August 24th, 2012
(HigginsBlog) – Two new sources of data independently implicate the US government and corporate media outlets covering up civilian drone murders.
New detailed data on the victims of America’s overseas assassination drone strikes confirms that the United States government and corporate media sites have been covering up the number of innocent civilians murder by assassination drone strikes.
The new data collected from two different sources from local sources on the ground reveal that between 2008 and 2011 74 percent of people killed in drone strikes were innocent civilians and not military combatants are reported by the US government and echoed by the parrot media.
In response to a damning article from Truth-out revealing the New America Foundation, ran by CNN’s terrorism expert Peter Bergen and often cited by the corporate media as the official source of drone casualties, has scrubbed their data which severely under-reports civilian casualties.
The article exposes the flaw in the corporate media’s circular logic of citing the New America Foundation as an ‘independent’ and ‘authoritative source’ of civilian drone casualties:
- Anonymous government sources say anonymous unnamed militants were killed by a drone strike (with Obama’s definition of militant recently being revealed as any male of combat age (12 and up) killed in a strike zone (regardless if there is evidence of the person actually is a combatant).
- The New America Foundation tallies up the number ‘militant’ deaths reported by the government and compares them to numbers of civilians reported killed in the local media reports – that is if there any reported at all because local reports are far and few between and often lack detail due to the tribal areas were the strikes occur).
- After deducting the number of civilian deaths reported by local media, again if reported at all, the New America Foundation logs this number.
- The corporate media then cites the NAF as an ‘objective and independent source’ since the government can’t be quoted directly.
Clearly there is a problem with this methodology because it does quote the propagandized government reported numbers, just indirectly, and their is no ‘independent’ or ‘objective’ confirmation or validation of the government’s press release.
One example shows how the NAF echoes a BBC report claiming that 83 people killed in one drone strike were all militants in a terrorist hideout only to show how a Pakistani paper published a list of names of people killed at the school – not a militant hideout- and on that list 26 of the 83 murdered people were children under the age of 15. The Pakistani President later admitted he up for the CIA in the first place to save face for the Americans.
Using such Bergen claimed that only 9 civilians were killed during the first four years despite highly credible evidence to the contrary and when Truth Out requested comment from Bergen on such egregious discrepancies they were not acknowledged. Instead the NAF’s drone statistics were just scrubbed from the interned with no explanation and response to further inquiries to why the statistics were pulled.
The Porter Report discusses the actual data gathered and the media cover up in the video below.
The key parts of this video (full transcripts here):
PORTER: Well, the numbers—there are a lot of numbers my piece, and in order to really boil this down to the simplest terms, what I’ve done is to combine all of these strikes[...]and the total casualties which was reported by the New America Foundation as being 38 percent in these 24 strikes is in fact 70 percent.
That’s a huge difference, an 84 percent increase in the proportion of civilians in those casualties reported in these 24 strikes. So it’s really quite a major revelation. It’s a major reversal, because previously civilian casualties were being reported as a fairly—certainly much less than 50 percent, and now they’re much more than 50 percent of the casualties in this set of 24 strikes.
JAY: And in today’s, Monday’s Guardian, Glenn Greenwald writes that the U.S. is actually using what they call a sort of double tap—in other words, essentially, a second strike after the first drone strike, deliberately targeting rescuers, which one would think has to enhance or increase the possibilities of killing civilians.
PORTER: Right. And let me make it clear that the 13 strikes that I talked about having been researched by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism were all strikes which are precisely the ones that you were talking about. They’re strikes that are targeted against either mourners at funerals of victims of previous drone strikes or striking at the rescuers of people who have been either killed or wounded in previous drone strikes. So, obviously, this is a very important category of drone strikes. And what we find is that the percentage of civilians (again, in the strikes that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism researched, based on local context, eyewitnesses and others) was much higher. It was roughly twice as high as it had been reported by the New America Foundation.
Truth Out exposes the cover up in the following article and actual investigation into civilians assassinated by the drones inverts the ratio of militant to civilian casualties.:
Editors Note: “The New America Foundation (NAF) pages showing purported numbers for civilian drone casualties that are linked to and discussed in this article were previously public (see cached version). As of August 22, a few days after the publication of this article, these pages on the NAF website are no longer available. Gareth Porter has repeatedly contacted various NAF personnel and no explanation has been offered for the unavailability of previously public information. The timing, however, is suggestive.”
Detailed information from the families of those killed in drone strikes in Pakistan and from local sources on strikes that have targeted mourners and rescue workers provides credible new evidence that the majority of the deaths in the drone war in Pakistan have been civilian noncombatants – not “militants,” as the Obama administration has claimed.
The new evidence also shows that the statistical tally of casualties from drone attacks in Pakistan published on the web site of the New America Foundation (NAF) has been systematically understating the deaths of large numbers of civilians by using a methodology that methodically counts them as “militants.”
The sharply revised picture of drone casualties conveyed by the two new primary sources is further bolstered by the recent revelation that the Obama administration adopted a new practice in 2009 of automatically considering any military-age male killed in a drone strike as a “militant” unless intelligence proves otherwise.
The detailed data from the two unrelated sources covering a total 24 drone strikes from 2008 through 2011 show that civilian casualties accounted for 74 percent of the death toll, whereas the NAF tally for the same 24 strikes showed civilian casualties accounted for only 30 percent of the total.
The data on 11 drone strikes from 2008 through 2011 were collected in 2010 and 2011 from families of victims of the strikes by Pakistani lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar. Those 11 cases represent only a fraction of the total number on which Akbar has obtained data from victim’s relatives.
Although relatives of drone strike victims could have a personal interest in declaring the innocence of their relatives, the details provided by relatives in legal affidavits, such as the age, employment and other characteristics of the victims, appear in almost every case to support their claims that those killed were not actively involved with al-Qaeda or other military organizations.
The data on 13 drone strikes targeting rescuers and mourners from 2009 through 2011 were gathered by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) in a three-month investigation in late 2010 and early 2011 involving interviews with eyewitnesses and others with direct knowledge of the strikes.
The NAF Database: Origins of the Discrepancies
The NAF “Year of the Drone” project, headed by terrorism expert Peter Bergen, has been tracking casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan and estimating casualties from the strikes since 2009 based on news media reports.
A major problem with the NAF statistics on drone victims is the extraordinarily wide spread between the low and high estimates for total number of deaths from drone strikes, as well for as the total number of “militants” killed. The range in the total number killed in strikes is estimated in the NAF database at a low of 1,879 and a high of 2,887. The NAF estimates the “militant” deaths from a low of 1,586 to a high of 2,416.
[...] But the real issue is whether a very large proportion of the dead referred to by those anonymous sources giving the totals to reporters in Pakistan as “militants” were, in fact, noncombatant civilians.
The data compiled by Akbar and the BIJ strongly suggest that conclusion.
Instead of representing only 30 percent of the total casualties in those 11 strikes, as portrayed in the NAF accounting, civilian casualties actually accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total, according to the relatives’ testimony.
[...]Thus civilian casualties, which were less than a third of the “militant” casualties in the NAF accounting for the 24 drone strikes in question, are revealed to be 70 percent of the total.
The data from relatives of drone strike victims is not limited to the 11 cases cited in this article. Details on casualties may become available in the future on 39 more drone strikes.
When Akbar made the data on the first 11 cases available to Truthout in August of 2011, he offered to make the data on 15 more cases available when the process was complete. Akbar said that 25 relatives of victims had already been interviewed and signed affidavits, and that another 25 interviews were already in process. He said he believed an even larger set of interviews with victims’ families would eventually be possible.
Akbar decided later to turn over all the data he had collected from victims’ families to two academic institutions – New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Stanford University’s Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic. Neither of those institutions was willing to share the data they have obtained from Akbar with Truthout prior to publishing their own analyses of drone-strike casualties.
The Obama administration has sought to discredit Akbar, a UK-trained lawyer who has been practicing before the bar in Pakistan since 2003, ever since a Pakistani whose uncle and son had been killed in a drone strike publicly named the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Banks, at a press conference with Akbar in December 2010. Banks was forced to quickly leave the country. Akbar and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which he runs in Islamabad, initiated a lawsuit seeking $500 million in damages from Banks, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on behalf the families of victims of drone strikes.
In August 2011, administration officials attacked Akbar in interviews with Scott Shane of The New York Times as seeking to discredit the drone campaign on behalf of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. Shane wrote, however, that colleagues of Akbar in Pakistan “strongly deny” the accusation, quoting one lawyer who had worked with Akbar as saying the charge was “not credible at all.”
Bergen’s Flawed Methodology
The systematic underestimate of civilian casualties by the NAF statistical summaries is in part a result of Bergen’s methodology for estimating the number of “militant” deaths and “other” deaths – a methodology which assumes that news media reports can always be relied on to estimate the number of “militants” killed in each strike, and which also reflects an underlying political bias in favor of the drone-strike program. The consequence is the distortion of the real toll of drone strikes on civilians in the first four years of the program from 2004 through 2007.
During that period, the CIA carried out only 12 strikes, but one of them targeted a madrassa on October 30, 2006, killing as many 83. One of the press articles to which the NAF database links on that strike is a BBC story quoting the Pakistani Army spokesman as saying that the madrassa was destroyed by Pakistani air strike because of “confirmed intelligence reports” that militants were hiding in the school and that it was being used as a “terrorist training facility.”
But the same article quoted an eyewitness as saying that the dead were local students, not terrorists. Subsequently, a Pakistani newspaper, The News, published a complete list of the names and ages of the students showing that 26 of the 83 were children under the age of 15, but the NAF database account of the strike does not link to the story, even though it links to an earlier story by the same newspaper reporting the official line that “militants” were killed in the strike.
Despite the clear evidence that the victims were students, the NAF continues to list those 83 victims as “militants killed” in its statistical summary of the incident, while also estimating “others killed” as 12 to 83. Those figures were both illogical – since uncertainty would have demanded that both categories be scored 0-83, and failed to reflect the Musharraf administration’s admission to The Sunday Times a month later that the Pakistani military had lied about the strike at the time to cover for the CIA, thinking it would be “less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US” and that the “collateral damage” was such that they had requested that the Americans “not do it again.”
Six years later, the NAF “Year of the Drone” web page is still telling readers that 92 “militants” were killed during the first four years of the drone war and that the number of “others” – meaning civilians – killed was just nine. Bergen’s accounting thus ignores the highly credible evidence of a mass slaughter of innocents and gives the CIA high marks for its discrimination.
In response to the data in this story, Bergen declined to comment on the discrepancy between the NAF figures on casualties in the 24 drone strikes and the data obtained from primary sources in Pakistan. Bergen wrote in an email: “The notion that we have some ‘political’ bias to either underplay or overplay the civilian causality rate of drones [sic] strikes is plain wrong. We simply track reliable press accounts of the strikes and publish all of our data in a transparent way precisely so that anyone, including yourself, can critique our findings and where we make errors we update our site accordingly.”
He did not acknowledge, however, that egregious errors had been committed in regard to the worst single drone strike on record and in the accounting for casualties over the entire 2004-2007 period.
Bergen asserted last month that civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan had been reduced for the first time to “at or close to zero” – a claim made more famously by White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan in August 2011, who told The New York Times that, for more than a year, the United States “has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Making Civilian Casualties Vanish
The history of the CIA’s drone-strike program also undermines the credibility of the Obama administration’s claims, as well as Bergen’s methodology. It suggests that the CIA and White House have been forced to resort to a blatant deception in order to continue to claim that civilian casualties are few and far between.
From 2004 through 2007, tight restrictions had been placed on the CIA drone war in Pakistan, according to the account in David Sanger’s book, The Inheritance. The CIA was required to target al-Qaeda figures only on the basis of specific intelligence about their role and their whereabouts, and to give assurances that there would be no civilian casualties in the strike. But those restrictions were clearly violated repeatedly by the CIA during those years, as the drone campaign continued to kill mostly civilians. Figures from press accounts of the first 12 strikes over the 2004-2007 period indicate that drone strikes killed a total of 143-151 civilians, including the 83 young students killed in the single strike on the madrassa, and about 40 “militants” at most.
The only way the CIA could escape from this embarrassing situation was to get President George Bush to rescind the restrictions that the agency had systematically violated. In 2008, CIA Director Michael Hayden received permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a “pattern of life” associated with al-Qaeda or other groups, according to Sanger’s account. The strictures on civilian casualties were also removed.
Even the figures from the NAF web site show that the estimated 134 to 165 “militants” killed in drone strikes in 2008 represented less than half the estimated total of 274 to 314 deaths it counts for that year. Those statistics indicate that the majority of the victims were noncombatant civilians.
After the first strike during the Obama administration on January 23, 2009 (See Addendum below), Obama quickly learned from the CIA that, contrary to press reports, the strike had killed a number of innocent civilians, as The New York Times reported last May. As a result, the administration adopted the rule that Obama was to be informed if the agency did not have “near certainty” that a proposed strike would not cause any civilian deaths. Obama wanted to decide personally on any strike in which civilian casualties were a possibility, according to the Times.
But instead of curbing the number of strikes sharply as might have been expected, that decision resulted in the adoption by the White House of a policy of counting any military-age male killed in the strike as a combatant or “militant,” in the absence of “posthumous” intelligence proving their innocence, as several administration officials told the Times.
That policy, apparently adopted after a lengthy debate within the administration, explains why the NAF tally of drone strike deaths in 2009 shows that “militants” represented an estimated 70 percent of the dead. In 2010, the NAF estimate of the percentage of “militants” or “suspected militants” in the total killed in drone strikes in the NAF tally jumped dramatically to 96 percent, evidently reflecting the application of the new definition of “militant” for an entire year for the first time.
The NAF figures for 2011 were almost identical, with 93-96 percent of the casualties recorded as “militants.” The new policy enabled Brennan to claim in June 2011 that there had not been a “single collateral death” from drone strikes in Pakistan for more than a year, although he said two months later the government had not “found credible evidence of collateral deaths.”
The data from victims’ families and from local sources on attacks on rescuers and mourners show, however, that a large proportion of those “militants” were actually civilian noncombatants.
Source: Higgins Blog