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