A Step Towards Casualty Recording in US Drone Strikes

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According to this story President Obama is expected to release an official number for civilians killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Africa.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this glass is half full but it is better than nothing if you’re really thirsty.

What are the shortcomings of the predicted announcement?

  1.  The number is said to exclude killings in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and I can’t think of any principled reason to include some countries but not others.
  2. It appears the the US will just release a number (actually probably a range of possible numbers) rather than providing specific details about particular attacks and individuals killed.

This second shortcoming will render it impossible to make meaningful comparisons between this new information release and the data of civil society organizations doing proper casualty recording for drone attacks.  My favourite such group is Airwars which transparently lists details about and the sources documenting each attack in their database.

Of course, Airwars is not perfect.  They surely don’t have an exhaustive list of all attacks that have killed civilians and some incidents in their database probably contain flawed information.  So I am certain that Airwars would love to triangulate their data against official US data.  But triangulation is only possible against detailed data, not against vague claims that X number of civilians were killed in who knows how many incidents that happened someplace or other.

Nevertheless, it will be refreshing for the US to formally accept some responsibility for killing civilians in drone attacks.

Releasing some information on these killings is preferable to the UK’s “trust us we’re British” approach which, somehow, has become even less persuasive than it was prior to the Brexit vote which seems to boil down to a declaration by the millions of English and Welsh people that they don’t like foreigners.

I’ll report back if/when this data release actually happens.


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