Don't Believe Initial Accounts of Drone Strikes Killing 'Al Qaeda Militants'


"The bodies were charred like coal."

Foreign Policy has a perfectly awful account of a U.S. drone strike in Yemen this September that killed a dozen civilians. Begins like this:

SANAA, Yemen — The villagers who rushed to the road, cutting through rocky fields in central Yemen, found the dead strewn around a burning sport utility vehicle. The bodies were dusted with white powder—flour and sugar, the witnesses said—that the victims were bringing home from market when the aircraft attacked. A torched woman clutched her daughter in a lifeless embrace. Four severed heads littered the pavement.

"The bodies were charred like coal. I could not recognize the faces," said Ahmed al-Sabooli, 22, a farmer whose parents and 10-year-old sister were among the dead. "Then I recognized my mother because she was still holding my sister in her lap. That is when I cried."

What enables such state-sanctioned murder? One crucial ingredient is highlighted in the next paragraph:

Quoting unnamed Yemeni officials, local and international media initially described the victims of the Sept. 2 airstrike in al-Bayda governorate as al Qaeda militants.

Follow that link to the Sept. 2 Reuters article, and you'll see this loaded lead paragraph:

Five suspected militants linked to al Qaeda were killed by a U.S. drone attack on Sunday in central Yemen, in what appears to be stepped up strikes by unmanned aircraft on Islamists.

Note that "suspected" only modifies "militants"; Reuters treated as fact that the charred bodies were "linked to al Qaeda," and part of a broader campaign against "Islamists" who don't qualify as being "suspected."

This isn't just linguistic nitpicking of journalismese; this is how you midwife propaganda–straight from anonymous government sources who have a huge incentive to legitimize targeted death-dealing against undesirables, and unadorned with the kind of protective skepticism that such ultimate power (let alone fog of war) so richly deserves.

Link via the Twitter feed of Laura Pitter. Reason on drone strikes here.

NEXT: Deadly Weapon

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  1. But, they were suspected of being militants.

    Just like they’re going to “suspect” gun owners of being domestic terrorists.

    Why do you hate children?

  2. After 9/11/01, I thought that the people equating US military actions to the terrorist attack were pretty disgusting. After all these drone “strikes” on “suspected Islamist”, I think they now have a pretty legitimate point.

    1. Sadly true.

  3. Now that looks like it might jsut work. Wow.


  4. A torched woman clutched her daughter in a lifeless embrace. Four severed heads littered the pavement.

    No less than they deserve for living in a terrorist sponsoring state. If they don’t want to end up like this, they ought to either move or drive out the terrorists living among them.

    /John and/or Cytotoxic

    1. “If they don’t want to end up like this, they ought to either move or drive out the terrorists living among them.”

      Sounds right.

  5. Dehumanize the enemy; the foundation of wartime propaganda.

  6. I don’t believe initial reports about anything. They are usually wrong and often used by people to push their own particular point of view

    Initial reports should be used mostly to inform you that something has happened and that you should keep an eye on it to see how the story develops.

  7. Thank Gaia the wise Obama was responsible for this and not the dumb redneck Bush!

  8. Who says American manufacturing is dead? We’re clearly still #1 when it comes to manufacturing consent.

  9. Was there ever a time when journalists didn’t completely trust the government? It’s really rare to see “suspected” or “alleged” used correctly in an article in the city section of the paper. They are used incorrectly more often than correctly, to the point tht standard English speakers think “suspect” means the person who did it.

  10. “linked to Al Qaeda” doesn’t need a “suspected” because it is obviously true. The only thing that could be argued about is what specifically the links are.

    The US military is linked to Al Qaeda, too, the links just aren’t cordial ones. “Linked to” without more detail is almost meaningless.

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