Dianne Feinstein’s shocking lies about the number of civilians killed by U.S. drone program
By End the Lie
Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, brazenly lied about the number of civilians killed by the U.S.’s so-called “targeted killing” (or “targeted force” as she put it) program during her remarks at the beginning of the confirmation hearings of John Brennan.
This assassination program, mostly – but not entirely – comprised of strikes carried out by drones, was recently shown to be even more disturbing than previously thought with the leak of a Justice Department white paper, although a federal court ruling determined that the Obama administration never has to explain the legal basis for the strikes in court.
The program also has some calling for increased oversight through another secret court even though Attorney General Eric Holder claims the secret reviews of classified evidence carried out by the Obama administration count as due process.
“But for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes, and the figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits,” Feinstein said.
The claim that civilian deaths resulting from “the use of targeted force,” as she put it, have “typically been in the single digits” is simply ludicrous.
Conor Friedersdorf massive underestimates the magnitude of this lie when he calls the claim “imprecise.” It is nothing short of an egregious lie.
Even if Feinstein was using some of more “conservative” statistics like those compiled by the New American Foundation – shown to be woefully inaccurate by Friedersdorf in July of 2012 – her claim wouldn’t be truthful.
Researchers at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK estimates the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan – not including those killed by drones in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere – to be at a minimum 2 in 2004, 6 in 2005, 96 in 2006, 4 in 2007, 74 in 2008, 119 in 2009, 97 in 2010, 68 in 2011 and 7 in 2012.
Maybe Feinstein chose to only look at the figures for 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2012? Even then, the claim would be dubious at best since those figures only include Pakistan.
Keep in mind, as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism points out, that from 2004-2013 the CIA has conducted 364 drone strikes in Pakistan. 312 of those have been during the Obama administration.
Somewhere from 473-893 civilians have been reported killed as a result of those 364 strikes and 176 children were reported killed in Pakistan alone. Anywhere from 1,270 to 1,433 civilians were reportedly injured. Remember, this is all just in Pakistan where the CIA targets rescuers and funerals with drone strikes.
In Yemen, 42-52 U.S. drone strikes have been confirmed from 2002 to 2013 while 54-64 total U.S. operations have been confirmed, according to the Bureau. Possible extra U.S. operations range from 135 to 157 and possible extra U.S. drone strikes range from 77 to 93.
The total number of people killed ranges from 374 to 1,112 with 72 to 178 civilians killed by all operations. The number of children killed by all U.S. operations in Yemen during the period ranges from 27 to 37.
Thankfully, the numbers in Somalia are significantly lower, but those numbers are from 2007 to 2013. The total number of U.S. strikes is 10-23, while the total number of U.S. drone strikes range from three to nine.
Total number of people reported killed ranges from 58 to 170 while civilians killed range from 11 to 57 with one to three children reported killed.
Friedersdorf also points out that there have been instances where a single strike caused more civilian casualties than she claims occur in an entire year.
One example is a 2009 strike in Yemen which resulted in far more civilian deaths than Feinstein’s numbers would allow.
“Some months after the attack in Al Majalah, Amnesty International released photos showing an American cluster bomb and a propulsion unit from a Tomahawk cruise missile,” according to an article published on the New Yorker’s Daily Comment blog. “A subsequent inquiry by the Yemeni parliament found that fourteen Al Qaeda fighters had been killed—along with forty-one civilians, including twenty-three children.”
As the article points out, when American officials were spoken to, “they seemed genuinely perplexed. They didn’t deny that a large number of civilians had been killed. They felt bad about it. But the aerial surveillance, they said, had clearly showed that a training camp for militants was operating there.”
“It was a terrible outcome,” an unnamed official told Dexter Filkins, the author of the piece. “Nobody wanted that.”
If Feinstein’s claim was accurate, the casualties from that single “targeted” strike would have to be spread out over some five years.
That’s not the only single incident that proves Feinstein’s claim to be completely and totally false.
An incredibly detailed and lengthy report published in September 2012, “Living Under Drones,” by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law focused on one such incident in Pakistan.
The report focused on a single drone strike on March 17, 2011 in Pakistan which killed around 40 or more people according to “nearly all available sources.”
While individuals with Pakistani intelligence said that 12 or 13 of those killed were Taliban militants, the report stated that, “the Associated Press investigation found that it was likely only four. Of those four, only one, Sherabat Khan, has ever been identified by name.”
Separate investigations carried out by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism “so far obtained the names of 24 civilians killed who died in the strike,” according to the report.
The most noteworthy of all points, however, is that according to a New York Times report from last year, “Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
This method of counting civilian deaths is, on its face, completely absurd.
Feinstein’s justification for trusting the Obama administration’s numbers are perhaps even more absurd.
Spencer Ackerman of Danger Room asked Feinstein why the Intelligence Committee would be confident in believing that the CIA was not misleading Congress about civilian deaths from drones when they previously misled Congress about their torture and detention program.
“That’s a good question, actually,” Feinstein said, according to Danger Room. “That’s a good question.”
“She said she felt the CIA wasn’t ‘defensive’ of the drones in the way it was defensive of the torture program, however,” wrote Ackerman.
Feinstein refuses to even recognize the fact that the Obama administration’s estimates are not only based on a patently absurd methodology but also that the administration “has clear incentives to lie,” as Friedersdorf rightly points out.
This issue is only going to become more important as outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated that the U.S. needs an open-ended drone war in order to prevent a future attack on America and the problem of domestic drone use is becoming increasingly contentious.
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