The number of high-profile officials and former officials who have voiced support for a court to review lethal drone operations is multiplying.
On Monday, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Bob Gates told CNN that while he has long advocated the use of drones to monitor and target suspected terrorists, he also supports greater oversight.
Gates’ opinion will carry weight. As a career public servant who has served both Democratic and Republican administrations, he is perceived as a trustworthy source of non-partisan analysis. And because in the last two administrations he held high-level positions bearing directly on drone operations, he can be considered to have intimate knowledge of their uses, and their risks.
“I’m a big advocate of drones,” said Gates. While he admits that innocent people are sometimes killed by drones, he says “the numbers, I believe are extremely small”. Given the limited options to confront the terrorists and insurgents in places like Pakistan, Gates still thinks that drones are the best option, explaining “You do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapons system that you have.”
But despite their efficacy, Gates agrees with the recent calls for some form of oversight panel or court:
“Whether it’s a panel of three judges or one judge or something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to launch an attack against an American citizen – I think just as an independent confirmation or affirmation, if you will – is something worth giving serious consideration to”
Currently, the Senate Intelligence Committee is reviewing proposals for creating such a tribunal. However, no legislation has yet been started.
Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow
Center for Policy & Research