90 percent of people killed by U.S. drone strikes are innocent civilians
by: J. D. Heyes
Nine out of every ten people who are killed in U.S. drone strikes overseas are innocent civilians or other unintended targets, according to classified documents provided to and reviewed by The Intercept.
In a series titled "The Drone Papers" in what the online publication said was the culmination of months of examining documents pertaining to "assassination" programs begun under the Bush administration and continuing to this day under President Obama, much of what has been revealed has never before seen the light of day.
"The public has a right to see these documents not only to engage in an informed debate about the future of U.S. wars, both overt and covert, but also to understand the circumstances under which the U.S. government arrogates to itself the right to sentence individuals to death without the established checks and balances of arrest, trial, and appeal," the publication noted.
While the administration and Pentagon have regularly boasted that the "targeted killing program" (a more acceptable euphemism for "assassination," which subsequent U.S. administrations have technically banned) is precise and that civilian casualties are minimal, the documents reveal otherwise.
According to papers and material detailing a special operations campaign called Operation Haymaker, Special Operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people in northeastern Afghanistan between January 2012 and February 2013. Among those killed, just 35 were intended targets.
During one five-month period of the operation, the documents indicate that nearly 90 percent of those killed in airstrikes were not intended targets, The Intercept reported, adding:
In Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.
"Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association," one source said. 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."
As for the program itself, it is anything but a rogue Pentagon operation. The online investigative publication notes that Obama himself approves high-value targets for including on a "kill list." In May 2013, Obama signed policy guidance authorizing the use of force in counterterror operations overseas. A senior administration official told The Intercept that "those guidelines remain in effect today."
Once potential targets are identified, U.S. intelligence, military and law enforcement communities begin collecting information about them. Intelligence analysts then create a portrait of the subject "in a condensed format known as a 'baseball card,'" a source told The Intercept.
On average, once a target was selected for elimination, it took an average of 58 days for Obama to sign off on it. Then, U.S. forces typically had 60 days in which to carry out the strike.
Guidance for the drone strike programs was laid out in a 2013 report conducted by a Pentagon entity, the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force (ISR). The report criticized limitations on the drone program and argued for more advanced drones "and other surveillance aircraft and the expanded use of naval vessels to extend the reach of surveillance operations necessary for targeted strikes," The Intercept reported.
"[A]t this point, they have become so addicted to this machine, to this way of doing business, that it seems like it's going to become harder and harder to pull them away from it the longer they're allowed to continue operating in this way," one source told The Intercept.
Even if those who are killed by strikes are not the intended target, the Pentagon nevertheless lists them as EKIA (enemy killed in action) and they remain under that designation unless evidence turns up posthumously indicating the deceased males were not terrorists or "unlawful enemy combatants."
That process, one source said, "is insane. But we've we've made ourselves comfortable with that. The intelligence community, JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), the CIA, and everybody that helps support and prop up these programs, they're comfortable with that idea."
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