In an interview with NPR, outgoing U.S. defence Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that the U.S. doesn’t carry out drone strikes when women and/or children are present.
However, NPR follows Panetta’s remarks with evidence that the claim is dubious.
Here’s the transcript:
NPR: How did the civilian deaths and the risks of civilian deaths weigh on your decision making process?
Panetta: Frankly, we made very clear that if there were any women or children we would not take the shot. I mean, that became a rule that we abided by.
NPR: That, if there were women or children on site, the strike was called off?
Panetta: That’s right.
Subsequently, NPR reports:
There is at least one case where U.S. officials, including Panetta, knew that a woman was present at a possible strike site, and the attack was ordered anyway. A U.S. official told NPR a strike with non-combatants in the area would only happen in “exceptional circumstances against very high-level terrorists.”
Photo: TSgt Effrain Lopez
When Mehsud was killed by a drone strike on August 5, 2009, the CIA knew that he was with a “young girl who had recently become his second wife,” and that other women and children lived at the targeted house.
Jo Becker and Scott Shane of The New York Times detailed the strike in their piece about Obama’s “kill list”:
Then, in August 2009, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, told Mr. Brennan that the agency had Mr. Mehsud in its sights. But taking out the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mr. Panetta warned, did not meet Mr. Obama’s standard of “near certainty” of no innocents being killed. In fact, a strike would certainly result in such deaths: he was with his wife at his in-laws’ home.
… Mr. Obama, through Mr. Brennan, told the C.I.A. to take the shot, and Mr. Mehsud was killed, along with his wife and, by some reports, other family members as well, said a senior intelligence official.
As for children, the Obama administration targeted 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of New Mexico-born cleric and al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.
The administration doesn’t have to reveal its legal justification for that strike (or any carried out by the CIA), but Panetta’s apparent fib raises doubts about the administration’s claims that the covert drone program is on firm legal ground.