living under dronesThe central justification for US drone strikes is that they are necessary to make the US “safer” by disrupting militant activity. Proponents argue that they are an effective, accurate, and precise tool to that end. However, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and efficacy of strikes, and the publicly available evidence that they have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. Considerable costs also have been documented. The under-accounted-for harm to civilians–injuries, killings, and broad impacts on daily life, education, and mental health–was analyzed in detail and must be factored as a severe cost of the US program.[1] In addition, it is clear that US strikes in Pakistan foster anti-American sentiment and undermine US credibility not only in Pakistan but throughout the region.

There is strong evidence to suggest that US drone strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivate attacks against both US military and civilian targets. Further, current US targeted killing and drone strike practices may set dangerous global legal precedents, erode the rule of law, and facilitate recourse to lethal force.

A significant rethinking of current policies, in light of all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and short and long-term costs and benefits, is long overdue.

Drone Strike Accuracy and Effectiveness in Hampering Armed Violence

The US government and advocates for US targeted killing policies put much emphasis on the precision of drone strikes, and their effectiveness in combating “terrorism” and making the US safer by hampering the operational capacity of militants. Indeed, as Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland have argued, “CIA drone attacks in Pakistan have undoubtedly hindered some of the Taliban’s operations, killed hundreds of their low-level fighters, and a number of their top commanders.”[2] The “terrorizing presence” of drones overhead has also reportedly disrupted the ability of armed non-state actors to gather and organize within Waziristan.[3]

First, concerns have been raised about the technical accuracy of strikes.[5] More significantly, however, is the fact that the accuracy of a drone strike fundamentally hinges on the accuracy of the intelligence on which the targeting is premised. That intelligence has often been questioned. An anonymous US official cited by Tom Junod in his August 2012 Esquire article admitted that “you get information from intelligence channels and you don’t know how reliable it is or who the source was. The intelligence services have criteria, but most of the time the people making the decision have no idea what those criteria are.”[6]

Targeting decisions appear to be based on information obtained from assets and informants on the ground, signals intelligence, and aerial drone surveillance.[7] As Jane Mayer notes, “the precise video footage makes it much easier to identify targets. But the strikes are only as accurate as the intelligence that goes into them.”[8] Bob Woodward explains in Obama’s Wars, “without the local informants…there would not be good signals intelligence so that the drones know where to target.”[9]

Public information about the US experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in the context of rendition and the Guantanamo detentions, creates cause for concern about the reliability of the intelligence that informs lethal targeting decisions. In April 2011, for example, US forces used a predator drone to fire upon and kill two American soldiers in Afghanistan who had apparently been mistaken for Taliban fighters.[10] In September 2010, US special forces bombed the convoy of Zabet Amanullah, a candidate in parliamentary elections, killing him along with nine fellow election workers; US forces reportedly mistakenly believed Amanullah to be a member of the Taliban.[11] In both Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been documented cases of opportunistic informants providing false tips to settle scores, advance sectarian or political agendas, or to obtain financial reward.[12]

For example, in Guantanamo, a reported 86 percent of those imprisoned were turned over to coalition forces in response to a bounty offered by the US.[13] Pakistani and Afghan villagers reported the bounty amount was “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life.”[14] For several years, the US government regularly referred to Guantanamo detainees as “the worst of the worst.”[15] Classified as “enemy combatants,” prisoners remained in US custody for significant periods of time, often years, and often without being charged. Yet of the 779 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, 603 have now been released.[16] According to the US government itself, 92% of prisoners in the facility were never Al Qaeda fighters.[17]

What does this mean in the targeted killing context? Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve articulates the implications:

Just as with Guantanamo Bay, the CIA is paying bounties to those who will identify “terrorists.” Five thousand dollars is an enormous sum for a Waziri informant, translating to perhaps £250,000 in London terms. The informant has a calculation to make: is it safer to place a GPS tag on the car of a truly dangerous terrorist, or to call down death on a Nobody (with the beginnings of a beard), reporting that he is a militant? Too many “militants” are just young men with stubble.[18]

Tom Junod has similarly argued:

The US invaded Iraq on the pretext of evidence that was fallacious, if not dishonest. The US detained the “worst of the worst” in Guantánamo for years before releasing six hundred of them, uncharged, which amounts to the admission of a terrible mistake. The Lethal Presidency is making decisions to kill based on intelligence from the same sources. These decisions are final, and no one will ever be let go. Six hundred men. What if they had never been detained? What if, under the precepts of the Lethal Presidency, they had simply been killed?[19]

drone-aftermath-in-pakistanThe trend of the US claiming to have targeted or killed the same high-value target multiple times also serves to undermine assertions about the accuracy of US intelligence. For example, although proclaimed dead in January 2009[20] and again in September 2009,[21] Ilyas Kashmiri, the alleged head of Al Qaeda’s paramilitary operations in Pakistan, gave an interview to a Pakistani journalist in October that same year.[22] Our research team spoke with a survivor of the September 2009 strike in which Kashmiri was initially reported to have died.  That survivor, Sadaullah Wazir, who was 15 years old or younger at the time of the strike, lost both his legs and an eye in the strike.[23] Kashmiri was again proclaimed dead in June 2011,[24] but even this account has been contested.[25] Similarly, Abu Yahya Al-Libi, declared to be Al Qaeda’s #2 or #3, was thought killed in a December 2009 drone strike,[26] only to be reportedly killed more than three years later in June 2012.[27] Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone has also traced the multiple US attempts to strike the TTP’s former leader Baitullah Mehsud:

A year earlier, a drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, while he was visiting his father-in-law; his wife was vaporized along with him. But the US had already tried four times to assassinate Mehsud with drones, killing dozens of civilians in the failed attempts. One of the missed strikes, according to a human rights group, killed 35 people, including nine civilians, with reports that flying shrapnel killed an eight-year-old boy while he was sleeping. Another blown strike, in June 2009, took out 45 civilians, according to credible press reports.[28]

attack dronesSecond, the vast majority of the ‘militants’ targeted have been low-level insurgents, killed in circumstances where there is little or no public evidence that they had the means or access to pose a serious threat to the US. In 2011, a White House evaluative report on drone strikes, in fact, found that the CIA was “primarily killing low-level militants in its drone strikes.”[29] Journalist Adam Entous reached a similar conclusion in a May 2010 Reuters piece: based on conversations with unnamed US officials, he noted that only 14 top-tier leaders of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other militant groups and two dozen high-to-mid-level leaders had been killed, with the remaining “90 percent by some measure” of those militant deaths consisting of “lower-level fighters.”[30] In September 2012, Peter Bergen and Megan Braun, reporting New American Foundation data, stated that since 2004, 49 “militant leaders” had been killed in strikes (accounting for 2% of all drone killings); the rest were largely “low-level combatants.”[31]

Strikes that kill low-level fighters are of dubious value to US security interests. This is particularly true in light of revelations that the US counts all killed adult males as “combatants,” absent exonerating evidence.[32] In other words, claims that drones have killed hundreds of low-level fighters may well mask the deaths of civilians.

Third, analysts have raised questions about the effectiveness of “decapitation” strategies (the targeted killing or capture of an organization’s high-level leaders and mobilizers in order to incapacitate the entire group). As RAND analyst Bruce Hoffman observed in 2004, Al Qaeda is a “nimble, flexible and adaptive entity.”[33] The frequency with which the US claims to have killed the number two of the various militant groups operating in North Waziristan attests to how readily leaders have been replaced. Indeed, former director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair noted in explaining the ineffectiveness of drones, “[Al] Qaeda officials who are killed by drones will be replaced. The group’s structure will survive and it will still be able to inspire, finance and train individuals and teams to kill Americans.”[34]

Fourth, while the drone program may have inhibited militant organizing in certain areas, it may have also effected a shift in the location of militant organizing activity. Douglas Lute, Obama’s former Special Assistant and Senior Coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, stated, “I don’t think anybody believes that we’ll have much more than a disruption effect on Al Qaeda . . . and its associates.”[35] With drone strikes focused on Waziristan, some Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have moved to other parts of Pakistan, where they have reportedly continued to operate. Osama bin Laden was found hiding in Abbottabad; 9/11 architect Khaled Sheikh Muhammad was captured in Rawalpindi;[36] suspected militant Abu Zubaydah was apprehended in Faisalabad;[37] and Mullah Omar has been widely rumored to be in Karachi.[38] anti-drone-protests-pakistan-story-topUS Drone Strike Policies Foment Anti-American Sentiment and May Aid Recruitment to Armed Non-State Actors

Admiral Mike Mullen has observed,

Each time an errant bomb or a bomb accurately aimed but against the wrong target kills or hurts civilians, we risk setting out strategy back months, if not years. Despite the fact that the Taliban kill and maim far more than we do, civilian casualty incidents such as those we’ve recently seen in Afghanistan will hurt us more in the long run than any tactical success we may achieve against the enemy.[39]

It is clear from polling and our research team’s interviews that drone strikes breed resentment and discontent toward the US, and there is evidence to suggest that the strikes have aided militant recruitment and motivated terrorist activity.

US drone strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. A 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude project found that only 17% of Pakistanis supported drone strikes. And remarkably, among those who professed to know a lot or a little about drones, 97% considered drone strikes bad policy.[40] As numerous analysts have noted, “[i]f the price of the drone campaign that increasingly kills only low-level Taliban is alienating 180 million Pakistanis–that is too high a price to pay.”[41]

The Waziris interviewed for this report almost uniformly reported having neutral or in some instances positive views of the US before the advent of the drone campaign. One 18-year-old, for example, admitted, “[f]rankly speaking, before the drone attacks, I didn’t know anything about a country called America. I didn’t know where it was or its role in international affairs.”[42] But the strikes now foster the development of strongly negative views toward the US. Another interviewee explained: “Before the drone attacks, we didn’t know [anything] about America. Now everybody has come to understand and know about America . . . . Almost all people hate America.”[43] Noor Khan, whose father, Daud Khan, a respected community leader, was killed when a drone struck the March 17, 2011 jirga over which he presided, remarked that “America on one hand claims that it wants to bring peace to the world and it wants to bring education. But look at them, what they are doing?”[44] One man, who has lost relatives in drone strikes, expressed his deep-seated anger toward the US, declaring that “we won’t forget our blood, for two hundred, two thousand, five thousand years—we will take our revenge for these drone attacks.”[45] A Waziri who lost his younger brother in a strike stated that there would be revenge: “Blood for blood. . . . All I want to say to them is . . . why are you killing innocent people like us that have no concern with you?”[46]

A teenage victim of a drone strike commented: “America is 15,000 kilometers away from us; God knows what they want from us. We are not rich . . . . We don’t have as much food as they do. God knows what they want from us.”[47] Unable to find any other explanation for why US strikes have struck innocent people in their community, some Waziris believe that the US actively seeks to kill them simply for being Muslims, viewing the drone campaign as a part of a religious crusade against Islam.[48]

Recognizing the danger posed by a campaign that breeds such hostility, more than two dozen US congressmen penned a letter to President Obama in June 2012 that described drones as “faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that targeted communities have.”[49]

Many of the journalists, NGO and humanitarian workers, medical professionals, and Pakistani governmental officials with whom we spoke expressed their belief that, on balance, drone strikes likely increase terrorism. Syed Akhunzada Chittan, for example, a parliamentarian from North Waziristan, expressed his conviction that “for every militant killed,” many more are born.[50] In another interview, a Pakistani professional told us that a professional school classmate had joined the Taliban after a drone strike killed a friend of his.[51] Noor Behram is a Waziri-based journalist who has spent years photographing and interviewing victims of drone strikes. Having personally witnessed the immediate aftermath of numerous strikes, he relates: “When people are out there picking up body parts after a drone strike, it would be very easy to convince those people to fight against America.”[52]

Numerous policy analysts, officials, and independent observers have come to similar conclusions. David Kilcullen, a former advisor to US General David Petraeus, has stated that, “every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.”[53] Der Spiegel has also reported that in Pakistan “militants profit in a gruesome way from the drone missions. After each attack in which innocent civilians die, they win over some of the relatives as supporters—with a few even volunteering for suicide attacks.”[54] As a May 2012 New York Times article succinctly put it, “[d]rones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”[55] Pakistani Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a recent interview that the drone program “radicalizes foot soldiers, tribes, and entire villages in our region,” and that “[w]e honestly feel that there are better ways now of eliminating Al Qaeda.”[56] It is also important to note that similar counter-productive effects have been noted in Yemen.[57]

While quantitative data is limited, one study, in June 2012 by the Middle East Policy Council, identified a correlation between drone strikes and terrorist attacks in the years 2004-2009. That study found it “probable that drone strikes provide motivation for retaliation, and that there is a substantive relationship between the increasing number of drone strikes and the increasing number of retaliation attacks.”[58] A July 2010 study by the New America Foundation revealed that almost six in ten residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) now believe that suicide attacks are often or sometimes justified against the US military,[59] although a July 2012 journalistic assessment by Bergen and Rowland suggests that drone strikes may have contributed to reduced suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2010-2011.[60]

US-Drone-attacks-on-PakistanIndeed, US drone strikes have been explicitly referred to as a motive for a number of specific planned or implemented terrorist attacks. For instance, a suicide bomber who targeted a CIA compound in Khost, Afghanistan identified drones as his motivation, announcing that “[t]his [suicide] attack will be the first of the revenge operations against the Americans and their drone teams outside the Pakistani borders.”[61] Faisal Shahzad, who allegedly attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, viewed his planned attack as retaliation for several US policies, including drone strikes.[62] In addition, Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan who allegedly plotted to attack New York’s subway system was “in part, motivated by drone strikes in [his] ancestral homeland[].”[63] Similarly, a group responsible for the bombing of a Pakistani police academy in early 2009 cited the collaboration of Pakistani authorities with the US drone campaign.[64] It is also clear that some US officials themselves consider that drone strikes may influence the likelihood of terrorist activity in the US. A June 2012 deposition suggests, at least, that the New York City Police Department has monitored conversations involving individuals from “countries of concern”[65] following and about drone strikes,[66] to “find those people that were radicalized towards violence.”[67]

Those we interviewed in Pakistan emphasized their belief that enmity toward the US stems largely from particular US rights-violating post-9/11 policies, and could be reversed if the US changed course. Many expressed hope for reconciliation with the US, for good relations with the American people, and aspirations for a peaceful future. A victim of the March 17, 2011 jirga strike, for example, stated: “We don’t have any revenge or anything else to take from America if they stop the drone attacks.”[68] Many interviewees repeatedly implored our research team to ask the US government to stop or fundamentally change drone strike policies,[69] and instead assist their communities through, for example, investments in health and education infrastructure.[70]

Drones Undermine US Credibility in Pakistan and Throughout the Region

Despite the vast foreign aid the US has invested in Pakistan, a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude project found that 74% of Pakistanis consider the US an enemy, up from 64% three years ago.[71] Only 45% of Pakistanis felt it important to improve relations with the US, down from 60% the previous year, and fewer support cooperation or even receiving aid from the US.[72]

The growing unpopularity of the US in Pakistan weakens the countries’ bilateral relationship, makes it more difficult for Pakistani political leaders to work collaboratively with the US, and risks undermining Pakistani democracy and development. The deterioration of the Pakistani-US bilateral relationship may also place US security at risk.

Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence, described how unilateral American drone attacks in Pakistan are eroding US “influence and damaging our ability to work with Pakistan to achieve other important security objectives like eliminating Taliban sanctuaries, encouraging Indian-Pakistani dialogue, and making Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal more secure.”[73] Cameron Munter, who announced his early resignation as US Ambassador to Pakistan in May 2012,[74] reportedly revealed to colleagues that he “didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.”[75] In previous interviews, he criticized the US use of drones, arguing that the attacks need to be more “judicious.”[76] Although Secretary of State Hilary Clinton strongly supports drone strikes, she reportedly also has “complained to colleagues about the drones-only approach at Situation Room meetings.”[77] The New York Times reported in May 2012, “some officials felt the urgency of counterterrorism strikes was crowding out consideration of a broader strategy against radicalization.”[78]

The focus on drones also risks undermining Pakistan’s development by incentivizing undemocratic decision-making and fostering instability. In 2009, Anne Patterson, US Ambassador to Pakistan, discussed the risks of the US drone strategy in a cable sent to the Department of State. She noted, “Increased unilateral operations in these areas risk destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis within Pakistan without finally achieving the goal [of eliminating the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership].”[79] Pakistan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Wajid Shamsul Hasan told The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ):

What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is, that you have rather directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government–when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.[80]

The US strikes have also contributed to the delegitimization of NGOs that are perceived as Western, or that receive US aid, including those providing much-needed services, such as access to water and education, and those administering the polio vaccine; this perception has been exploited by Taliban forces.[81]

The significant global opposition to drone strikes also erodes US credibility in the international community. In 17 of the 20 countries polled by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the majority of those surveyed disapproved of US drone attacks in countries like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.[82] Widespread opposition spans the globe, from traditional European allies such as France (63% disapproval) and Germany (59% disapproval) to key Middle East states such as Egypt (89% disapproval) and Turkey (81% disapproval).[83] As with other unpopular American foreign policy engagements, including the invasion of Iraq and the practice of torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, drone strikes weaken the standing of the US in the world, straining its relationships with allies, and making it more difficult for it to build multilateral alliances to tackle pressing global challenges.

US Targeted Killing and Drone Strike Practices May Establish Dangerous Precedents and Undermine the Rule of Law and US Democracy

The practices employed, and legal frameworks articulated, by the US today may set dangerous precedents for future engagements, including for other countries and armed non-state actors. We are in the midst of a significant period of drone proliferation, pushed forward on the one hand by governments and militaries, and on the other, by manufacturers seeking to expand markets and profit. Unchecked armed drone proliferation poses a threat to global stability, and, as more countries and non-state actors obtain access to the technology, the risk of US-style practices of cross-border targeted killing spreading are clear.

According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), “at least 76 countries” have acquired UAVs,[84] including China, Pakistan, Russia, and India.[85] China alone has 25 types of systems currently in development; [86] Iran, whose arsenal includes the “Ambassador of Death,”[87] is developing a drone with a range of more than 600 miles.[88] Recently, in an unconfirmed report, it was alleged that Israel used a drone to strike and kill in the territory of Egypt.[89] Reportedly, Iran has supplied the Assad regime with drones, which it has apparently already employed to conduct surveillance on the opposition.[90] Non-state organizations like Hezbollah have also entered the fray, reportedly deploying an Iranian-designed drone;[91] the Free Syria Army also reportedly recently built a small armed drone.[92] The GAO recently warned that “[t]he United States likely faces increasing risks as additional countries of concern and terrorist organizations acquire UAV technology.”[93] As Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution has observed:

I think of where the airplane was at the start of World War I: at first it was unarmed and limited to a handful of countries….Then it was armed and everywhere. That is the path we’re on.[94]

Drone manufacturers are heavily pushing their products internationally and into new markets,[95] and global spending on drones is expected to total more than $94 billion over the next decade.[96] Indeed, there “is not a single new manned combat aircraft under research and development at any major Western aerospace company, and the Air Force is training more operators of unmanned aerial systems than fighter and bomber pilots combined.”[97]

US manufacturers’ exports of drones have been limited to date because of export controls; however, significant pressure has been brought to bear on Congress, particularly by drone manufacturers, to loosen the export regime.[98] In September 2012, it was reported that the Pentagon had given approval for drone exports to 66 countries.[99] Representative Howard Berman (D- Los Angeles), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently announced that his committee would soon review drone sales, declaring that “it’s crazy for us to shut off sales in this area while other countries push ahead.”[100] The Wall Street Journal reported in July 2012 that the US plans to provide Kenya with eight hand-launched Raven drones, which, while currently unarmed, have sensors for pinpointing targets.[101] The drones are part of a military assistance package aimed at helping African partners combat Al Qaeda and al Shabaab ‘militants’ in Somalia.[102]

Executive Director of the Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball describes how “[t]he proliferation of this technology will mark a major shift in the way wars are waged,” warning that “[w]e need to be very careful about who gets this technology. It could come back to hurt us.”[103] John Brennan himself acknowledged that the US is “establishing precedent that other nations may follow.”[104]

The ways in which the US has used drones in the context of its targeted killing policies has facilitated an undermining of the constraints of democratic accountability, and rendered resort to lethal force easier and more attractive to policymakers. The decision to use military force must be subject to rigorous checks-and-balances; drones, however, have facilitated the use of killing as a convenient option that avoids the potential political fallout from US casualties and the challenges posed by detention. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated: “[The Obama administration’s] policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets. They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing.”[105]

While drone warfare represents but the newest chapter in ever-increasing military technological sophistication, “the distance between killer and killed, the asymmetry, the prospect of automation and, most of all, the minimization of pilot risk and political risk” render current practices particularly problematic.[106] As the technology develops, and as drones become increasingly autonomous, these concerns will likely continue to magnify.[107]

A combat veteran of Iraq explained why drones may alter the calculus of warfare: “there’s something important about putting your own sons and daughters at risk when you choose to wage war as a nation. We risk losing that flesh-and-blood investment if we go too far down this road.”[108] A 2011 British Defense Ministry study of drones raises these challenging questions:

If we remove the risk of loss from the decision-makers’ calculations when considering crisis management options, do we make the use of armed force more attractive? Will decision-makers resort to war as a policy option far sooner than previously?[109]

Peter Singer insightfully describes how these questions also affect democratic accountability: “when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter—and the impact the military casualties have on voters and on the news media—they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way…. [drones are] short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make.”[110] Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone concludes that the “immediacy and secrecy of drones makes it easier than ever for leaders to unleash America’s military might–and harder than ever to evaluate the consequences of such clandestine attacks.”[111] In 1848, President Abraham Lincoln warned about the peril of granting such unrestrained power to the executive:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose and you allow him to make war at pleasure.[112]

With policymakers making critical decisions about US policy outside the publics view, and an utter lack of any real transparency and accountability,[113] the rule of law is undermined and a democratic deficit created. The US government has refused to explain adequately the legal basis for the strikes, as we discuss above in Chapter 4. In calling for more transparency regarding the legal basis for the program, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden stated: “democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”[114]

The opaque position of the US government on civilian casualties is also emblematic of an accountability and democratic vacuum. Appendix C compares statements of US officials on drones since January 2011 with strike data as reported by TBIJ. The results reveal a pattern of dishonesty in public statements about drones.[115] For example, in June 2011, Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan asserted that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”[116] By this time, TBIJ had reported that at least 458 civilians had been killed, including 31-42 in the March 17 strike (documented earlier in this report) that had taken place less than three months prior.[117] While Brennan subsequently clarified that he only meant to suggest that the US had yet to find credible evidence of civilian casualties,[118] even this statement was later directly contradicted: in May 2012, it was reported that President Obama “got word” that the first strike he authorized on January 23, 2009 “had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis” on the very same day.[119]

In light of these concerns, author, political commentator, and former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald pointedly asks, “if you believe the President should have the power to order people, including US citizens, executed with no due process and not even any checks or transparency, what power do you believe he shouldn’t have?”[120]


[1] See supra Chapter 3: Living Under Drones.

[2] Peter Bergen & Jennifer Rowland, Drones Decimating Taliban in Pakistan, CNN (July 4, 2012),

[3] David Rohde, The Drone War, Reuters Mag. (Jan. 26, 2012),; see also supra Chapter 3: Living Under Drones.

[4] See, e.g., Pam Benson, Bin Laden Documents: Fear of Drones, CNN (May 3, 2012),

[5] See infra Chapter 1: Background and Context (noting questions about the technical precision of drones, including the problem of latency). In particular, see discussion of lawsuit concerning software summarized in note 31.

[6] Tom Junod, The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, Esquire (Aug. 2012), available at

[7] See Declan Walsh, Mysterious ‘Chip’ is CIA’s Latest Weapon Against al-Qaida Targets Hiding in Pakistan’s Tribal Belt, Guardian (May 31, 2009),; see also Dashiell Bennett, Pakistani Death Squads Target Informants Who Help Drone Attacks, Atlantic Wire (Dec. 29, 2011), available at (discussing how a militant group called the Khorasan Mujahedin is kidnapping, torturing, and killing those in Pakistan’s tribal areas it suspects of helping the US drones).

[8] Jane Mayer, The Predator War, New Yorker (Oct. 26, 2009), available at; see also UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Study on Targeted Killing, ¶ 81, Human Rights Council, UN Doc A/HRC/14/24/Add.6 (May 28, 2010) (by Philip Alston), available at (“The precision, accuracy and legality of a drone strike depend on the human intelligence upon which the targeting decision is based.”).

[9] Bob Woodward, Obama’s Wars 106-07 (2010).

[10] Jim Miklaszewski, 2 US servicemen mistakenly killed by drone attack in Afghanistan, NBC News (April 11, 2011),

[11] Kate Clark, Afghanistan Analysts Network, The Takhar Attack: Targeted Killings and the Parallel Worlds of US Intelligence and Afghanistan (2011), available at US authorities contended that Muhammad Amin and Zabet Amanullah were the same person. Id. at 2. According to Clark, this assertion was demonstrated to be false when Amin was interviewed in Pakistan after the September 2, 2010 strike. Id.

[12] See, e.g., Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mission to Afghanistan, ¶¶ 14-18, Human Rights Council, UN Doc. A/HRC/11/2/Add.4 (May 6, 2009) (by Philip Alston), available at; Anthony Shadid, For an Iraqi Family, ‘No Other Choice’, Wash. Post (Aug. 1, 2003),

[13] Guantánamo by the Numbers [Infographic], American Civil Liberties Union (May 4, 2012),

[14] Id.

[15] Jeff Stein, Rumsfeld Complained of ‘Low Level’ GTMO Prisoners, Memo Reveals, Wash. Post (Mar. 3, 2011),

[16] The Guantanamo Docket: A History of the Detainee Population, N.Y. Times (July 11, 2012),

[17] Guantánamo by the Numbers, supra note 700.

[18] Clive Stafford Smith, We are Sleepwalking into the Drone Age, Unaware of the Consequences, Guardian (June 2, 2012),

[19] Junod, supra note 693.

[20] See, e.g., Hasnain Kazim, Relatives of Pakistani Drone Victims to Sue CIA, Der Spiegel (Jan. 21, 2011),

[21] See, e.g., Alex Rodriguez & Zulfiqar Ali, Pakistani Al Qaeda Leader Killed in US Strike, L.A. Times (Sept. 18, 2009),

[22] Syed Saleem Shahzad, Al-Qaeda’s Guerrilla Chief Lays Out Strategy, Asia Times (Oct. 15, 2009),

[23] Interview with Sadaullah Wazir, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 29, 2012). Sadaullah was uncertain of his exact age; he told our research team that he believed his current age to be between 15 and 17. Id.

[24] Myra MacDonald, Ilyas Kashmiri Reported Killed in Drone Strike in Pakistan, Reuters (June 4, 2011),

[25] Rezaul H. Laskar, Kashmiri Still Alive: Report, Hindustan Times (July 16, 2011),

[26] Sources: Drone Killed Top Qaeda Operative, CBS News (Dec. 12, 2009), (reporting that al-Libi, characterized as “al Qaeda’s number 3” was mistakenly believed to have been killed in a strike that killed Saleh al-Somali, “one of a half dozen top Qaeda operatives”).

[27] White House: Al Qaeda No. 2 Leader is dead, CNN (June 6, 2012),

[28] Michael Hastings, The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret, Rolling Stone (Apr. 26, 2012), According to TBIJ, media reports placed the range of civilian deaths in the June 23, 2009 strike between 18 and 45. Obama 2009 Pakistan Strikes, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Aug. 10, 2011),

[29] Peter Bergen & Jennifer Rowland, CIA Drone War in Pakistan in Sharp Decline, CNN (Mar. 28, 2012),

[30] Adam Entous, Drones Kill Low-Level Militants, Few Civilians: US, Reuters (May 3, 2010),

[31] Peter Bergen & Megan Braun, Drone is Obama’s Weapon of Choice, CNN (Sept. 6, 2012),

[32] See Jo Becker & Scott Shane, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2012),

[33] Bruce Hoffman, The Changing Face of Al Qaeda and the Global War on Terrorism, 27 Stud. in Conflict & Terrorism 549, 551 (2004); see also Paul Pillar, Still Fighting Bush’s GWOT, (June 23, 2012),

[34] Dennis C. Blair, Drones Alone Are Not the Answer, N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2011),

[35] Woodward, supra note 696, at 284.

[36] See, e.g., Stephen Kurczy, Top 5 Al Qaeda-linked Militants Pakistan Has Captured, Christian Science Monitor (May 3, 2011),; Elaine Shannon & Michael Weisskopf, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Names Names, Time (Mar. 24, 2003),,8599,436061,00.html.

[38] See, e.g., Taliban Chief Hides in Pakistan, Wash. Times (Nov. 20, 2009),

[39] Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Remarks at the Kansas State University Landon Lecture Series, Kansas State University (Mar. 3, 2010), available at

[40] Id.

[41] Bergen & Braun, supra note 718 (welcoming a reported reduction in US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2010).

[42] Interview with Shahbaz Kabir (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012).

[43] Interview with Umar Ashraf (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar.9, 2012); see also Interview with Saad Afridi (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (“Before drone attacks, I didn’t know America.”).

[44] Interview with Khalil Khan, Noor Khan, and Imran Khan, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb.26, 2012).

[45] Interview with Uzair Rashid (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012).

[46] Interview with Mehfooz Shaukat (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 29, 2012).

[47] Interview with Faheem Qureshi, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb.29, 2012).

[48] Interview with Waleed Shiraz (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012). Shiraz, a political science graduate who became disabled due to a drone attack, described what he believes motivated the US: “It is proven that America is working against Muslims, because every country it has waged a war against . . . is a Muslim nation.” Id. Fayaz Habib, a Waziri who lost his father in the March 17th jirga strike, told us: “It just seems that America wants to target the people of Wazirstan . . . not just the people of Wazirstan . . . but also in Pakistan and Iraq. They just want to target Muslims.” Interview with Khalil Khan, Noor Khan, and Imran Khan, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012); see also Interview with Marwan Aleem (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (“The kalima shehada [the Islamic declaration of belief in the oneness of Allah]. . . is the reason that innocent people are being victimized. Because we are all Muslims, we are being victimized.”); Interview with Sameer Rahman (anonymized name) and Mahmood Muhammad (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 29, 2012).

[49] Letter from Dennis Kucinich et al. to President of the US Barack Obama (June 12, 2012), available at; see also Jeremy Herb, Lawmakers Want Legal Justification for Drone Strikes, Hill (June 13, 2012),

[50] Interview with Syed Akhunzada Chittan, Pakistani Parliamentarian, in Islamabad, Pakistan (May 14, 2012).

[51] Interview with Zafar Husam (anonymized name), in Pakistan (May 12, 2012).

[52] The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC television broadcast Jun. 29, 2012).

[53] David Kilcullen & Andrew McDonald Exum, Death From Above, Outrage Down Below, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2009),

[54] Kazim, supra note 707.

[55] Becker & Shane, supra note 719.

[56] Huma Imtiaz, Drone Program is Counterproductive for Pakistan’s Goals: Rehman, Express Tribune (July 10, 2012),

[57] Ibrahim Mothana, How Drones Help Al Qaeda, N.Y. Times (June 13, 2012), (“Drones are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair . . . . [R]ather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen.”); see also Sudarsan Raghavan, In Yemen, US Airstrikes Breed Anger, and Sympathy for al-Qaeda, Wash. Post (May 30, 2012), (noting also that “hundreds of tribesmen have joined AQAP in the fight against the US-backed Yemeni government” and that strikes are “angering powerful tribes that could prevent AQAP from gaining strength”); Jeremy Scahill, Washington’s War in Yemen Backfires, Nation (Feb. 14, 2012), (“The US bombs and the Yemeni military shelling of Zinjibar have increased support for Ansar al Sharia, allowing it to fulfill its claim that it is a defender of the people in the face of an onslaught backed by America.”); Michelle Shephard, Drone Death in Yemen of an American Teenager, Toronto Star (Apr. 14, 2012),–drone-death-in-yemen-of-an-american-teenager (attributing to Yemeni analysis Abdul Ghani al-Iryani the conclusion that the emergence of Ansar al Sharia resulted from “what they saw as American aggression”). For similar effects in other contexts, see generally David Jaeger, Esteban Klor, Sami Miaari & M. Daniele Paserman, The Struggle for Palestinian Hearts and Minds: Violence and Public Opinion in the Second Intifada (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Research, Working Paper No. 13956, 2008), available at, as well as Seth G. Jones & Martin C. Libicki, RAND Corp., How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida (2008), available at, which posits that the “use of substantial US military power against terrorist groups also runs a significant risk of turning the local population against the government by killing civilians,” and, in evaluating quantitative historical data from 1968—2006 finds that “[a]gainst most terrorist groups . . . military force is usually too blunt an instrument.” Id. at xiv.

[58] Leila Hudson, Colin S. Owens & Matt Flannes, Drone Warfare: Blowback from the New American Way of War, Middle E. Pol’y Council, 122, 126 (June 15, 2012), available at; see also David A. Jaeger & Zahra Siddique, Are Drone Strikes Effective in Afghanistan and Pakistan? On the Dynamics of Violence between the United States and the Taliban 2 (Institute for the Study of Labor, Discussion Paper No. 6262, 2011), available at (finding a strong, but balanced effect between vengeance attacks and deterrent effect, noting “a positive vengeance effect in the first week following a drone strike [in Pakistan and] a negative deterrent/incapacitation effect in the second week following a drone strike, when we examine the likelihood of a terrorist attack by the Taliban.”).

[59] New America Foundation, Sentiment Survey Questions: Drone Strikes, (last visited Sept. 9, 2012).

[60] Bergen & Rowland, supra note 689 (citing reduced numbers of suicide bombings in 2010 and 2011 and suggesting that “strikes may have contributed to a relative decrease in violence across Pakistan”).

[61] Megan Chuchmach, Nick Schifrin, & Luis Martinez, Martyrdom Video from CIA Base Bomber Links Deadly Attack to Pakistani Taliban, ABC News (Jan. 9, 2010),

[62] Chris Dolmetsch, Times Square Bomber Vows Revenge in Al-Arabiya Video, Wash. Post (July 14, 2010),

[63] Daniel Klaidman, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency 119 (2012).

[64] Lahore ‘was Pakistan Taleban Op’, BBC News (Mar. 31, 2009),

[65] Deposition of Thomas Galati, Commanding Officer of the New York City Police Department Intelligence Division 24-27, 36-37 Handschu v. Special Services Division (S.D.N.Y. 2012), available at

[66] Id. at 37.

[67] Id. at 27.

[68] Interview with Ahmed Jan, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012). Of course, as we observed earlier, some experiential victims do harbor animosity toward the US.

[69] See, e.g., Interview with Ahmed Jan, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (“This is why we have come on this march to send this message across to the US to stop targeting us.”); Interview with Umar Ashraf (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 9, 2012) (“The first thing we want is for drones to stop.”); Interview with Firoz Ali Khan (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012)(“I would like to ask that the drone strikes stop. We are sick of them.”); Interview with Marwan Aleem (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (“Please stop these attacks.”). It should be noted that we spoke with some Pakistanis who, primarily due to their contempt of Taliban militants, supported drone strikes. As one Pakistani official who requested anonymity told our research team, “[s]ome people in South Waziristan who have suffered most at [the] hands of Taliban support drone strikes.” Interview with Pakistani official, in Peshawar, Pakistan (May 8, 2012).

[70] See, e.g., Interview with Waleed Shiraz (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (in light of effect of drones on his education, appealing for aid or grant to continue his studies); Interview with Najeeb Saaqib (anonymized name), in Islambad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (“I think the government or international agencies should give proper facilities like education, health, electricity so that our people can also get educations and go to universities and change the thinking and [their] mindset.”).

[71] Pew Research Center, Pakistani Public Opinion Ever More Critical of US: 74% Call America an Enemy (2012), available at

[72] Id.

[73] Blair, supra note 721.

[74] Rob Crilly, US Ambassador to Pakistan Steps Down Early, Telegraph (May 8, 2012),

[75] Becker & Shane, supra note 719.

[76] Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, & Matthew Rosenberg, Drone Attacks Split US Officials, Wall St. J. (June 4, 2011),

[77] Becker & Shane, supra note 719.

[78] Id.

[79] Cable from US Embassy in Islamabad to State Department (Sept. 23, 2009) (Wikileaks extract 224303), reprinted in US Embassy Cables: ‘Reviewing Our Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy, Guardian (Nov. 30, 2010),

[80] Chris Woods, ‘US Drone Strikes Undermine Pakistani Democracy’ Says Top Diplomat, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Aug. 3, 2012),

[81] See, e.g., Musthaq Yusufzai, Taliban Bans Pakistan Polio Vaccinations Over Drone Strikes, MSNBC (June 18, 2012), (“A Taliban commander in Pakistan’s tribal belt has banned a vaccination campaign against child polio in protest over frequent US drone attacks there.”).

[82] Pew Research Center, Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted: Drone Strikes Widely Opposed (2012), available at The only exceptions were the United Kingdom, in which only a plurality, rather than a majority, opposed strikes (47 to 44% disapproval), and India and the US, in which there was greater support for drones than opposition (32 to 21% approval in India and 62 to 28% approval in the US). Id.

[83] Id.

[84] US Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-12-536, Agencies Could Improve Information Sharing and End-Use Monitoring on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Exports 9 (2012); see also Micah Zenko, 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Drones, Foreign Pol’y (Mar./Apr. 2012), available at,3 (placing the figure at 44-70 countries).

[85] US Gov’t Accountability Office, supra note 771, at 10; see also David Cortright, The Scary Prospect of Global Drone Warfare, CNN (Oct. 19. 2011),

[86] Zenko, supra note 771.

[87] Id.

[88] Cortright, supra note 772.

[89] Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Bedouin Man Dies in Apparent Rocket Strike on Israeli-Egyptian Border, CNN (Aug. 27, 2012), (“An Egyptian intelligence source confirmed the incident, saying, ‘The conclusion after the investigation is that a drone from across the border had fired a rocket and killed the Bedouin.’”).

[90] Iranian Weapons Help Bashar Assad Put Down Syria Protests, Officials Say, Reuters (Mar. 24, 2012), available at

[91] Cortright, supra note 772.

[92] David Cenciotti, Exposed: First Syrian Rebels DIY Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Aviationist (Aug. 31, 2012),

[93] US Gov’t Accountability Office, supra note 771, at 17.

[94] Scott Shane, Coming Soon: The Drones Arms Race, N.Y. Times (Oct. 8, 2011),

[95] Drones have also rapidly been proliferating into US domestic airspace, in significant part due to the efforts of drone manufacturers. See, e.g., Ana Campoy, The Law’s New Eye in the Sky, Wall St. J. (Dec. 13, 2011), While they have thus far been used exclusively for surveillance, the prospect of armed drone usage by domestic law enforcement and commercial clients should not be overlooked. See, e.g., Conor Friedersdorf, Congress Should Ban Armed Drones Before Cops in Texas Deploy One, Atlantic (May 24, 2012),; Jason Gilbert, ShockerDrone: Hackers Attach Shocking Material to Drone Helicopter, Chase People, Stun Them, Huffington Post (Aug. 30, 2012),

[96] Shane, supra note 781.

[97] Peter W. Singer, Do Drones Undermine Democracy?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 21, 2012),

[98] See W.J. Hennigan, Drone Makers Urge US to Let Them Sell More Overseas, L.A. Times (July 1, 2012),; Andrea Stone, Drone Lobbying Ramps Up Among Industry Manufacturers, Developers, Huffington Post (May 25, 2012),

[99] Doug Palmer & Jim Wolf, Pentagon Lists 66 Countries as Eligible to Buy US Drones, Reuters (Sept. 5, 2012),; Kevin Spak, Pentagon OKs Drone Sales to 66, Newser (Sept. 6, 2012),

[100] Hennigan, supra note 785.

[101] Adam Entous, US to Provide Kenya with Drones to Fight Militants, Wall St. J. (July 20, 2012),

[102] Id.

[103] Hennigan, supra note 785.

[104] John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Terrorism, The Ethics and Efficacy of the President’s Counterterrorism Strategy, Address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Apr. 30, 2012).

[105] Becker & Shane, supra note 719. Obama’s aides deny such a policy, arguing instead that capture is impossible in remote parts of Pakistan and Yemen. Id.

[106] Id.

[107] UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, General Assembly, UN Doc A/65/321 (Aug. 23, 2010) (by Philip Alston) (examining legal and ethical concerns around increasing autonomy), available at

[108] Mayer, supra note 695.

[109] John Sifton, A Brief History of Drones, Nation (Feb. 7, 2012),

[110] Singer, supra note 784.

[111] Hastings, supra note 715.

[112] Glenn Greenwald, Excuses for Assassination Secrecy, Salon (July 12, 2012),

[113] See Legal Analysis, supra Chapter 4: Legal Analysis.

[114] Becker & Shane, supra note 719.

[115] See also Justin Elliott, Obama Administration’s Drone Death Figures Don’t Add Up, ProPublica (June 18, 2012),

[116] See Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy (C-Span television broadcast June 29, 2011),

[117] See supra Chapter 3: Living Under Drones.

[118] See Scott Shane, C.I.A. Is Disputed on Civilian Toll in Drone Strikes, N.Y. Times (Aug. 11, 2011),

[119] Becker & Shane, supra note 719.

[120] Greenwald, supra note 799; see also Conor Friedersdorf, Obama’s Execution of the Drone War Should Terrify Even Drone Defenders, Atlantic (July 12, 2012), (“Is it imprudent to give this president and all future presidents the unchecked power to kill in secret? Or does human nature and the framework of checks and balances devised by America’s founders suggest that multiple layers of oversight is the wiser course?”).

Strategic Considerations

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