Durbin Questions Witnesses In Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On U.S. Drone Strikes And Civilian Casualties

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “‘Targeted Killing’ and the Rule of Law: The Legal and Human Costs of 20 Years of U.S. Drone Strike.” This is the first hearing since 2013—which Durbin also chaired—on the United States’ use of drone strikes to lethally target suspected terrorists overseas.  Durbin first questioned Stephen Pomper, Chief of Policy at the International Crisis Group.


“Mr. Pomper could you tell me by your definition how many countries the United States is now using drones in to fight terrorism?” Durbin asked. 


Pomper said he could not answer this question with confidence. He then went on to say that the Obama Administration had issued a report on the subject in 2016. However, this report was classified and not available to the public. He reiterated that the public could be unaware of the countries in which we are using drones, ground troops, or other forms of lethal force. 


Durbin responded, “Think about what that says. We are supposed to declare war on behalf of the American people and ask them to give up their children and loved ones to serve our nation and yet at this moment, the average routine for members of Congress does not include a disclosure of how many countries we are currently at war with. I would suggest that if we are using drones in a lethal capacity to hunt terrorism—let alone kill innocent individuals—that should be disclosed to the American people.”


Durbin questioned Nathan Sales, Former Ambassador-At-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State about the precision of drones.


“I’d like to ask Ambassador Sales to react to a quote from General Stanley McChrystal about the use of drones,” Durbin said. “This is what he said, ‘what scared me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes…is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.’”


“I raise that point because Ambassador Sales these are precision weapons. It’s hard to argue they are precision weapons if 64 people were killed in a country where most Americans would not list it as one of our combatants at war. So would you like to react?” Durbin asked.


Ambassador Sales responded that drones can make mistakes, but that compared to the alternative, drones are more precise.


Durbin concluded, “I don’t think there’s much precision in the stories you heard about the use of lethal drones killing people at a wedding, at a funeral.”


 Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.


Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.


Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.


Other witnesses at today’s hearing were Hina Shamsi, Director, National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson, Mwatana for Human Rights; and John P. Jumper, General (Retired) And Chief of Staff at the U.S. Air Force.