CNN is running a story on a CNN graph that, in he words of Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf, “indicates that the Pakistan drone program overseen by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama killed 163 innocent people in 2009, 40 innocent people in 2010, 26 innocents in 2011, and zero innocent people in 2012.” Friedersdorf continues:
Is our drone-strike program really only killing bad guys now?
The casual CNN reader can be forgiven for drawing that conclusion. Why worry about drones if everyone dying from them is now a militant? she might conclude. What the authors neglect to mention is this bit from the May 29, New York Times story that explains how the United States government — and perhaps our allies of convenience inside Pakistan? — define “militant.” Per the newspaper (emphasis added), “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” […]
Americans ought to know that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism claims to have verified a minimum of three civilian casualties in 2012, that the U.S. government’s definition of militants makes its claims unreliable, and that our method of identifying militants almost certainly isn’t foolproof. Clive Stafford Smith, who has reported from Pakistan, wrote in The Guardian last month that “just as with Guantánamo 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.”