Reprieve | 30 June 2016
Ahead of an announcement from the White House on civilian casualties from drone strikes, expected as early as tomorrow (Friday July 1st), international human rights organization Reprieve has released a report demonstrating how the Administration’s previous statements on the issue have proved to be false.
From CIA Director John Brennan’s June 2011 assertion that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death” to President Obama’s claim that strikes only take place when there is “near certainty” that civilians won’t be killed, the Administration’s statements, both on record and off, have been undermined by Government leaks and independent assessments.
The CIA itself had recorded a civilian casualty from a Pakistan drone strike just two months before Mr Brennan’s claim that there hadn’t been any “for nearly a year.” Meanwhile, independent investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and others identified 45 civilian casualties from a strike on a meeting of local elders in March 2011.
The President’s claims on “near certainty” were themselves contradicted by internal CIA documents which, according to McClatchy, “show[ed] that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees.”
In addition, his 2013 policy on the ‘Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations’ has since been undermined by revelations that ‘signature strikes,’ which target people based on patterns of behavior without knowing their identities, have secretly been allowed to continue in Pakistan and possibly Yemen.
According to the report, which is available on Reprieve’s website,
What little the Obama Administration has previously said on the record about the drone program has been shown by the facts on the ground, and even the US Government’s own internal documents, to be false. Any claim of low numbers of civilian casualties will therefore have to be read against the more rigorous work of organizations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), which estimates a low of 492 civilian casualties across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and a high of potentially 1138.
But more importantly, it has to be asked what bare numbers will mean if they omit even basic details such as the names of those killed and the areas, even the countries, they live in. Equally, the numbers without the definitions to back up how the Administration is defining its targets is useless, especially given reports the Obama Administration has shifted the goalposts on what counts as a ‘civilian’ to such an extent that any estimate may be far removed from reality. In US drone operations, reports suggest all “military aged males” and potentially even women and children are considered “enemies killed in action” unless they can “posthumously” and “conclusively” prove their innocence.
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. The report is available on Reprieve’s website, here.