Evidence suggests civilian drone deaths far higher than official figures

Gareth Porter reports on the mismatch between the widely-cited statistics on drone casualties reported by the New America Foundation, and those reports from eye-witness accounts by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and family statements signed under affadivit.

Combining the data on the two sets of drone strikes, the original estimate for “militant” deaths in the NAF accounting was a range of 143 to 231, but the figure based on actual local testimony is 104 to 146 – a 60 percent decrease. The figures for civilian deaths, on the other hand, increases by 66 percent, from the range of 52 to 71, based on the NAF tally, to an adjusted range of 164 to 193.

This discrepancy is compounded by the way the White House classifies ‘militants’. In January 2009 Obama ruled that unless the CIA had ‘near certainty’ a civilian would not be harmed in a drone strike the agency must inform him.

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.

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