The United States killed someone today. It killed someone yesterday, too, and the day before that, and almost certainly every single day for the last 17 years. The very minimum—the absolute bare moral minimum that a country engaged in perpetual war can do—is be transparent about the scope of death we’re leaving in our wake. If our military-intelligence apparatus exists to serve and protect the American people, the American people should know who their military is harming on their behalf.
It should not surprise you that Donald Trump strongly disagrees. On Wednesday, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Revocation of Reporting Requirement, a jargon-filled, alliterative proclamation that says that the Director of National Intelligence no longer has to release a public report on the number of civilian casualties its operations have caused each year. The order notes, however, that the Secretary of Defense still has to provide a similar annual report, but this belies the destructiveness of what the order does do.
The Secretary of Defense is responsible for actions performed by the three branches of the U.S.’s traditional military: the Air Force, Army, and Navy. These three branches kill an enormous amount of people, and Trump has quietly and steadily eroded the standards they are held to over the course of his tenure. The DNI, however, oversees the U.S.’s intelligence forces, namely the CIA, which also operates an independent fleet of weaponized drones, as well as various paramilitary forces. Trump, crucially, has been leaning on the CIA drone strikes even more than his predecessors, shifting much of the counterterrorism burden from traditional units (which are nominally more accountable to congressional and popular oversight) to clandestine operations.
Trump’s order, apart from the jargon, is simple. It revokes a provision in a 2016 executive order signed by Obama expressly so this kind of thing would not happen. From the order (emphasis mine):
Section 1. Findings. (a) Section 3 of Executive Order 13732 of July 1, 2016 (United States Policy on Pre- and Post Strike Measures To Address Civilian Casualties in U.S. Operations Involving the Use of Force), requires the Director of National Intelligence, or such other official as the President may designate, to release, by May 1 each year, an unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and non combatant deaths resulting from those strikes, among other information.
Sec. 2. Revocation of Reporting Requirement. Section 3 of Executive Order 13732 is hereby revoked.
That’s it. There’s no larger justification, no explanation for why this is necessary to keep the American people safe. Per Bloomberg, here’s the line of defense the Trump Admin. is pushing about the order:
The White House National Security Council said in a statement that Trump’s order removes “superfluous reporting requirements” that “distract our intelligence professionals from their primary mission.”
God forbid our intelligence services are “distracted” from their primary mission of killing people by the pesky task of having to tell us how many people they’ve killed.