News Release

Administration Accused of Whitewashing Drone Killings



The New York Times reports: “Partially lifting the secrecy that has cloaked one of the United States’s most contentious tactics for fighting terrorists, the Obama administration on Friday said that it believed that airstrikes it has conducted outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan have killed 64 to 116 civilian bystanders and about 2,500 members of terrorist groups.

“The official civilian death count is hundreds lower than most estimates compiled by independent organizations that try to track what the government calls targeted killings in chaotic places like tribal Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. …

“In a seeming acknowledgment that the long-anticipated disclosure would be greeted with skepticism by drone critics, the administration released the numbers on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.”

The British Guardian just published the article “Former U.S. drone technicians speak out against programme in Brussels.”

JENNIFER GIBSON, via Katherine Oshea, katherine.oshea[at], @reprieve
Gibson is an attorney at Reprieve, an international human rights organization that has studied U.S. government drone killings. She said today: “For three years now, President Obama has been promising to shed light on the CIA’s covert drone program. Today, he had a golden opportunity to do just that. Instead, he chose to do the opposite. He published numbers that are hundreds lower than even the lowest estimates by independent organizations.

“The only thing those numbers tell us is that this Administration simply doesn’t know who it has killed. Back in 2011, it claimed to have killed ‘only 60’ civilians. Does it really expect us to believe that it has killed only four more civilians since then, despite taking hundreds more strikes?

“The most glaring absence from this announcement are the names and faces of those civilians that have been killed. Today’s announcement tells us nothing about 14-year-old Faheem Qureshi, who was severely injured in Obama’s first drone strike. Reports suggest Obama knew he had killed civilians that day. Is Faheem’s family in those numbers? They make no mention of nine-year old Nabila Rehman. She traveled all the way to the U.S. in 2013 to try to get answers about the strike that killed her grandmother, Mamana Bibi. Will she now get the same apology as an American and Italian hostage killed in another strike?

“We need real transparency and accountability, not more smoke and mirrors. It’s past time that there be an independent investigation into just who the U.S. drone program has killed and what the rules and legal framework were for doing so. Only then can we begin to grapple with the effectiveness of this program and whether it really has made us any safer.”

Reprieve released a statement which also quoted Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an engineer from Yemen whose family members were mistakenly killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2012, who said: “The Obama administration is wrong to think that publishing statistics makes up for the pain his secret drone program has caused families like mine.

“It’s no surprise that the White House didn’t bother to consult the victims of drone strikes before publishing these figures — the U.S. has never even acknowledged its role in the deaths of our loved ones. My brother-in-law was an Imam who was leading a campaign against Al Qaeda’s ideology — particularly their targeting of young boys. He spoke out against Al Qaeda in his sermons just few days before he was assassinated. We all expected that one day he would be killed by Al Qaeda, but instead he was killed by a U.S. drone.

“Obama’s secret drone wars have also killed schoolteachers, policemen, women and children. What we need from President Obama is an apology — and a promise that these terrible crimes will not be repeated.”