In a combined effort, Stanford and NYU human rights law professors have released a disturbing but utterly important report (along with the accompanying video shown above) on the U.S. drone strike program. It incudes nine months of research and two investigations in Pakistan with more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts.
Pakistani citizens living in drone strike zones have been experiencing these terrors since 2004, at more than 340 attacks over the last eight years.
The report confirms that the government’s reassuring public statements about “exceedingly rare“ civilian deaths in drone strikes are indeed a load of crap. There are far more civilian deaths caused by drone strikes than counterterrorism officials have been willing to acknowledge. The Obama administration has propagandized the preciseness of drone attacks by adopting the word “surgical” as their trademark description. It’s assumed that words such as “surgical” and “laser-like focus” are used to convince everyone the country’s not just aimlessly blowing stuff and people up. And while drone targets may not be random, they’re certainly not “surgical” attacks. The evidence is in the numbers.
According to the study, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found—with the limited data available—that from June 2004 to mid-September 2012, drone strikes have killed 1,228-1,362 individuals, with 474-881 being civilian victims, including 176 children. And of all those killed, only an estimated 2 percent were high-level targets. That’s some “laser-like” precision.
As the study acknowledges, there are difficulties in obtaining data on strike casualties due to the administration’s secrecy and its continued efforts to cloud transparency over the controversial drone program. One such measure was revealed earlier this year when The New York Times reported that President Obama reclassified the definition of ”combatant” as “all military-age males in a strike zone.”
Counterterrorism officials defended this as “simple logic” because people in a terrorist area are “probably up to no good.” The word “probably” does not indicate 100 percent certainty, which indicates that the U.S. government is not 100 percent certain if people in the area they are targeting are actually all terrorists. If you’re going to kill somebody, you should probably first make sure they’re actually “up to no good.”
Or maybe our government doesn’t actually care about “minimizing collateral damage.” At least, that’s what the double tap strikes seem to illustrate. According to the report, the U.S. engages in a practice known as double strikes, which is when “a targeted strike site is hit multiple times in relatively quick succession.” Furthermore, “Evidence also indicates that such secondary strikes have killed and maimed first responders coming to the rescue of those injured in the first strike… the secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.”
In 2004, an FBI alert warned law enforcement agencies that “terrorists may use secondary explosive devices to kill and injure emergency personnel responding to an initial attack.” The goal, as a senior policy analyst for defense policy explained, is to “incite more terror.”
This terror is evident in the northwestern part of Pakistan. Because drones are regularly hovering over the region, civilians in drone strike zones are forced to live under a constant state of fear and apprehension. People are afraid to leave their homes, and kids are forced to drop out of school.
“Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.”
One attack on U.S. soil eleven years ago has resulted in an endless campaign of terror enacted by our country on a region that—while does indeed harbor terrorists—is also the home of innocent civilians. That one attack does not justify our 340. It does not justify our never-ending acts of violence on those who seek to live in peace, while subjecting them to a never-ending fear that as one Pakistani father puts it, “Drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there.”