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‘Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan’

The foremost challenge the research team faced was the pervasive lack of US government transparency about its targeted killing and drone policies and practices in Pakistan.

Living Under Drones is a report from the joint research efforts of the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School, and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law, subtitled, “Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan.”

From the Executive Summary: (emphasis added)

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killing’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.

This narrative is false. …

Real threats to US security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas now targeted by drones. … However, in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated.

You can read the entire report at the link. This first point from the Executive Summary recommendations: (bold in original)

While civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.

In public statements, the US states that there have been ‘no’ or ‘single digit’ civilian casualties. It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals.

From Chapter 1 of the report, another excerpt: (emphasis added)

President Obama’s Escalation of the Drone Program

When President Bush left office in January 2009, the US had carried out at least 45 drone strikes according to the New America Foundation, or 52 according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), inside Pakistan. Since then, President Obama has reportedly carried out more than five times that number: 292 strikes in just over three and a half years. This dramatic escalation in the US use of drones to carry out targeted killings has brought with it escalating tensions between the US and Pakistan, as well as continued questions about the efficacy and accuracy of such strikes.

A January 11 report at Democracy Now stated that eleven Pakistani civilians had been killed in “Escalating U.S. Drone Strikes Since Jan.1.”

The Obama administration has begun 2013 with a flurry of Pakistan strikes, raising speculation it is accelerating the bombings before its capacity to carry them out is diminished with the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of next year. According to a tally by the website Long War Journal, U.S. drones have already killed as many as 11 civilians and 30 suspected militants in the first 10 days of the year. If confirmed, that would mean a death ratio of more than one civilian for every three suspected militants.

At the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an update on the numbers cited in the Living Under Drones report:

CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004-2013

Total US strikes: 362
Obama strikes: 310
Total reported killed: 2,629-3,461
Civilians reported killed: 475-891
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,267-1,431

I’ve focused on the domestic use of drones several times in posts, and will continue doing that. While we are not “living under drones” anything like many in Pakistan are, and while drones in U.S. skies are not armed with munitions (at least according to official reports), we’d be silly to ignore the “Big Brother” ramifications.

The “Living Under Drones” report is also something we’d be silly, and remiss, to ignore. “Collateral damage” continues to be a reality, and according to the report, in Pakistan this means “a death ratio of more than one civilian for every three suspected militants.”

Killing civilians in order to “protect” them isn’t new, of course, but surely that ratio will make some people stop and think. Surely.

Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.

(Living Under Drones logo via Living Under Drones)

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2 Responses to ‘Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan’

  1. Cujo359 January 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    One of the problems for me is illustrated by the term “suspected militants”. At times, the U.S. has had an overly broad definition of what a militant is. Many of those suspected militants may be no more than people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who, for unknown reasons, had some continued contact with actual militants. Intelligence tends to be an echo chamber, thanks to the limited circulation of the raw data used to make judgments.

    The way we do these “targeted” killings now is certainly problematical. I don’t know if there’s a way of doing them that isn’t, but it seems pretty clear right now that it’s really just a complicated way of buying trouble.

  2. Joyce Arnold January 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    That term — “suspected mlitants” — jumped out at me, too.

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