The Obama administration's lethal drone strikes are at their most morally objectionable when the CIA doesn't even know the identities of the people it is killing—a fact it obscures by dubbing all military-age males who are killed "militants."
Applied so loosely, the term is wildly misleading. Yet lots of news organizations deploy it in their coverage anyway, as Glenn Greenwald observes:
Like the U.S. drone program itself, this deceitful media practice continues unabated. “Drone strike kills at least four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan,” a Reuters headline asserted last week. The headline chosen by ABC News, publishing an AP report, was even more definitive: “U.S. Drone in Northwest Pakistan Kills 6 Militants.” In July, The Wall Street Journal‘s headline claimed: “U.S. Drone Strike Kills Five Militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.” Sometimes they will turn over their headlines to “officials,” as this AP report from July did: “Officials: US drone kills 7 militants in Pakistan.”
What I'd like to add is an easy fix for style guides: Use "human" or "person" instead. For example:
- Drone strike kills at least four people in northwest Pakistan
- U.S. Drone in Northwest Pakistan Kills 6 Humans
- Officials: US drone kills 7 men in Pakistan
It's that easy.
The only alternative, if one is to maintain accuracy, is a description like one that appeared a year ago in The New York Times: "Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed."