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A "Precise" U.S. Drone War? Report Says 28 Unidentified Victims Killed for Every 1 Target

December 03, 2014
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Image Credit: reprieve.org.uk

A new report finds U.S. drone strikes kill 28 unidentified people for every intended target. While the Obama administration has claimed its drone strikes are precise, the group Reprieve found that strikes targeting 41 people in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 other, unnamed people. In its attempts to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri alone, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults; al-Zawahiri remains alive. We are joined by Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve and author of the new report, "You Never Die Twice: Multiple Kills in the U.S. Drone Program."


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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A new report finds U.S. drone strikes kill, on average, 28 unidentified people for every intended target. While the Obama administration has claimed its drone strikes are precise, the group Reprieve found that strikes targeting 41 people in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more than a thousand other, unnamed people. In its attempts to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri alone, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults. Al-Zawahiri remains alive.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us from Berlin is Jennifer Gibson, a staff attorney at Reprieve, author of the new report, "You Never Die Twice." First of all, Jennifer, why that title? And talk about your main findings.

JENNIFER GIBSON: I think the title is quite self-explanatory for us. Basically, what happened is we started noticing a pattern among the drone strikes with our investigations in Pakistan and Yemen. And the pattern was that the same high-value targets seem to die again and again and again. And so, when we started digging into it and looking at the news reporting, what we found was that in targeting 41 high-value targets, the U.S. took on average three times—it was three attempts to kill them. And actually, with seven of the individuals, they didn’t even kill them. And instead, during the multiple attempts, what you had happen was they killed over a thousand people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, how were you able to compile the data that you used in the report?

JENNIFER GIBSON: So, what we did is we—obviously, the drone program is covert. The U.S. government, despite repeated promises of transparency, has refused to discuss the program on record in any sort of detail. So, all we had to rely on were public news reports. But those public news reports are often fed by intelligence officials, either American, Pakistani or Yemeni, and it is often those officials who leak the name of the target as either being targeted or killed in the strike.

AMY GOODMAN: Your organization, Reprieve, has legal challenges against those involved with drone warfare. Can you talk about them?

JENNIFER GIBSON: Sure. We have ongoing litigation on behalf of civilian victims of drone strikes, both in the Pakistani courts and most recently here in Germany, which is where I’m at today, against the German government because of a U.S. base here called Ramstein Air Base that, leaks have shown, is integral to drone strikes in Yemen. The orders to give the strikes are coming through that base. So, we’ve brought litigation on behalf of some of the victims of that program here in German court, basically, under the Constitution, claiming the right to life is being violated.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk in particular about the repeated attempts to kill the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri? And was he repeatedly reported to have actually been hit or that just that a strike against him had been launched?

JENNIFER GIBSON: So, Ayman al-Zawahiri is quite a disturbing case because in two attempts to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, 76 children lost their lives. In total in Pakistan in attempts to target these 41 men, 142 children have lost their lives to drone strikes. In his case, he was targeted and missed on two different occasions. He’s still alive today. And there are others that are perhaps even more disturbing. You have a man by the name of al-Masri in Pakistan who was targeted three times, killed—there were 120 people killed in his place. And in the end, it wasn’t a drone strike that killed him, but he died of natural causes.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your recommendations?

JENNIFER GIBSON: You know, the administration really needs to come clean on what is happening with this program. It consistently tells the American public that this is a surgical, precise weapon, that the strikes are targeted, "Don’t worry, we’re only killing bad guys." What this data suggests is there’s nothing precise about the program at all. And in fact, we’re potentially killing hundreds in an effort—unsuccessfully in some instances—to get 41 men on a kill list who may or may not be a threat to the U.S. That, in my opinion, makes us less safe rather than more safe.

AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Gibson, we want to thank you for being with us, staff attorney at the international legal charity Reprieve, speaking to us from Berlin, Germany, as we move back now to the United States.


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