The C.I.A. Does Not Want Us to Know How Many Civilians Our Drones Kill

When President Barack Obama issued a public apology Thursday to the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto after a U.S drone strike accidentally killed the two al-Qaeda hostages in January, it provided a rare opportunity for the American public to see the faces of civilians who are killed in such incidents.


In these cases, the faces are Western; Weinstein is American and Lo Porto is Italian.

In reality, we don’t know exactly how many civilians die in U.S.-lead drone strikes because the program is classified by the C.I.A. According to FiveThirtyEight, between 421 and 960 civilians in Pakistan have been killed by drone strikes between 2004 and April 12, 2015. Most of the civilian deaths that are tracked are usually linked to news reports, not official government agencies that keep a drone strike activities secret.

It seems safe to assume that word of Weinstein and Lo Porto’s death would not have made the news had they not been westerners. Most civilians who die in drone strikes are of non-Western people whose names are almost never mentioned in western media.

The C.I.A said Friday that it would conduct investigations into the strikes that killed the two men. Even then, the findings of that investigation may not ever be released to the American public.

"At this point, I wouldn't even be in a position to promise that we would have an extended public discussion of those reviews, given the sensitive nature of ... what they're reviewing," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, according to Reuters.

The C.I.A’s drone program has not only expanded under president Obama, he loosened strike requirements for the agency’s activities in Pakistan in 2013, even as he tightened the program’s regulations overall that year, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In countries like Afghanistan and Somalia, a target must be an “imminent threat” for the C.I.A to strike. The C.I.A , according to WSJ, has waived this requirement in Pakistan. This means that the C.I.A could strike identified militant leaders without collecting evidence that the person is an immediate threat to the U.S. These are called “signature strikes.”

Weinstein and Lo Porto were killed in a signature strike in January.

Perhaps the reason why the White House is keeping a tight lid on the its drone program is because it may not be helping to end the war or terror. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 4 percent of the estimated 2,380-plus people killed in strikes have been named as al Qaeda members.

While it may be assuring to the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto to have their loved one’s deaths acknowledged and investigatted, that simple gesture is much more than the families of dead Pakistanis, Afghans and other non-westerners will likely never get.


 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.