The Volokh Conspiracy

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More U.S. government hypocrisy on civilian casualties



Back in July, Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes suggested to CNN's Candy Crowley that Israel wasn't doing enough to avert civilian casualties in Gaza. "I think you can always to more. The U.S. military does that in Afghanistan."

On August 3rd, ten people, including an undetermined number of civilians, died when an Israeli shell landed on a street near an UNRWA school, leaving the school and its grounds completely undamaged. Before the incident could be properly investigated the U.S. State Department issued a harsh condemnation: "The United States is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah… We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties."

Yesterday, Yahoo News reported: "White House exempts Syria airstrikes from tight standards on civilian deaths:"

At the same time, however, [NSA spokeswoman Caitlin] Hayden said that a much-publicized White House policy that President Obama announced last year barring U.S. drone strikes unless there is a "near certainty" there will be no civilian casualties—"the highest standard we can meet," he said at the time—does not cover the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

The 'near certainty" standard was intended to apply "only when we take direct action 'outside areas of active hostilities,' as we noted at the time," Hayden said in an email. "That description - outside areas of active hostilities - simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now."

The statement "came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria's Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23."

UPDATE: "Helluva pinpoint operation" the U.S. is running in Syria.