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article imageOp-Ed: Reporting on drone attacks

By Ken Hanly     Jul 12, 2012 in Politics
Islamabad - News sources differ in the precise wording they choose to use in reports. This article illustrates these differences in reports on drone strikes in Pakistan.
For several years the CIA has been launching drone attacks on targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Almost everyone knows this. However the official position of the CIA is that to even assert or deny the existence of these attacks could endanger the security of the U.S. Important officials including President Obama and the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have acknowledged the attacks and even boasted about them. Nevertheless the official position is described here.
The Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas, despite President Barack Obama’s and even a former CIA director’s admission of the agency’s targeted killing program.
While this position appears ludicrous it has a rational function and that is to block the release of any information about the program. At the same time any information that the administration wants released for propaganda purposes can be leaked or announced. The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times attempted to obtain information about the strikes through the Department of Justice with no success. They have now turned to the courts. The case is continuing but the Obama administration has tried to have the request for documents denied.
The Obama administration has sought to block the release of documents related to its use of robot drones to strike suspected terrorists overseas, claiming that it can still not admit that the secretive programme of targeted killing exists.
The official policy is often quite visible in reports of drone attacks. The language used in reports often avoids mentioning that the attacks are by the U.S. Phrases used vary. Some sources speak of "suspected U.S. drone attacks". Other sources simply speak of "drone attacks" with no reference as to who might have launched them. Here for example is a headline from 2010 in CNN.
Drone attack kills 20 in Pakistan
Even back in 2010 some sources must have thought it ridiculous to not attribute the attacks to the U.S. A Reuters report headline from 2010 is as follows.
U.S. drone strikes kill 18 militants in Pakistan
However in the body of the report Reuters notes that the headline statement is according to Pakistan intelligence officials. Reuters itself is simply reporting what anonymous officials said and are not themselves affirming or denying that the U.S. launched the attacks. CNN is still in 2012 going along with the official story even while many outlets have moved on. CNN reports recently with a headline that speaks only of a drone attack
20 dead in drone attack in Pakistan
Even when reporting what a Pakistani intelligence official said the word "suspected" is inserted before "U.S. drone strike"
A suspected U.S. drone strike killed 20 people in North Waziristan, a region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a Pakistani intelligence official told CNN Friday.
Usually those killed in the attacks are described as militants or suspected militants or not described at all. The CNN report cited above reports that an intelligence official claims that 20 people were killed but has no description of the victims. The Reuters report cited earlier has a headline reporting that 18 militants were killed. Only later does the report note that this is according to Pakistani intelligence officials. Pakistani intelligence officials are not likely to report civilian deaths or women and children as victims.
Reports of drone strikes rarely report any civilian deaths. Even if there are such reports they will be from local people and will often conflict with official statements. Estimates of how many civilians are killed by drone strikes in Pakistan vary.. Officials often give very low estimates. However the Bureau of Investigative Journalism studied the issue at some length.
Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391 – 780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children are reported among the deaths. The Bureau also revealed that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners, tactics that have been condemned by legal experts.
Most reports on drone strikes provide no evidence of civilian deaths. Those killed are militants or suspected militants. Victims are identified only if they are believed to be significant militant leaders. Mainstream media reports on drone strikes seem designed to mislead the reader.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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