As I wrote in my rejoinder “The Immoral Case for Drones”, the New York Times’ Scott Shane, in his article “The Moral Case for Drones”, claimed, among other things, that according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) “just three of the 152 people killed in drone strikes through July 7 were civilians.” I observed:
Shane’s startling dishonesty is on full display here. He knows perfectly well that the government claims of low civilian casualties depend upon it assumingthat any unidentified adult male is a “terrorist”. He knows perfectly well that the figure of “three” civilians merely refers to those who were known civilians. He knows perfectly well that this does not imply that the other 149 were therefore combatants. In making this claim, Shane has effectively adopted the same standard as the U.S. government of assuming that every individual killed in drone attacks must be guilty of being a “terrorist” unless otherwise proven innocent. Indeed, his “Moral Case for Drones”, when you boil it down, rests entirely upon this assumption.
I published my rejoinder four days ago, on July 16. The following day, the BIJ itself published a piece illustrating just how dishonest Shane was being.
They don’t actually talk about Shane’s article. Rather, the piece is about the dishonesty of Peter Bergen’s reporting on civilian casualties in the drone strikes, which follows along similar lines as Shane’s. They point out how Bergen has claimed that no civilians have been killed in drone attacks this year. In response to Shane’s similar claim that “just three” civilians had been killed according to the BIJ, I further wrote:
Take the bureau’s data on strikes in Pakistan for this year, for example, and employ the more reasonable assumption that those killed should be presumed to be civilians unless proven otherwise. It reports that on January 10 up to four “alleged militants” were killed (emphasis added), only one of whom was reportedly a senior member of al-Qaeda. One for four. On January 12, as many as “nine militants” were killed, but the reporting cited by the bureau characterizes the identities of the killed men as remaining unknown. One for 13. On January 23, up to four “alleged Turkmeni militants” “possibly allied to al Qaeda” were killed (emphasis added). One for 17. On January 23, two unknown individuals were reportedly killed. One for 19. On February 8, ten “alleged militants” were killed. One for 29. On February 9, at least five were reportedly killed in a targeted assassination of Pakistan Taliban commander Badar Mansoor, including his wife and daughter. Two for 34. Another attack on February 16 “killed six alleged militants” (emphasis added). Etc., etc., etc.
It would superfluous to continue the illustration of how individuals killed are judged to have been “terrorists”, when you get right down to it, solely on the government’s claims that this was so.
To further illustrate Shane’s dishonesty, though, take a report from the bureau from just last month that the CIA was “reportedly reviving the use of highly-controversial tactics that target rescuers and funeral-goers.” On June 4, 16 people were killed in such a secondary attack. The day before, “a CIA drone strike targeted people gathered for funeral prayers of militant victims killed in an earlier attack”, killing as many as ten. The week before that, a drone strike targeted a mosque, “killing at least three civilian worshippers”. That one attack alone thus accounts for Shane’s “just three” civilians killed this year. For these other 26 people, including those guilty of trying to rescue victims or attending their funeral, Shane simply follows the U.S. government’s lead and defines them all as guilty by default of being “terrorists”.
In its July 17 piece on Bergen, the BIJ itself similarly illustrates Shane’s dishonesty in asserting that the BIJ had concluded “just three” civilians had been killed:
Up to July 16 for example, between three and 27 civilians have been reported killed in Pakistan this year, out of 148 – 220 deaths. Some were actively defined as civilians by news organisations including Reuters and AFP. But these are not necessarily the only civilian deaths. Ambivalent reports might sometimes refer only to ‘people’ or ‘local tribesmen’ killed. More research is needed. And of the remaining alleged militants killed, we have so far been able to name just 13 individuals.
Bergen’s claim of zero reported civilian casualties this year is therefore factually inaccurate.
To be so categoric is also problematic. The Bureau’s own data shows that of at least 2,500 people killed by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004, we publicly only know the identities of around 500. Most of the others were reported to be alleged militants by local and international media. We can say no more than that.
A number of commenters on my rejoinder have said I failed to make a persuasive argument that the drone strikes are immoral and of somehow being uncivil in my replies (one called me a jackass). As I pointed out in my replies to these defenders of drone strikes, they hadn’t actually addressed any argument I made topoint out any error in fact or logic on my part, but were simply repeating the same arguments Shane made that I dismantled in my rejoinder. Several got offended when I suggested they actually read my article and actually respond to the points therein if we were going to have an intelligent discussion about it. I invite others to read my rebuttal to Shane’s dishonest article and my responses to defenders of drone strikes and judge for yourselves who makes the stronger case and whether I or those trying to justify the murder of innocent civilians is the jackass.