But even as I credit Obama for resisting the impulse to embroil the U.S. more fully in Syria, the Ukraine, and other hot spots where interventionists urged him to intervene, one of the claims put forth by a high-ranking source in the article needs rebutting.
Here’s the relevant passage:
Some critics argue he should have had a few second thoughts about what they see as the overuse of drones. But John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, told me recently that he and the president “have similar views. One of them is that sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives. We have a similar view of just-war theory. The president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage. But if he believes it is necessary to act, he doesn’t hesitate.”
The notion that the Obama Administration has carried out drone strikes only when there is “near-certainty of no collateral damage” is easily disproved propaganda. America hasn’t killed a handful of innocents or a few dozen in the last 8 years. Credible, independent attempts to determine how many civilians the Obama administration has killed arrived at numbers in the hundreds or low thousands. And there is good reason to believe that they undercount the civilians killed.
Why the disparity between what American officials claim and what others report? The New York Times provided a first clue back in 2012, when it reported that the U.S. “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." The same sort of dishonest standard was described last last year when a whistleblower provided The Intercept with a cache of documents detailing the U.S. military’s drone killings in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. One campaign, Operation Haymaker, took place in northeastern Afghanistan.
“Between January 2012 and February 2013,” The Intercept reported, “U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.” That’s one campaign of many in just one country where drone killings happen.
Said the source of the documents:“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association. When a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”
The Intercept continued:
The documents show that the military designated people it killed in targeted strikes as EKIA—“enemy killed in action”—even if they were not the intended targets of the strike. Unless evidence posthumously emerged to prove the males killed were not terrorists or “unlawful enemy combatants,” EKIA remained their designation, according to the source. That process, he said, “is insane. But we’ve made ourselves comfortable with that. The intelligence community, JSOC, the CIA, and everybody that helps support and prop up these programs, they’re comfortable with that idea.”
The source described official U.S. government statements minimizing the number of civilian casualties inflicted by drone strikes as “exaggerating at best, if not outright lies.”
Numerous reports during the Obama Administration––including at least one by a former drone pilot––describe a pattern in which a missile fired from a U.S. drone hits an area, bystanders rush to the scene to help the wounded, and the drone, still overhead, kills the rescuers. On other occasions, drones have struck at funerals of drone-strike victims. It is hard to believe the threshold of “near certainty” is crossed in either kind of strike. Credible reports of civilian casualties are common.