Depending on whom you ask, the Obama administration has either executed hundreds of civilians abroad with poorly planned drone strikes or none at all. A new report, however, finally offers insight into those conflicting conclusions.
A New York Times article published on Tuesday unearths a lot of information about the White House’s largely secretive drone program: despite being a hallmark of the presidency of Barack Obama, authorities working under the commander-in-chief — as well as Obama himself — are for the most part mum when questions arise about the administration’s ongoing air strikes by way of unmanned robotic aircraft. In particular, the question of civilian casualties and the death toll of innocent Afghans and Pakistanis who have lost their life at the hands of Washington’s war machine are often left unanswered or, even worse, addressed differently. According to the Times’ latest write-up, though, the Obama administration has some scandalous opinions on who can and can’t be killed by its murder program.
The White House convinces itself that the Obama-ordered air strikes overseas have not killed many civilians because, according to the president, any and all men near around a drone target are considered enemies of America and can be executed without being added to the count of civilian casualties.
"It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," is how the Times report it. "Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good."
The article was published on May 29 and was penned by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, who discussed the drone operations with several sources close to the president.
Within hours after the article hit the presses, Shane went on PBS’ Newshour program to extrapolate more on Obama’s explanation:
“The president apparently reacted quite strongly to a bad strike, an errant strike in Pakistan very early in the first days of his presidency, and has kept pressing the agencies involved to minimize civilian casualties,” Shane said. “But there’s also been some dispute over the way civilian casualties are counted. The CIA often counts able-bodied males, military-age males who are killed in strikes as militants, unless they have concrete evidence to sort of prove them innocent, and some folks at the State Department and elsewhere have questioned that kind of a process.”
The Times article goes on to explain that President Obama is incredibly instrumental when it comes to targeted drone strikes and oversees counterterrorism operations involving the unmanned aerial aircraft so much so that he says who can and can’t be killed. To Newshour, Shane said, “Instead of wanting deniability and wanting to keep at a distance from this lethal program, he actually wanted to be very much part of it.” According to that Times’ report, it now makes a lot of sense why the commander-in-chief has never condemned the continuing strikes.
Speaking to an international audience during a virtual townhall earlier this year, President Obama said that drones had "not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” and he added that it’s "important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.” But when the Bureau of Investigative Journalism released the findings of a drone strike stud last year, the UK-based agency said , that the number of civilians killed in US drone strikes were probably 40 percent higher than what the American authorities were actually reporting: between 2004 and 2011, they put the estimate of civilian deaths at a figure of 385, but added in the research that the toll could actually come close to tallying 775 casualties.
Now it’s revealed that the leash may not have much slack, but the noose at the end is frighteningly all too encompassing.