I wrote today about Obama’s denial that a “huge number of civilian casualties” are resulting from the drone war in Pakistan. There is plenty of evidence of high numbers of civilian casualties from the drone strikes, and I write about and link to much of it in the piece, but I also left something out about how the Washington tallies the dead here.
President Obama said that drones are used against “al-Qaeda operatives” engaged in “active plots against the United States.” We know from reporting by Pakistani journalists that the vast majority of suspected militants targeted are not members of al-Qaeda, nor are they involved in plots against the U.S. homeland. Many of the targets are actually anonymous, low-level militants who provide operational support to the Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan.
The Obama administration’s claim boils down to “if they die from our drones, they were al Qaeda.” There is no gray area, no question of whether they were insurgents, suppliers of insurgents, the son of an insurgent, at the same party as an insurgent, an actual al Qaeda operative, or an al-Qaeda sympathizer, plotting to attack the homeland, or just documenting the aftermath of drone strikes, etc. If we kill them, clearly they were bin Laden reincarnated. The catchall claim, which so far no public official has been properly scrutinized for, is analogous to Richard Nixon’s claim that “if the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”