CIA often doesn’t know whom it kills with drones

Despite not even knowing the identity of the dead, the CIA asserted that all those killed were combatants VIDEO

Topics: Video, Drones, CIA, Pakistan, NBC, Targeted killing, Al-Qaida, signature strikes, ,

Further affirming skepticism in the human rights community that “targeted killing” is a poor description of the CIA’s drone program, a new NBC investigation found that the agency regularly did not know who it was killing with the strikes.

As Richard Engel and Robert Windrem reported, having reviewed months of classified documents:

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as “other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The findings cement concerns that the U.S. is using dangerously broad determinations in picking strike targets, relying often merely “signature” behaviors and movements. The NBC report is further evidence disproving government claims that drone strikes precisely and specifically target al-Qaida top operatives — a notion long contested by investigative reporters, legal experts and human rights groups.

Experts have long expressed concerns borne out by NBC’s investigation. Legal clinics from NYU and Columbia Law Schools, as well as human rights groups including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, noted in a joint letter to the president:

The reported practice of so-called signature strikes, based on observation of certain patterns of behavior and other “signatures,” adds to these concerns. Signature strikes do not appear to require specific knowledge about an individual’s participation in hostilities or an imminent threat. Since their identity is unknown, even during the strike, these targeted individuals may be confused with civilians who cannot be targeted directly as a legal matter.

In his recent national security speech, President Obama announced that a new phase of drone wars would demand more precise identification of targets. The New York Times suggested that the policy shift might see an end to so-called signature strikes. Although, as I noted, lethal drone policy continues to be so shrouded and to rely on ill-defined rubric (such as “imminent threat”) and as such fails to allay human rights concerns.



Among its most chilling findings, NBC revealed that, even while admitting that the identities of many killed by drones were not known, the CIA documents asserted that all those dead were enemy combatants. The logic is twisted: If we kill you, then you were an enemy combatant. Via NBC:

In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22.

Yet officials seem certain that however many people died, and whoever they were, none were non-combatants. In fact, of the approximately 600 people listed as killed in the documents, only one is described as a civilian. The individual was identified to NBC News as the wife or girlfriend of an al Qaida leader.

Tracing drone strikes and their casualties since 2004, the U.K.’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that up to 884 civilians (non-combatants, by international legal standards) may have been killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

Watch NBC’s report:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>