We Still Have Little Idea Who We've Been Killing with Drones in Pakistan


But the president signed off, so they must be bad guys …

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been working to identify those who have been killed in Pakistan by American drone strikes and any groups with whom they were affiliated. The latest news from their project, titled "Naming the Dead," is that only four percent of the 2,379 people killed in 400 drone strikes in the country since 2004 can be identified as al Qaeda. That's just 84 people. Another 295 were identified as other "militants," and even that designation might be a little iffy:

Only 704 of the 2,379 dead have been identified, and only 295 of these were reported to be members of some kind of armed group. Few corroborating details were available for those who were just described as militants. More than a third of them were not designated a rank, and almost 30% are not even linked to a specific group. Only 84 are identified as members of al Qaeda – less than 4% of the total number of people killed.

These findings "demonstrate the continuing complete lack of transparency surrounding US drone operations," said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher for Amnesty International.

When asked for a comment on the Bureau's investigation, US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that strikes were only carried out when there was "near-certainty" that no civilians would be killed.

"The death of innocent civilians is something that the U.S. Government seeks to avoid if at all possible. In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why, and to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimise such risk to non-combatants in the future," said Hayden.

The report notes that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) doesn't specifically say the president is authorized only to strike members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, but rather against those who were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. It's a bit problematic to argue these strikes are covered:

The CIA itself does not seem to know the affiliation of everyone they kill. Secret CIA documents recording the identity, rank and affiliation of people targeted and killed in strikes between 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 were leaked to the McClatchy news agency in April 2013. They identified hundreds of those killed as simply Afghan or Pakistani fighters, or as "unknown".

Determining the affiliation even of those deemed to be "Taliban" is problematic. The movement has two branches: one, the Afghan Taliban, is fighting US and allied forces, and trying to re-establish the ousted Taliban government of Mullah Omar in Kabul. The other, the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP, is mainly focused on toppling the Pakistani state, putting an end to democracy and establishing a theocracy based on extreme ideology. Although the US did not designate the TTP as a foreign terrorist organisation until September 2010, the group and its precursors are known to have worked with the Afghan Taliban.

According to media reports, the choice of targets has not always reflected the priorities of the US alone. In April last year the McClatchy news agency reported the US used its drones to kill militants in Pakistan's tribal areas in exchange for Pakistani help in targeting al Qaeda members.

Early last summer NBC reporters got their hands on a classified document that showed the United States often doesn't know who it is killing in Pakistan or what their militant affiliations were. At the time, I thought the revelations would be a big deal. But that very same day was when the very first story about domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) dropped, thanks to a leaker that had not yet been identified as Edward Snowden. And the rest was history.

Below, ReasonTV explains why the United States' policy on drone strikes is pretty scary:

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  1. off topic


    Two hundred years ago, eight Londoners died in one of the oddest ways imaginable. Or, to invoke the thoroughly British words of The Times’ news report on the incident, “The neighbourhood of St. Giles’s was thrown into the utmost consternation on Monday night, by one of the most melancholy accidents we ever remember.”

    On the evening in question?October 17, 1814?one of the vats at the Meux and Co. brewery burst, blowing apart the building’s timber walls and sending the equivalent of 3500 barrels of beer cascading onto the streets.

    The ale tsunami demolished two homes as it swept along what is now Tottenham Court Road in Bloomsbury. In other homes, according to the Times report on October 19, 1814, “inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.” Others were not so lucky, such as a mother and daughter who had just sat down to tea in their first-floor home: in the evocative words of the Times, the daughter was “swept away by the current through a partition, and dashed to pieces.”

    In all, eight people died in the London Beer Flood. Five others were injured badly enough to be taken to hospital, and three brewery employees were rescued by flabbergasted volunteers, who had to wade through waist-deep beer cluttered with debris.

    1. Well, America, with its love of obesity, beats them with 21 dead in a Molasses Flood.
      Take that limey drunks!

    2. How many of the eight drowned after purposely diving into the ale lake? Seriously, I could think of a lot worse ways to die.

      1. There is an old story of an Irishman who falls into a tank of beer at the brewery and drowns. When his wife is informed, she says that she hopes he didn’t suffer long. They tell her the Irishman got out to pee three times.

        1. I am a fan of the Scotsman who, when informed by the waiter there was a fly in his beer (or soup), grabbed the fly out of the drink, took each little wing between his fingers, and wiggled them back and forth while shouting, “Spit it out, ya wee fucker! Spit it out!”

  2. According to media reports, the choice of targets has not always reflected the priorities of the US alone. In April last year the McClatchy news agency reported the US used its drones to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas in exchange for Pakistani help in targeting al Qaeda members.

    Gee, ya think. We trade info for being a droner-for-hire.

  3. Drones only ever kill bad people. An Obot actually told me that.

  4. Pope Obama: “Kill them all. God will sort them out.”

    1. I think this is a case where the pro-war-left might have to check their privilege.

    2. Now you know why they’re called “Hellfire” missiles!

  5. Another 295 were identified as other “militants,” and even that designation might be a little iffy

    Nah. They *must* be militants if they’re on the *battlefield*.

    1. But even if they aren’t, it’s their own fault for not clearing out before the bomb dropped.

  6. You non-lawyers just don’t understand. Legally, by definition, anyone killed by a drone is terrorist.

  7. Yeah, duh – it’s Pakistan. Basically the whole COUNTRY is TERRRRRRRSSZZZTTTZOMFG!!11one!!

    Including wedding parties, kids at school….etc.

    So, good shoot…er….droning, IMHO.


  8. NEWSFLASH: in war, you don’t have to identify your enemies. They can remain nameless as long as they’re dead.

    1. NEWSFLASH: War-mongers prefer a carefree killing of innocent people, without pesky moral implications.

  9. If a business was found to be wantonly killing men, women and children in pursuit of it’s interests, people almost everywhere would stop doing business with that firm and would agitate to bring harsh justice to the perpetrators and transfer the value of their assets to it’s victims.

    When a state does it people might agitate in a election to transfer the right to murder (with impunity) to another faction. Then they waive flags and proclaim that everything can be better with their tribe at the helm of the murder machine, no need to address the moral relativism of the murder machine itself. Move along.

    1. Mandate of Heaven The People

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