Photo: Flickr/Secretary of defence
On June 29, 2011, chief counterterrorism advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama and CIA director nominee John Brennan told an audience that there had not been “a single collateral death” in covert U.S. drone strikes because of the “exceptional proficiency [and] precision” of U.S. targeted killings.But there is ample evidence of many civilian casualties, and what’s more it’s pretty clear that Brennan knew it, according to Chris Woods of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).
In July 2011 TBIJ identified and published details about at least 45 civilians known to have been killed by CIA drones in 10 strikes between August 2010 and June 2011. (TBIJ has since raised its estimate of the number of civilians killed to 76, including eight children and two women.)
Woods writes that most of those casualties came on March 11, 2011, when a U.S. drone killed 42 Pakistanis — most of them civilians — when it targeted a tribal meeting called to resolve a local mining dispute in North Waziristan.
The strike was widely reported, and TBIJ has confirmed that Pakistan’s strong condemnation of the bombing was directly conveyed to ‘highest levels of the Administration’ by Washington’s then-ambassador to Pakistan.
Brennan, 57, currently serves as the director of the National Counterterroism centre (NCTC) which develops the disposition matrix that serves as the ever-evolving procedures and legal justifications of Obama’s “kill list.”
The 25-year CIA veteran has been called “Obama’s high priest of targeted killings” because he “transformed U.S. counterterrorism policy” and “wields enormous power in shaping decisions on … the allocation of armed drones,” so it’s likely that he heard the message from Islamabad.
In April 2012 George Stephanopoulos of ABC News challenged Brennan on his original claims that drones had not killed a single civilian. Brennan replied that “over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed.”
Woods notes that the apparent doublethink by Brennan may be explained by the Obama administration’s designation of “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”
Furthermore, there is a strong body of evidence that U.S. drones employ “double taps,” a terrorist tactic that involves bombing a target multiple times in relatively quick succession and often hits first responders.
Many of those first responders are civilians, and targeting them is widely considered a war crime.