Senator Susan Collins Is the Barrier to Transparency, Accountability on Drones

Monday, November 25, 2013The Nation

by John Nichols | Enter Shenna Bellows. The longtime executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, recently announced that she would challenge Collins in 2014 as a “Democrat. Libertarian. Progressive.”

Susan Collins is supposed to be the last reasonable Republican in the Senate.

The pair of New England Republicans with whom she had aligned in something of a regional caucus—fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown of Massachusetts—are gone. So, elite media outlets frequently remind us, it’s up to Collins.

But on a fundamental question of democratic governance—accounting for civilians killed by US drone strikes—Collins does not appear to be up for it.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which Collins sits, voted this month to require the government to report on the number of civilians who have been being killed by drone strikes, as part of a broader effort to bring the Congress into a proper advise-and-consent role when it comes to killings that are committed in the name of the American people but without their informed consent.

The legislation is a big deal: “Because the U.S. government number is secret, we can’t have a normal democratic debate about the policy,” explains the group Just Foreign Policy. “Government officials anonymously tell the press that civilian deaths from drone strikes have been rare. Independent reporting says otherwise. Government officials anonymously tell the press that the independent reporting isn’t accurate, but they won’t say why it isn’t accurate and they won’t say what is accurate. So the broad public is left with ‘he said, she said.’ Media that reach the broad public won’t challenge the government’s claims about civilian casualties until we can force the government onto the public record to defend its claims.”

Unfortunately, notes Robert Naiman, the policy director for Just Foriegn Policy, Collins voted “no.”

“Because of the way the Senate works, Susan Collins’s opposition could keep this crucial reform of the drone strike policy from becoming law,” Naiman and his Just Foreign Policy colleagues argue.

This is how Collins fits into the equation: “Senator Collins’s support for this provision is crucial because it’s not likely that the Senate will pass it into law unless it attracts some Republican support. Republicans outside the committee tend to defer to Republicans on the committee. But no Republican supported the amendment in committee. Susan Collins is the Republican member of the committee considered most likely to change her position.”

Which takes this debate out of the Intelligence Committee, out of the Capitol and out of Washington.

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