Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Reliable Are White House Statistics on Drone Strike Casualties?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Reliable Are White House Statistics on Drone Strike Casualties?

Article excerpt

The Obama administration released a report Friday detailing the number of civilian deaths from US counterterrorism strikes in countries other than its three primary "areas of active hostilities," namely Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Most of these fatalities came about as a result of the controversial drones program, initiated under President George W. Bush but expanded under President Obama. The report was published the same day as an executive order that seeks to minimize civilian casualties going forward.

While the release of these statistics represents an important and long-awaited step toward transparency, some human rights groups say that the official figures hugely underestimate reality.

"Today's disclosure is a crucial shift away from the Obama administration's longstanding policy of concealing information about civilians killed in drone strikes," said Naureen Shah, Director of Amnesty International USA's Security and Human Rights Program, in a statement. "It is a vital step in dismantling the dangerous precedent of a global, secret killing program."

The report, published by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), puts the number of "non-combatant" deaths at somewhere between 64 and 116, from January 20, 2009 to December 31, 2015. These numbers come from 473 strikes outside the "areas of active hostilities."

Most took place in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia, although one of the biggest criticisms of the publication is its failure to provide context for the figures, such as specific incidents or even geographic location.

"While any disclosure of information about the government's targeted-killing policies is welcome," Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), "the government should be releasing information about every strike - the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. …

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