Eight times more strikes, six times more deaths than under Bush
This week marked the fifth anniversary of Obama’s first drone kill while in office. Since that time, according to a report from a leading watchdog, close to two and a half thousand people have been killed by launches sanctioned by the White House.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, a staunch critic of the semi-secret drone program, has compiled a report to mark the milestone. The group collates and compiles information on the drone strikes from local, national and international media, law enforcement and government reports, as well as eyewitnesses accounts. It’s statistics are considered the most authoritative on the subject.
The group notes that Obama’s first authorised strike came just THREE DAYS into his presidency, and killed at least nine civilians, mostly from one family, in Pakistan’s tribal regions.
“There was one survivor, 14-year-old Fahim Qureshi, but with horrific injuries including shrapnel wounds in his stomach, a fractured skull and a lost eye, he was as much a victim as his dead relatives.” the report notes.
A second strike was authorised by Obama on the same day, killing up to ten civilians. Wham, 19 innocent people were dead within 72 hours of the new presidency, setting the tone for the next five years. The rest of the report makes for sobering reading.
“Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 strikes on Pakistan – his predecessor, President George Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years. And in Yemen, Obama has opened a new front in the secret drone war.” the report states.
In total, Obama has launched 390 known drone strikes in five years, eight times more than Bush did during his entire presidency. The Bureau notes that the strikes have killed at least 2400 people, with at least 273 being completely innocent civilians. Six times as many people have already been killed under Obama than were killed under Bush. Of course, defenders will claim Obama is simply better at exterminating ‘them dirty terrorists’. Critics will caution that assassinating anyone without trial proves nothing of the sort, and that Obama, a nobel peace prize winner, is also better at killing innocent people.
The report notes that when Obama first broke silence on the drone program, a full three years into his presidency it was to tell the world “drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties… For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and affiliates.” In reality, during that time Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. Further media reports contended that the Obama administration “often did not know who it was killing.”
The Bureau also notes that under Obama, the first Americans were killed by drone strikes. “US citizen Anwar al Awlaki died in a missile strike in Yemen on September 30 2011. His 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who was born in Detroit, was killed in a separate strike two weeks later.” the report notes, clarifying that a Justice Department memo provided legal cover in claiming that the government “has the right to kill US citizens if they pose an imminent threat.”
Last November, the Bureau concluded that there have been more deaths from strikes in the six months AFTER Obama announced a new “constraint” on use of drones than there were in the six months before.
Obama made the remarks in an address at the National Defense University back in May, stating that “The same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it.”
The president even called into question the morality of drone missile use, and briefed the media on a potential overhaul of targeted killing policy and so called ‘signature strikes’.
The headlines that followed suggested that there was to be “important shifts in the policy of using unmanned drones to kill citizens of other countries.” The Mainstream media reported that the US military would be exclusively handed responsibility for all drone strikes outside of Afghanistan, and that deaths from the attacks would likely be significantly reduced.
None of that has happened.
Indeed, as the Bureau reported, while the number of covert strikes fell in Yemen and Pakistan in the six months after the speech, “the overall death toll has increased.”
In Pakistan, the prevailing trend of fewer deaths from drone strikes since 2009 has been reversed since Obama promised more restraint. “In the six months before the speech, an average of 3.5 people were killed in each strike. Since the speech this has risen to almost five.” the report noted.
Rania Khalek @RaniaKhalek
Should be a rule that people who call drone strikes “surgical” should have to undergo actual surgery via armed drone.
Amnesty International has declared that the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are responsible for unlawful killings, some of which could amount to war crimes.
In October, a 97-page report by Human Rights Watch came to the conclusion that drone strikes against suspected members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen are killing more civilians than suspected terrorists. The report noted that out of 82 people killed in 6 HRW case study attacks, 57 were civilians.
The attacks continue to this day, with wedding parties often bearing the brunt of drone strikes. In Yemen, “On December 12, US Joint Special Operations Command drones attacked a convoy taking a bride to her wedding. The attack destroyed several vehicles and flying shrapnel killed up to 15 civilians.” the latest Bureau report clarifies.