• Huge number of those killed are women, children, elderly
By Richard Walker
The shocking truth about America’s use of remote-controlled “drone” airplanes is that at least one in five of all those killed by strikes in Pakistan have been women, children and the elderly. The same may be true of the expanded drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.
The recent publication by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) of a classified Pakistan military investigation into drone strikes between 2006 and 2009 opened a disturbing window into the awful civilian deaths in the Bush-Obama secret drone war. It also exposed the under-reporting of civilian casualties and the reluctance of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pakistani authorities to come clean about the numbers and identities of all those killed.
It highlighted the deliberate confusion created after a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone hit a religious school in the Bajaur Agency in 2006, killing, according to tribal elders, 80 children. Pakistan at first took “credit” for the strike and had the media reporting the victims were militants. But when photographs emerged of the massacre, the Pakistani government quickly reversed course. It then laid the strike at the door of the CIA.
For those who have been trying to force the Obama administration to reveal its targeting rules in the drone campaign, the claim by TBIJ that almost one-third of the approximately 3,500 killed by drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 were civilians should not come as a shock.
One of the recurring features of this war in and beyond Pakistan has been the sustained efforts of the CIA to hide the civilian death toll. The Agency has been aided in its effort by the mainstream media, which has blindly accepted the familiar claim that militants were the targets and victims of drone strikes with occasional civilian deaths caused by “collateral damage,” meaning presumably shrapnel.
The strategy to hide the truth was condemned in a report entitled “Living Under Drone Strikes” by the Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law. They had this to say:
Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to ‘militant’ deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of ‘militant’ deaths should include acknowledgment that the U.S. government counts all adult males killed by strikes as ‘militants,’ absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.
The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that U.S. strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.
TBIJ recently launched a campaign to draw more attention to the drone war by vowing to compile and publish a list of names of all those killed by drones, including militants. As of now, it says, 2,000 people killed by drones in Pakistan remain anonymous, something it hopes to reverse.
There is little talk of prosecuting those who pulled the trigger, but a European diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, told this newspaper that could change soon.
“There are those within diplomatic circles in Europe and elsewhere who feel financial compensation to the families of drone victims is not enough. As time passes, you may well see moves to bring cases before the court in The Hague. The killing of 80 children in a drone strike would not be dismissed as fiction if they were American children,” the source pointed out.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.