In light of a new report by the human rights group Reprieve, which found that US drone strikes kill on average 28 unidentified people for every strike made on an intended target, I wanted to highlight a comment that was made by former head of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center, Henry A. Crumpton, in the 2012 New York Times article, "The Moral Case for Drones." In response to concerns being raised over civilian casualties, Crumpton defended the merits of drone technology.
"We never said, 'Let's build a more humane weapon,' " Mr. Crumpton said. "We said, 'Let's be as precise as possible, because that's our mission — to kill Bin Laden and the people right around him.' "
Since then, Mr. Crumpton said, the drone war has prompted an intense focus on civilian casualties, which in a YouTube world have become harder to hide. He argues that technological change is producing a growing intolerance for the routine slaughter of earlier wars.
"Look at the firebombing of Dresden, and compare what we're doing today," Mr. Crumpton said. "The public's expectations have been raised dramatically around the world, and that's good news."
Wait, what? So people used to think it was perfectly fine to firebomb entire cities? Modern wars don't produce routine slaughter? YouTube is the driving force behind creating more precise weaponry? The 25,000+ people killed in Dresden is a case of justifiable moral outrage, yet the much larger number of civilians killed in the Middle East is an example of progress because our weapons are now more "precise" and our targeting more discerning?
Opponents of drone warfare hoping to satirize the government's defense of the practice would be hard-pressed to write a better statement for a key official to make earnestly during an interview. When the bar has to be set that low in order to justify your view—"I mean, compared to the firebombing of Dresden..."—then certainly part of you must know—or rather, should know—that something is majorly wrong with your position.
Later, speaking about the US invasion of Iraq, Crumpton got defensive.
"I don't understand what the big concern is," Mr. Crumpton said. "Yes, it's been a messy affair, and mistakes were made. [...] But look at the bombing of Nagasaki. When you compare what we're doing today in the Middle East with Nagasaki, it's nothing. War is never going to be perfect, but we've made incredible progress. I don't see how anyone could deny that. Sure, more civilians may have been killed in Iraq [than in Nagasaki]. If some of the larger estimates are correct, which I doubt, then it might be true. But that gets to my point, actually, because all of that happened before we were using drones. When we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they were single, indiscriminate bombs [and we] deliberately target[ed] two civilian cities. Whereas now in the Middle East, we're using extremely discriminating, precise technology to selectively target specific enemies, as well as those whose behavior we deem suspicious. That is, we're able to wage a very clinical war by using drones. [...] There's no real argument to be had. It's either [drones] or Nagasaki. Or Dresden. Is that what people want? If we're going to act morally, we have no choice but to use drones. It's that simple." (He didn't really say any of this, of course(?). At least not in so many words!)
The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur.
Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.
However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.
Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.
A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November. [X]
Note (from the same Guardian article):
Neither Reprieve nor the Guardian examined the subset of drone strikes that do not target specific people: the so-called “signature strikes” that attack people based on a pattern of behavior considered suspicious, rather than intelligence tying their targets to terrorist activity. An analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations tally assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.
As well, the data is agnostic on the validity of the named targets struck on multiple occasions being marked for death in the first place.