Chris Woods, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. He leads the Bureau’s drones investigation team.
At least 27 people have been killed in three consecutive days of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan, part of a new wave of attacks over the past two weeks. The surge in drone strikes comes just a week after the New York Times revealed that President Obama personally oversees a "secret kill list" containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. We go to London to speak with Chris Woods, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, who heads the Bureau’s drones investigation team. Under the Obama administration’s rules, "any adult male killed in effectively a defined kill zone is a terrorist, unless posthumously proven otherwise," Woods says. "We think this goes a long way to explaining the gulf between our reporting of civilian casualties in Pakistan and Yemen and the reporting of credible international news organizations, and the CIA’s repeated claims that it isn’t killing [civilians], or rather, is killing small numbers. ... If you keep assuring yourself that you’re not killing civilians, by a sleight of hand, effectively, by a redrafting of the term of 'civilian,' than that starts to influence the policy and to encourage you to carry out more drone strikes." Woods adds that the latest attacks "indicate not just a significant rise in the number of CIA strikes in Pakistan, but an aggression for those strikes that we really haven’t seen for over a year." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: At least 27 people have been killed in three consecutive days of U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan. More than half of the victims, more than half of them—15 people—were killed Monday when U.S. missiles hit a village in North Waziristan. The attacks bring to at least seven the number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan over the past two weeks. U.S. and Pakistani officials say militants were targeted, but it’s unclear if any civilians were killed. Monday’s strike targeted al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, but officials have been unable to confirm whether he was among those hit. Pakistani officials condemned the attacks, with the foreign ministry saying—describing the drone strikes as, quote, "illegal attacks" on Pakistani sovereignty.
The surge in drone strikes comes just a week after the New York Times revealed President Obama personally oversees a "secret kill list" containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. ABC’s Jake Tapper and White House spokesperson Jay Carney had an exchange about the so-called "kill list" following the publication of the New York Times exposé.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: You know, you have a unique situation in Wisconsin where, you know, the event—the election is a result of a recall petition, but the president absolutely stands by Tom Barrett and, you know, hopes he prevails.
AMY GOODMAN: White House spokesperson Jay Carney responding to questions from ABC’s Jake Tapper. Well, to find out more about the implications of the increase in drone attacks, we go to London to talk to Chris Woods, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. He leads the Bureau’s drones investigation team.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Chris. Can you tell us what’s been happening in Pakistan, what you understand?
CHRIS WOODS: The last two weeks, as you mentioned, Amy, has seen a really significant rise in the number of U.S. drone strikes taking place in Pakistan. We have that number at eight, I think, since May 24th. That compares to 16 strikes in the entire period from January through May, so it gives you an idea of how rapidly those drone strikes have again escalated inside Pakistan. Most of those strikes appear to have been targeting not al-Qaeda, but groups allied to the Afghan Taliban fighting the insurgency across the border. A number of those strikes have targeted infrastructure that is, shall we say, unusual. We saw a mosque hit a couple of days ago. That was widely reported. On Sunday, funeral prayers for a victim of a previous drone strike were attacked by U.S. drones. And there have been two reports—we’re trying to get more information on these—of possible strikes on rescuers attending the scene of previous CIA attacks. As I say, that’s something we’re still trying to confirm. But it does indicate not just a significant rise in the number of CIA strikes in Pakistan, but an aggression for those strikes that we really haven’t seen for over a year.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the correct SOT, the correct clip of ABC’s Jake Tapper questioning White House spokesperson Jay Carney, Jay Carney responding to his questions after the New York Times revealed the so-called "kill list."
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I don’t have the assessments of civilian casualties. I’m certainly not saying that we live in a world where the effort in a fight against al-Qaeda, against people who would, without compunction, murder tens of thousands, if not millions, of innocents—
JAKE TAPPER: No, no, I’m talking about the innocent people that the United States kills.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: No, no, no. No, but let me say—
JAKE TAPPER: With the assumption that if you are with a terrorist when a terrorist gets killed, the presumption is that you are a terrorist, as well, and even if we don’t even know who you are, right? Isn’t that part of the reason you’re able to make these assertions?
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I don’t—I am not going to get into the specifics of the process by which, you know, these decisions are made.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Woods, your response?
CHRIS WOODS: I think Jake raised a really important point at that White House press briefing. The New York Times has made clear that the U.S. seems to be following a policy where all adult males in Waziristan would appear to be fair game. Now, they’ve indicated through that article and through other means that so-called terrorists who are being killed in CIA signature strikes can posthumously be reclassified as civilians. We’re not even seeing evidence of that. Almost a year ago, the Bureau presented to the CIA the names of 45 civilians we were sure that they had killed in Pakistan over the previous year. To my knowledge, they’ve never acted on that information and continue to assert that all of those people that they’ve killed were civilians. And in fact, in that New York Times piece last week, I think U.S. officials are still claiming that the number of civilians that have died in Pakistan during President Obama’s time in office is in the single digits, is under 10. Now, it’s our understanding that perhaps 200 civilians have died in Pakistan, including at least 60 children. So the gulf between the media’s understanding and researchers’ understanding of what’s taking place in Pakistan and what the CIA and the White House continue to claim is actually growing bigger, not smaller.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the difference in reaction in Britain and the United States? I mean, was this big headlines, what has come out in the United States? It’s not really known very much in the—among the general population, but it was a big story in the New York Times about the kill list.
CHRIS WOODS: The kill list got really heavy coverage here. And I think what’s interesting is that it’s not a classic left-right issue. Right-wing newspapers, left-wing newspapers have all expressed significant concern about the existence of the kill list, the idea of this level of executive power. And I think also questions are starting to be asked here now, because the U.K. is a partner with the U.S. in its drones program. U.K. drones pilots sit alongside U.S. pilots and navigators at Creech in Nevada.
And I think some here are now saying, "Well, have the British adopted this definition of 'civilian'?" The U.K. has claimed very low numbers of civilians killed in its conventional drone strikes in Afghanistan. And I think that is something that we want to start looking at here in the U.K. Has this creeping redefinition of "civilian" crept [inaudible] into major operations outside of Pakistan and Yemen? And I think that’s something we’re going to be taking a good look at in the next few weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: Appearing on MSNBC over the weekend, Democracy Now! correspondent, The Nation’s national security correspondent, Jeremy Scahill, caused a stir when he said drone strikes that kill innocent civilians amount "murder." This is where Jeremy explains why. Another guest, Colonel Jack Jacobs, briefly interrupts him.
JEREMY SCAHILL: If someone goes into a shopping mall in pursuit of one of their enemies and opens fire on a crowd of people and guns down a bunch of innocent people in a shopping mall, they’ve murdered those people. When the Obama administration sets a policy where patterns of life are enough of a green light to drop missiles on people or to use—you know, to send in AC-130s to spray them down—
COL. JACK JACOBS: But that wasn’t the case here. You’re talking about a targeted person here.
JEREMY SCAHILL: No, no, no, no, no. That’s not—if you go to the village of al-Majalah in Yemen, where I was, and you see the unexploded cluster bombs, and you have the list and photographic evidence, as I do, of the women and children that represented the vast majority of the deaths in this first strike that Obama authorized on Yemen, those people were murdered by President Obama, on his orders, because there was believed to be someone from al-Qaeda in that area. There’s only one person that’s been identified that had any connection to al-Qaeda there, and 21 women and 14 children were killed in that strike. And the U.S. tried to cover it up and say it was a Yemeni strike. And we know from the WikiLeaks cables that David Petraeus conspired with the president of Yemen to lie to the world about who did that bombing. It’s murder, when you—it’s mass murder, when you say, "We are going to bomb this area because we believe a terrorist is there," and you know that women and children are in the area. The United States has an obligation to not bomb that area if they believe that women and children are there. That—I’m sorry, that’s murder.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jeremy Scahill on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes. Chris Woods, your response? Would you call it murder?
CHRIS WOODS: I think Jeremy’s strong words indicate a really—a rising concern, particularly about these signature strikes being carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon in Somalia, in Yemen and in Pakistan. And it’s not just Jeremy who’s speaking out about this. We’ve had Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, who introduced drone strikes; Robert Grenier, former head of the Counterterrorism Center at CIA when the drone strikes began; and Dennis Blair, who is the former director of national intelligence for the United States. All three of these very central characters have all made strong noises in the last few weeks, saying, "We are concerned about this policy. We’re worried that it’s getting out of control. We’re worried that it’s not achieving what it’s supposed to be doing and may actually be making matters worse."
And I think the Washington Post, just last week, very powerful article built on investigations on the ground by their African editor showing that drone strikes in Yemen are actually leading to an increase in support of al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, everybody at the White House and the CIA seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet here. There is no voice of criticism that we’re aware of challenging this narrative that’s driving events in Washington. And the concern is that this is pushing America into a position that is going to make its efforts to fight terrorism worse rather than better.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Woods, can you talk more about the redefinition of "civilians" outlined in the New York Times piece, President Obama embracing this disputed measure of counting civilian casualties, in effect counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants?
CHRIS WOODS: This revelation really is extraordinary, that any adult male killed in effectively a defined kill zone is a terrorist, unless posthumously proven otherwise. We think this goes a long way to explaining the gulf between our reporting of civilian casualties in Pakistan and Yemen and the reporting of credible international news organizations, and the CIA’s repeated claims that it isn’t killing anyone, or rather, is killing small numbers.
There’s still a big issue now, though. In Pakistan, we believe 175 children have been killed by the CIA since 2004. We’ve named most of those children. Now, clearly, they fall completely outside this definition of an adult male in a combat zone, and yet the CIA is still saying it’s killed 50 or maybe 60 civilians across the entire period. Many women, too, have died, and we’ve reported on that and, where possible, tried to report the names. So, this suggestion that the definition of "civilian" has been really radically tightened up, I still don’t think is explaining why the CIA is not classifying people who are clearly civilians as such.
And I think it has profound implications in terms of U.S. policy, because if you keep assuring yourself that you’re not killing civilians, by a sleight of hand, effectively, by a redrafting of the term of "civilian," then that starts to influence the policy and to encourage you to carry out more drone strikes. You might be getting tactical advantage from that, but strategically, whether this is in the long-term interests of the United States, when you have the people of Pakistan and Yemen expressing significant anger and concern about U.S. policy, I think that’s a critical point.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Woods, I want to thank you for being with us, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, leading the Bureau’s drones investigation team. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
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