American Samizdat

Wednesday, July 18, 2012. *
Analysis: CNN expert’s civilian drone death numbers don’t add up

 The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
July 17th, 2012 | by Chris Woods Following recent revelations by the New York Times that all military-aged males in Waziristan are considered fair game by the CIA in its drone strikes, many US journalists have been reassessing how they report on deaths in the attacks. So when CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen produced a graph claiming that no civilians have been killed in Pakistan this year by US drones, his views were bound to attract criticism. Conor Friedersdorf, a columnist at The Atlantic, accused CNN and Bergen of running ‘bogus data‘, for example. Bergen is also a director of the New America Foundation, which for more than three years has run a database on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and produces estimates of numbers killed. That data is the most frequent source of statistics for the US media, including CNN itself. So the accuracy of its material is important. Yet there are credible reports of civilian deaths in Pakistan this year. And unlike the New America Foundation the Bureau actively tracks those claims. Up to July 16 for example, between three and 27 civilians have been reported killed in Pakistan this year, out of 148 – 220 deaths. Some were actively defined as civilians by news organisations including Reuters and AFP. But these are not necessarily the only civilian deaths. Ambivalent reports might sometimes refer only to ‘people’ or ‘local tribesmen’ killed. More research is needed. And of the remaining alleged militants killed, we have so far been able to name just 13 individuals.
Bergen’s claim of zero reported civilian casualties this year is therefore factually inaccurate. To be so categoric is also problematic. The Bureau’s own data shows that of at least 2,500 people killed by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004, we publicly only know the identities of around 500. Most of the others were reported to be alleged militants by local and international media. We can say no more than that. It is not just in NAF’s 2012 data that credible reports of civilian deaths have been missed or ignored. NAF’s Pakistan data also contains many other inaccuracies. A number of confirmed strikes are omitted, for instance, and its overall estimates of those killed are significantly below even the CIA’s own count. The consequence is a skewed picture of drone activity which continues to inform many opinion-makers. Subjective choices On July 13 Peter Bergen responded to his recent critics in a CNN article which stated that reported civilian casualties in Pakistan are in decline – as the Bureau itself recently noted. He also repeated his claim of no civilian casualties in Pakistan this year. And he attacked the Bureau for its own recording work in this area: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s high estimate of 24 civilian deaths in 2012 came in part from reports provided by an unreliable Pakistani news outlet as well as the claims of a local Taliban commander, which contradicted all other reports. It’s worth unpicking Bergen’s claims in some detail. His comments appear to refer to a CIA drone strike on February 9 in which local Taliban commander Badar Mansoor died. Citing just four sources, NAF’s data reports only that three to five ‘militants’, including Mansoor, died in the attack. But this is a misrepresentation which ignores credible claims of civilian casualties, as the Bureau’s own Pakistan database makes clear...

New and Improved Rules for Drone Warfare

Good news for people who love freedom, hate terrorism, and people who do not live in Yemen and will never visit Yemen and do not appear to be from Yemen or its surrounding areas: the U.S. government is relaxing its rules for drone strikes in Yemen. When it comes to incinerating more or less inscrutable targets with unseen missile attacks like Zeus himself, why be encumbered by a bunch of bureaucratic rules? The new policy reportedly "includes targeting fighters whose names aren't known but who are deemed to be high-value terrorism targets or threats to the U.S." No more pesky hours of intelligence-gathering before you can vaporize that jeep from above. But do these rules go far enough in eliminating those who Hate Our Freedoms and Familes and Children, and Our Children and Families' Freedoms™? We think not. A few common sense edits for the future of warfare: * If someone is carrying a machine gun, RPG, or shoulder-fired missile that looks like an imminent threat to any Coalition soldiers, whether from the Western world or from the Muslim world, they may be killed. * If someone in an area known for militant activity appears to be transporting cargo with brown and grey markings consistent with databases of the graphic skin that covers the outside of missiles or rockets and moves with an intent to set up and fire those armaments at Coalition forces, they may be blown up. * If someone is determined through confirmed intelligence of a reliable nature to be forming a terrorist group with the intent and capability of causing mass casualties in America or in any territory of an American ally in the Middle East, and they cannot be apprehended without significant risk of loss of civilian life, they may be kabazongaed to bababooey with a fucking Hellfire, bro. A little common sense goes a long way.
Just Trust Us, Say Manufacturers of Killer Robots

People have been making a fuss about the domestic use of drones recently. Now the drone industry has come up with a 'code of conduct' to ensure the public's safety and privacy. [Evil robot laugh drifts through the air.] Huh? What was that? The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which represents thousands of drone manufacturers all over the world released the document yesterday. It includes a pledge that the industry will ‘‘respect the privacy of individuals," along with guidelines like "We will be responsive to the needs of the public," and "we will not operate [drones] in a manner that presents undue risk to persons or property on the surface or the air."* "We understand as an industry that we've got a public relations problem," one association member told the Associated Press. That's nice and all, but it's not going to go far toward convincing a skeptical public, which largely believes we are hurtling toward a dystopian future where drones are omnipresent in American skies, beaming live surveillance film of citizens' every move to a shadowy Director, who stitches the best bits into a reality show to entertain Chinese real estate tycoons. A much more savvy public relations move by the drone industry would be to show the vulnerable, human side of drones. Have drones star in a series of viral YouTube videos where they're caught in hilarious awkward situations—you know, mysteriously crashing, being hijacked by hackers. *Offer not valid in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen...
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