Obama Administration Working on Drone War Transparency… By Offering Numbers of People Killed

Don't hold your breath on the government identifying who they're actually killing-often they don't know


White House

The White House announced it would work toward releasing casualty reports from its drone war across the Muslim world, providing the number of people who were killed since 2009, and whether the government classified them as terrorism suspects or civilians. It won't include names or other identifying information because often the U.S. does not have such information. The U.S. is known to use a broad definition for terrorism suspects so whatever number is released as the civilian casualty count will almost certainly be depressed.

The Obama administration, which has called itself the most transparent in history, didn't make the announcement on its website but rather in remarks given to the Council of Foreign Relations by President Obama's counterterrorism and homeland security advisor on Monday.

The announcement comes just a couple of days after U.S. airstrikes (including drones) killed about 150 people in Somalia. The U.S. insists the target was a terrorist training camp but there has not been independent corroboration of that.

As Glenn Greenwald noted today, no one knows the identity of the people killed by the U.S. in Somalia this weekend, but are at the same time often convinced those people were militants or terrorists merely because the government said so. Greenwald observed there would be "widespread Democratic indifference to the killing of foreigners where there's no partisan advantage to be had against the GOP from pretending to care."

The New York Times ran an op-ed calling on President Obama to impose limits on the largely unrestrained drone program before handing it over to his successor, in part because that person "may see the world very differently from him."

The authors of the piece argue the 2016 election cycle has illustrated that "powers this far-reaching should not rest solely on the character of the president and his advisers." This after acknowledging that 1,000 of the 5,000 people estimated to have been killed by drones during the Obama administration could have been civilians.

The tortured logic of the op-ed illustrates how powers like the power to kill indiscriminately around the world are won by presidents and secured by them—the rejection of rules-based politics that limit government power in favor of worshipping of cult of personality politics.

In his article, Greenwald also noted the "implicit devaluing of lives" that comes from the invisibility of places like Somalia in mainstream political discourse. It gets more frightening in the context of voters' calculus, especially those voters that insist they oppose aggressive U.S. foreign policies. They acquiesce to candidates like Hillary Clinton because of the privileges and entitlements such candidates promise Americans.

In other words, they accept the devaluing of foreign lives when offered the prospect of an increase in the luxury of their lives in the West, the richest civilization in the history of humanity. And that trade-off, as much as almost any other, has closed off mainstream political discourse to most anti-war and non-interventionist sentiment.