Today, Mark Shapiro sent a link to the Bureau’s report that America’s drone war has covertly escalated, noting it took President Obama three years to refer publicly to America’s use of drones. In January 2012 he said ‘actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’. He added: ‘For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and affiliates.’
In this period Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. And according to a leaked CIA record of drone strikes, seen by the McClatchy news agency, the US often did not know who it was killing. In the year after September 2010 at least 265 of up to 482 people killed by drones ‘were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists’.
President Obama made a major policy speech in which he codified the rules his administration must follow as it selects targets for drone strikes and special forces teams. The rules are meant to constrain the use of drones.
He acknowledged drone strikes had killed civilians, saying: ‘For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.’ And he added: ‘Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set’.
However Bureau analysis shows more people were killed in Pakistan and Yemen in the six months after the speech than the six months before and the casualty rate also rose over the same period.
As this site reported, in Yemen, the year ended with mass civilian casualties. On December 12, Joint Special Operations Command drones attacked a convoy taking a bride to her wedding. The attack destroyed several vehicles and flying shrapnel killed up to 15 civilians. It was the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year.
The Yemeni government initially claimed al Qaeda militants were killed but then quickly negotiated reparations with the families of the victims, sending them $140,000 and 100 rifles. Within days, its Parliament voted for a resolution calling for an end to all drone strikes in the country.
NBC News faced White House and Pentagon officials with a video shot by Nasser Al-Sane, a local Yemeni journalist, given to them by Reprieve. It showed the scorched bodies of men killed on the way to the wedding by two Hellfire missiles fired by a U.S. drone. A Yemeni official said the images are consistent with what its government knows about what happened after the attack. White House and Pentagon officials declined to comment on the video.
Washington is now carrying out an investigation – perhaps due to the intervention of Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), who urged Yemen and the United States to disclose whether they were responsible.