Thursday, August 23, 2012

Civilian Deaths from US Drone Attacks Much Higher than Reported


Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of The Porter Report with investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

Gareth Porter, Investigative Reporter: Hi, Paul. Glad to be back again.

JAY: So what have you been working on this week?

PORTER: Well, this week I - over the weekend I just published a major investigative report on the real level of civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, as based on the actual data gathered by a Pakistani lawyer for the families of the victims of drone strikes, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London based on their interviews with eyewitnesses and others in the areas where the strikes take place. This is really the first effort to come up with a set of data that can be compared with the data that's been published by the New America Foundation on its website, something they call "Year of the Drone", which keeps track of every strike that is covered in the news media and keeps a running tally on casualties. And so what we can do now is see that the New America Foundation has been systematically underestimating or underplaying, underreporting the number of civilian casualties in the U.S. drone war in Pakistan over the past three years.

JAY: And what are the numbers that now - that you think are correct?

PORTER: Well, the numbers - there are a lot of numbers my piece, and in order to really boil this down to the simplest terms, what I've done is to combine all of these strikes in 24 - the data on all the strikes in 24 cases, which involved 11 strikes which the Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar gathered material on and 13 strikes on which the Bureau of Investigative Journalism gathered material. And combining all that data, what we find is that the number of - the proportion, I should say, of the civilian casualties and the total casualties which was reported by the New America Foundation as being 38 percent in these 24 strikes is in fact 70 percent.That's a huge difference, an 84 percent increase in the proportion of civilians in those casualties reported in these 24 strikes. So it's really quite a major revelation. It's a major reversal, because previously civilian casualties were being reported as a fairly - certainly much less than 50 percent, and now they're much more than 50 percent of the casualties in this set of 24 strikes.

JAY: And of course that's leading to increased outrage in Pakistan.

PORTER: Well, definitely. I mean, these strikes, everybody understands that - I mean, no one denies that the drone war in Pakistan has created enormous anti-American sentiment throughout the country. And particularly, of course, in the areas where the strikes have taken place, they generate not just anger, but I think it's generally agreed that the Taliban and al-Qaeda and other groups have been able to generate more enthusiasm for support for the jihadist sentiment that they represent. So, I mean, it's - by every measure that is available, there's no question that these strikes are doing precisely the opposite of what they're supposed to do, which is allegedly to weaken the al-Qaeda hold on the territory, like North and South Waziristan, where the strikes are taking place.And what we can say, really, you know, it seems to me, is that this new set of data underlines more clearly than ever before that what's really going on is that U.S. policy on the drone war is not being guided by any objective assessment of U.S. interests, security interests or any other interests; it's being guided by the bureaucratic interests of the CIA, which is, of course, responsible for the drone war in Pakistan and elsewhere, and which has a vested interest in keeping this war going because their budget, their manpower, their mission has been built up for the past few years around the drone war in Pakistan in particular.

JAY: And in today's, Monday's Guardian, Glenn Greenwald writes that the U.S. is actually using what they call a sort of double tap - in other words, essentially, a second strike after the first drone strike, deliberately targeting rescuers, which one would think has to enhance or increase the possibilities of killing civilians.

PORTER: Right. And let me make it clear that the 13 strikes that I talked about having been researched by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism were all strikes which are precisely the ones that you were talking about. They're strikes that are targeted against either mourners at funerals of victims of previous drone strikes or striking at the rescuers of people who have been either killed or wounded in previous drone strikes. So, obviously, this is a very important category of drone strikes. And what we find is that the percentage of civilians (again, in the strikes that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism researched, based on local context, eyewitnesses and others) was much higher. It was roughly twice as high as it had been reported by the New America Foundation.

JAY: Right. And what else have you been following this week? I know you've been - written not very long ago about the debate in Israel over attacking Iran.

PORTER: Right. The story that I published last week for IPS was a story that looks at two particular interviews that were apparently given by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in which - in the first one, on August 10, he suggests, well, what we really want, what the Netanyahu government really wants is for the United States to say publicly that if the Iranians don't shut down their nuclear program, the United States will simply destroy their entire program next spring. But he said, well, we really can't expect the Americans to do that; that's not the way things work; they can't really commit themselves to something that would be in the next administration.So then five days later, on August 15, another interview, which has all the earmarks of an Ehud Barak interview as well (they don't identify him in either one of these two interviews), says that what Israel is ready to do is to reconsider, quote-unquote, its unilateral military option of striking against Iran. If the Obama administration would simply do a couple of things, one, reiterate what Obama said in his AIPAC speech, that Israel has the right of self-defense and that the United States will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and then, more importantly and critically, associate the United States with the Israeli red line rather than the previous Obama red line, which is that Iran may not have the capability to have a nuclear weapon, that is, the technical capability, rather than actually make the key move, which intelligence would interpret as a sign that Iran is moving toward weaponization - those are two very different red lines. And what they want - .

JAY: Yeah, the Americans keep saying over and over again there's been no decision to go ahead with a weapons program. But Israel is saying that's not enough; we don't even want them to be in a position to make such a decision.

PORTER: Exactly. And the Israelis do not disagree with that intelligence finding. It's very clear that they agree with it. And what they're saying now is that nevertheless they want the United States to say, in effect, that the U.S. will attack Iran if the Iranians continue along the line of continuing to build up their uranium enrichment capabilities.

JAY: And I feel like we can't ever discuss this without reminding everyone that Israel has probably hundreds of nuclear weapons. And I guess one can draw one's own conclusions about the hypocrisy of all of this. But you and I have discussed - . Sorry. Go ahead, Gareth.

PORTER: It's not just hypocrisy. It's also, I think - the point I was trying to make in this article and previous articles is that the Israeli threat, such as it is, because it's not an explicit threat to attack Iran, but the suggestion that the Netanyahu government is seriously considering an attack on Iran in the future is really not serious. This has been, all along, a way of leveraging pressure on the United States and other countries to do more, and specifically in the case of the United States to try to push the U.S. in the direction of the demand which was outlined in that second - well, in both of those interviews that I mentioned.

JAY: Right. And you and I have talked about this before, but again, I think it bears saying again. And while all this debate and attention is on the issue of will Israel attack or not - and, of course, that's of great significance, but there's a real economic war against Iran already going on at a time when U.S. intelligence says there's no weapons program. And the sanctions are certainly a form of economic warfare.

PORTER: They are an economic warfare. And how effective they will be is still an open question very hotly debated both in Washington and elsewhere. Some people believe that the Iranians will certainly cave eventually. Maybe so, but one of the stories that has come out this week which I think is very important for people to understand is that the Iraqi government, the one that the United States put into power through its occupation of Iraq, is now being found to help Iran greatly to get around the U.S. sanctions. And this is only one of the ways in which Iran has been able to do so. So it's not at all a black-and-white case, to say the least.


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