Blog of Rights

VIDEO: Report on Drone Strike Civilian Casualties and New Questions About Legality

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:00pm

Over the weekend, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Sunday Times of London published a detailed and distressing report revealing that under the Obama Administration, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have repeatedly killed civilians who were attempting to rescue victims of previous drone strikes or were attending funerals of those killed. The investigation found that at least 50 civilians have been killed by follow-up drone strikes while trying to assist victims, and more than 20 civilians were killed in deliberate attacks on funerals. Hundreds more civilians have been killed in other CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

The report is one of several efforts to shed light on the government’s use of drones and other means to carry out targeted killings. The ACLU is pursuing two ongoing FOIA lawsuits about targeted killing and drones in an effort to compel release of additional information. 

Chris Woods, who led the investigation for TBIJ, appeared on Democracy Now! yesterday to discuss the report. You can see the interview here:

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The report again raises doubts about the legality of the government’s targeted killing program, which has reached far beyond any active battlefield. Killing civilians, including rescuers and mourners, raises profoundly important questions about the legality, utility, and morality of the program. It also highlights the continuing problems with the lack of oversight of the supposedly secret CIA drone strikes.

Although the CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are widely discussed in the press and were acknowledged by President Obama in a live internet discussion in January, the CIA continues to baldly claim that even the very existence of a targeted killing program is secret. Despite well-documented reports of mounting civilian casualties from drone strikes, the government has claimed that few civilians are killed (and even, falsely, that there have been zero civilian deaths). As if these misdirects aren’t bad enough, the New York Times quoted an unnamed “senior American counterterrorism official” accusing those who question the program of wanting “nothing more than to malign [counterterrorism] efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.” 

TBIJ’s Chris Woods rightly called that comment “disgraceful.” Efforts to shed light on the targeted killing program are crucial to ensuring that the government’s counterterrorism efforts operate within the law and under the light of public scrutiny. As the revelation that the government has been targeting civilian rescuers and mourners demonstrates, much is at stake.

Tags: Drones
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