President Obama is quick to scold the country for not doing something—read: pass gun control laws—every time there’s a senseless mass killing. Yet by one group’s count, the Obama administration’s drones have killed far more innocent civilians than mass shootings have.
The Obama administration last week released a report estimating that its drone strikes have killed between 64 and 116 civilians from 2009 to the end of 2015. But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts the total between 380 and 801.
Frankly, it’s hard to take administration reports seriously, given the frequent distortion of facts in multiple policy areas.
Obama promised three years ago that his administration would release its estimate of civilian drone casualties. His chief counter-terrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, told the Council on Foreign Relations four months ago that the numbers would be coming out within weeks.
They finally got around to it, conveniently as part of a Friday news dump before the Fourth of July weekend when Washington was empty. But will anyone believe its claims?
Washington Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller highlight the problem:
In releasing only aggregate figures that did not include when or where the strikes occurred, the administration shielded those claims from meaningful public scrutiny, even as it sought to bolster its own assertions about the accuracy and effectiveness of the operations.
In the report, the administration claims it launched 473 drone strikes, killing between 2,372 and 2,581 terrorist “combatants.” If we use the low and high limits of the administration’s numbers, that’s between a 1-to-37 and a 1-to-22 ratio of civilian-to-terrorist deaths.
If the Bureau’s estimate is correct, the ratio falls between 1-to-3 and 1-to-7 innocents to terrorists.
Whatever the true number of deaths—we’re dealing only with estimates, some of which are virtually impossible to corroborate—the relatives and friends of those killed must be outraged.
So how does the number of drone casualties compare to innocents killed in mass shootings on U.S. soil?
The LA Times lists the mass murders, along with the total death count—including the perpetrator if applicable—at 178 if we stop at last December 31, as the Obama drone strike study does, and 228 deaths if we include Orlando. Both fall well short of the Bureau’s estimate of innocent civilians killed by drones.
This is not a condemnation of drones, which play an important, growing military and surveillance role. Drones, like guns, are no better or worse than the people behind them.
It’s simply to point out the hypocrisy, under which Obama rails against guns when the lives of innocent Americans are taken, but boasts of his efforts with drones that everyone concedes kill civilians.
And here’s the irony: Obama has often asserted that terrorists use the Guantanamo detention center as an ISIS recruitment tool. But the killing of innocent civilians in their own countries is likely an even greater ISIS catalyst.