Model of a Predator drone outside Alameda
County Administrative Building, Feb. 14.
CONGRESS | Rep. Eric Swalwell told The Citizen recently that he “trusts the president,” and “fully supports him and doesn’t want to take away authority from him,” when it comes to his use of drones but only hopes he “keeps Congress more in the loop.”
Swalwell has been quiet on drone warfare since the controversial topic took the mainstream media by storm after the White Houses’ white memo was leaked to NBC earlier this month.
Instead Swalwell has spent much of his time sponsoring other members’ bills such as the Violence Against Women Act and gun control.
But Swalwell’s congressional neighbor, Rep. Barbara Lee, on the other hand has been very critical of Obama’s use of drones because of broad and vague regulations, not to mention her demand for the repeal of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force Act that as implemented after Sept. 11, 2001 and been one of the reasons used by the Obama administration for international drone use.
Last year, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ardent support of drones, calculated the total lives taken to be at 4,700 including civilian lives. In 2009 alone some 700 civilians lives were taken in Pakistan from American drone strikes. Swalwell said the loss of civilian life is something, “no one wants to see,” a similar message Graham has said himself.
Two U.N. rapporteurs called for investigations last year into Obama’s drone strikes citing the potential violation of international law and even raised questions of war crimes. An American CIA official also recently stated that drone attacks in Yemen have had a counterproductive influence in supplementing anti-American semitism thus fanning the flames of terrorism.
Others in Congress and some in the media think Obama’s use of drone warfare as an “overreach,” but Swalwell gave an astounding, “Overreaching!? No!” when asked of this. Although Swalwell agrees with Lee for keeping Congress informed he certainly hasn’t provided the same explicit concern as his colleague. Lee said in a letter to Los Angeles Times that Obama’s use of drone warfare should “shake Americans to the core.”
In addition, the Department of Homeland granted $1.2 million in funds last year to help assist counties that sought drones for domestic law enforcement. Last month Swalwell joined the Homeland Security Committee and serves on the Transportation Security Subcommittee. Although no major bill concerning drones has passed through the committee yet, given Swalwell’s confessions, its likely he wouldn’t stand in the way of drone use but rather urge caution for privacy rights.
“I spent seven years in the District Attorney’s office and I went out of my way anytime we exercised search and seizures that we would follow the constitution. I think we should do the same thing with drones and we should have constitutional protections and we should be respectful of privacy,” Swalwell told The Citizen.
A portion of the federal grant is currently being utilized by Alameda County Sheriff’s office who are considering the purchase of two drones for search and rescue operations. Many cities in Swalwell’s district contracts with the Sheriff’s department but Swalwell has been unusually quiet on the incredibly controversial issue percolating recently in the county.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been aggressively critical of the regulations drafted by the Sheriff’s department accusing the police of booting much of the ACLU’s recommendations to safeguard privacy. Swalwell won’t say if he supports the use of local drones but nor will he say he opposes them. Instead he merely hopes they “follow the constitution,” with no further comment.