The Problem With Obama's Admission that U.S. Drone Strikes Accidentally Killed Hostages


The White House admitted Thursday morning that two al-Qaida hostages, an Italian and an American, were accidentally killed in a drone strike along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in January.

"I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren [Weinstein] and Giovanni [Lo Porto]," President Barack Obama said in a press conference. "I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families. "

The president's words were sincere and heartfelt. But if he apologized every time a drone strike took innocent life over the course of his presidency, he would have had little time to do anything else.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 423 and 962 civilians in Pakistan have been killed by U.S. drone strikes since 2004. Out of those killed, between 172 and 207 were children:

Bureau of Investigative Journalism

A majority of these casualties occurred under Obama's watch. The Obama administration escalated the use of drones as an instrument of war at the same time the president was winding down the troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon taking office, Obama ramped up the use of drones in Pakistan, and he pioneered the use of them in Yemen and Somalia.

So what's noteworthy about the most recent remarks? Drone strikes kill innocent people from other countries all the time. And they've even slain American citizens before — since 2002, drone strikes have killed at least eight Americans in Pakistan and Yemen (although one was intentional) according to the Washington Post.

What's more remarkable is the blatant admission of drones as imprecise, which undermines one of the central rationales employed to justify their use. If, as the BIJ estimates, drones' targeting technology results in a civilian-to-combatant casualty that may be as high as one to three, they don't represent the sanitized form of warfare they're so commonly depicted as. That number suggests civilian deaths are not a bug, but rather a feature of drone strikes.