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.