Spencer Ackerman discusses the results of a study done by the human rights group Reprieve on the imprecision of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and how certain “targeted killings” resulted in the deaths of over a thousand civilians (“41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground,” Guardian, 24 November 2014):
A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.
“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.
There are myriad problems with analyzing data from US drone strikes. Those strikes occur under a blanket of official secrecy, which means analysts must rely on local media reporting about their aftermath, with all the attendant problems besetting journalism in dangerous or denied places. Anonymous leaks to media organizations, typically citing an unnamed American, Yemeni or Pakistani official, are the only acknowledgements that the strikes actually occur, or target a particular individual.
Without the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command declassifying more information on the strikes, unofficial and imprecise information is all that is available, complicating efforts to independently verify or refute administration assurances about the impact of the drones.”
Photo credit: CC BY-NC 2.0 image “Looking out” by Nadir Burney on Flickr.