uses lethal force when it is lawful and as a last resort. On the other hand, the continuation of status quo policies that have flouted Executive and Congressional oversight and resulted in devastatingly high numbers of civilian casualties would run contrary to the Biden Administration’s commitments to end our forever wars, and promote human rights and our core democratic values.”
In the U.S. Senate, the letter was signed by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). In the U.S. House of Representatives, cosigners include Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (C-Calif.), Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), and Cori Bush (D-MO), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Susan Wild (D-Penn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Karen Bass (D-Cali.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), John Larson (D-Conn.), and Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), and Jamie Raskin (D-Mary.).