Part of the Obama administration’s lead-up to his major address yesterday was a series of leaks that indicated he intended to pursue a new direction in U.S. counter-terror policy. One of these leaks was a confession of sorts that America has killed four U.S. citizens in the Middle East since 2009. Journalists focused on the fourth killing because it had never been acknowledged by the U.S.
But this confession is partial and misleading. Four Americans were killed by drones during the Obama administration. But prior to that is another story. We have known for years that the U.S. took out a U.S. citizen in Yemen in 2002 in the first such killing. But we didn’t know, until Bob Woodward’s most recent book, that there was a 2008 drone strike in Pakistan that killed anywhere from two to five U.S. citizens. We don’t know the precise number because the CIA has refused to confirm it.
For some reason, Woodward’s reporting has gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream media. I only know it because I read Chris Woods’ report at the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, which mentioned it. It’s very important to correct the historical record and not allow the Obama administration to report partial truths. Instead of five U.S. citizens killed by drones, at least seven and as many as ten have died. Here is BIJ’s research:
November 7 2008
♦ 11-16 total killed
♦ 0-6 civilians reported killed
♦ 17 injured
The civilian casualty figures included in this summary are based on the following reports: Field researchers identified civilian casualties by name (Bureau).
An attack on a ‘training facility of Hafiz Gul Bahadar’ (in a peace deal with Pakistan’s military) killed up to sixteen militants. However Geo TV described the target as a house owned by local Ghani Gul, in an attack which killed ‘five foreigners.’ The New York Times said that eight locals and five foreigners had been reported killed.
Pakistan’s president and prime minister both condemned the attack. However the CIA later told Pakistan’s President Zardari that ‘many Westerners, including some US passport holders’ died in this strike – details the CIA continues to keep secret (Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward). According to Woodward:
The CIA would not reveal the particulars due to the implications under American law. A top-secret CIA map detailing the attacks had been given to the Pakistanis. Missing from it was the alarming fact about the American deaths … The CIA was not going to elaborate.’
Although no civilians were reported killed at the time, the Bureau’s Waziristan researchers later identified six they said had been killed, named as Dil Nawaz, Yousaf, Ashraf, Naimatullah, Taj Mohammad and Musa, all of the Utmanzai Wazir tribe.
While I may have little sympathy for Americans who decide to join the Taliban or Al Qaeda, I do not believe that a drone missile is a suitable way to deal with the troubling phenomenon they represent. As I’ve written here a number of times, drones are a substitute for the administration having a real, constructive, substantive engagement with the Middle East. They do not in any way represent a grappling with Islamism. They do not address the reason Islamism is appealing (to some). They do not rebut Islamism. That is what the U.S. needs to do to quarantine this hate-filled theology-ideology.
One of the reasons I remain deeply skeptical about the overall constructive thrust of Obama’s speech is that I don’t believe he’s laid the groundwork for this massive change in the U.S. approach to terrorism or Islamist militancy. Do we have a program prepared to counter it? Are we willing to invest in new programs on the ground in these countries to support democracy, tolerance and pluralism? Do we have any new concepts in our diplomatic arsenal that would appeal to the nations of the Arab Spring?
I haven’t seen anything but words from Obama. Just as his words in his Cairo speech were magnificent, they represented nothing more than that–words. There were no actions that followed up. That left the Arab world even more frustrated and alienated than if he hadn’t made the speech at all.
I predict the same result if Obama’s words yesterday remain as unfulfilled. Except that he will have alienated the American people, his electorate, instead of “just” the Arab world.