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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

"Secret" Drone Killings of Civilians & the Selective Leaks Defending Drones

Jesselyn Radack, February 08, 2012

wrote last week about the absurdity of the Obama administration's position on the supposedly-secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone strikes that Obama defended publicly at a town hall meeting. Despite Obama's claims that the drone strikes are "very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates," the Washington Post reports today on a recent strike:

U.S. drone-fired missiles hit a house in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region near the Afghan border Wednesday, killing nine people, Pakistani intelligence officials said. . . .

This strike follows one in November:

Pakistan kicked the U.S. out of a base used by American drones last year in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts on Nov. 26.

We also know that drones have killed at least three Americans – Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his companion Samir Khan, and al-Awlaki's 16 year-old son.

If the most recent strike had killed only suspected terrorists, certainly the Obama administration would be publicizing it the way it did when Obama touted the al-Awlaki assassination as a "tribute to our intelligence community."

Even though, officially,

The U.S. does not publicly discuss details of the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan,

President Obama, anonymous Obama administration officials, and anonymous Pakistani officials, have all told the public about the drone program.

Why then does the Justice Department persist that it can "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of the program? The fake secrecy serves a purpose: forcing the public to get information about Obama's expanding drone program from anonymous leaks of pro-drone talking points from the Obama administration, thus obscuring an informed public debate on whether the U.S. should be in the business of sending automated drones overseas to target and kill people or, worse, its own citizens.

Today's reports follow reports Sunday that not only are civilians killed in drone strikes, but that the U.S.

. . . repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals. The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.

Killing rescuers sounds awfully similar to the attacks shown in the deeply disturbing "Collateral Murder" video of WikiLeaks fame in which a U.S. military helicopter gunned down journalists, and then children who were riding in a van aiding civilians injured in the attack.

Moreover, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found:

that 282 to 535 civilians had been “credibly reported” killed in those attacks, including more than 60 children.

This is a damning statistic considering Obama was just last week publicly bragging about the miniscule number of civilian deaths. To deal with the blatant inconsistency, it is yet again ANONYMOUS ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS to the public-relations rescue:

American officials said that the number was much too high, though they acknowledged that at least several dozen civilians had been killed inadvertently in strikes aimed at militant suspects. . . . A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decisions are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.”

(emphasis added)

Don't dare to dig any deeper, though. And, don't ask the administration about the Justice Department memo rationalizing the targeting and assassination of an American citizen, because, in that case – when the information would open the administration up to well-deserved criticism - the Justice Department can "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence" of the records. All the public has to go on is what "anonymous administration officials" feed to the press.