Drone Strikes Don't Just Target al-Qaida Leaders

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 10 2013 10:40 AM

Drone Strikes Don't Just Target al-Qaida Leaders

Members of Grandmothers Against the War, Granny Peace Brigade, the Raging Grannies, and other groups hoist a model of a drone in the air as they protest the U.S. military's use of drones during an "April Days of Action" demonstration, April 3, 2013, in New York.
Members of Grandmothers Against the War, Granny Peace Brigade, the Raging Grannies, and other groups hoist a model of a drone in the air as they protest the U.S. military's use of drones during an "April Days of Action" demonstration, April 3, 2013, in New York.

Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

According to a new investigative report by McClatchy, the Obama administration doesn't stick to their own standards on drone use in the Middle East.

The news may not come as a surprise to some, given the number of deaths attributed to drones since 9/11. Those numbers—as many as 3,581 killed in Pakistan, including as many as 884 civilians and 197 children, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism—stand in contrast to the administration's very strict official standards for drone attacks. The administration, as a refresher, has previously said that the CIA's Predator and Reaper drones are only used against “specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaida and associated forces" involved in 9/11, and currently plotting attacks on Americans.

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Here's McClatchy, explaining what they found that seems to go against that policy:

"Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy ... list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as 'other militants' and 'foreign fighters.' "

And, lower down, are some of the specifics:

At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al-Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al-Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts. ... At other times, the CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.

The documents McClatchy reviewed don't cover the entirety of America's post-9/11 drone strike program, but do, they explain, cover some of the most intense periods of its use. In addition to flagging instances in which the administration has apparently gone against its own stated policy, the report also shows how complicated it is to correctly identify targets.

Read the full report at McClatchy. And check out Eric Posner's 2012 Slate piece on the Obama administration's justification for drone strikes.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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