Although watchdog groups estimate up to 1,000 civilian bystanders have been killed in U.S. drone strikes outside war zones since 2009, President Obama released a statement on Friday declaring that only 64 to 116 noncombatants were accidentally murdered by drones during that period. While issuing an executive order calling for future administrations to offer more transparency concerning the number of civilian deaths each year, the president did not disclose any information regarding the deceased 64 to 116 noncombatants or the eight Americans killed by drone strikes.
In accordance with the president’s orders, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released an estimate of drone strike deaths outside areas of active hostilities between January 20, 2009 and December 31, 2015. According to the DNI, “areas of active hostilities” currently include Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Out of 473 drone strikes, the U.S. government claimed responsibility for the deaths of 2,372 – 2,581 combatants while only killing 64 – 116 noncombatants. But according to The New York Times, non-governmental organizations and watchdog groups have estimated between 200 and 1,000 civilians have lost their lives in U.S. drone strikes throughout countries including Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.
Responsible for launching drone strikes against a Yemeni wedding and a Pakistani tribal council meeting, the Obama administration has also used drones to take the lives of at least seven American citizens. In November 2002, the CIA launched a Predator drone that killed six men, including a U.S. citizen named Kamal Derwish, during the Bush administration. Since the inception of the drone program, at least eight Americans have been executed without due process, including an innocent 16-year-old boy from New Mexico.
State Department officials have criticized the CIA’s use of signature strikes designed to attack unidentified people based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other signatures including weddings, barbeques, and tribal council meetings. According to the president, all military-age males within a strike zone have been classified as enemy combatants unless explicit intelligence posthumously proves their innocence.
In addition to announcing the suspiciously low number of civilian casualties, Obama also issued an executive order on Friday calling for future administrations to minimize civilian deaths while conducting annual assessments of combatant and noncombatant deaths caused by drone strikes. Due to the fact that Obama merely issued an executive order, future presidents could easily overturn his decision.
“To allow for meaningful public oversight, the government should release information about every strike — the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of those killed or injured, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. (Notably, the Defense Department has recently begun to provide this kind of information for strikes in Yemen.) The government should release this kind of information whether the strikes are carried out by the military or the CIA,” wrote ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer. “Perhaps national security considerations would justify a short delay in the release of this kind of information after a strike, but the information should be released. The public has a right to know who the government is killing — and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public has a right to know that.”