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article imageOp-Ed: Pentagon alters text of drone directives to reduce expectations

By Ken Hanly     Dec 5, 2013 in World
Washington - The Pentagon has changed its drone strike guidelines in subtle ways that appear designed to minimize expectations with respect to limiting collateral damage and predicting the effects of drone strikes according to a recent report by Public Intelligence.
Public Intelligence is a non-profit research group that has analyzed the directives on drone strikes. The detailed report can be found here, and includes text of the older version of the guidelines as compared to the new one and notes the differences. The Washington Times claims: The Pentagon has loosened its guidelines on avoiding civilian casualties during drone strikes, modifying instructions from requiring military personnel to “ensure” civilians are not targeted to encouraging service members to “avoid targeting” civilians.
The earlier document analyzed by Public Intelligence was an instructional document from the chair of the joint Chiefs of Staff with the title “No-Strike and the Collateral Damage Estimate Methodology,” This document was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009, The revised version appeared in October of 2012 on a Pentagon website several months ago. According to Public Intelligence editor Michael Haynes it has since been removed.
In May of 2012 President Obama said: "Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured--the highest standard we can set." Yet Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports on strikes in Pakistan and Yemen claiming that the strikes could be illegal and that the US has killed more than 4,700 people including more than a thousand civilians since the attacks began. There is a wide gap between casualties reported by human rights organizations and Washington, although the government refuses to release any official figures.
The changes in wording in the two documents are often subtle but significant. For example on the issue of targeting civilians or in the jargon used no-strike entities: In a section of the document detailing procedures related to no-strike entities (NSEs), which have “protected status” and cannot be targeted in military operations, the new version of the instruction no longer describes the U.S. as “adhering to” international law, but instead states that the U.S. is “bound by” international law which “regulates”, rather than “requires” certain conduct during military operations. A few paragraphs later, a sentence warning against the “infliction of unnecessary suffering or damage to civilian persons or property that is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated” is removed from the document, as is the statement that the conduct is “inconsistent with international law".
The newer version of the directives require that commanders only mitigate human suffering and property damage rather than the more stringent demands of the earlier version: The new version of the instruction also modifies a requirement that commanders limit “unnecessary suffering and disproportionate damage.” Instead, commanders are now only required to mitigate “human suffering and property damage.” The overall process for estimating collateral damage is described as “a conservative characterization” of the risks involved rather than the previous “best judgment of potential damage to collateral concerns.”
Even these guiding principles apply only to military drone strikes, not to those carried out by the CIA. As many have complained the CIA seems to have little oversight and any guidance that they might have is unknown and no doubt never will be known unless classified material is leaked. The CIA launches attacks into the Pakistan tribal areas. As the appended video shows they are far from precise and no doubt violate the guidelines presented here.
The Pentagon has released statistics that show that 361 Hellfire missiles and six 500 pound laser-guided bombs were fired in 2012. This is down from the numbers for 2011.
However, about specific numbers of civilians and others killed the administration still does not reveal exact statistics. Recently, when the administration met with representatives of human rights groups with respect to reports they issued in October, the participants were informed that they should neither reveal who attended the meetings, where they met, or what was discussed. That's transparency as interpreted by the Obama administration.
Meanwhile protests against drone strikes continue to hold up NATO shipments to Afghanistan. The protests have caused the US military to halt all cargo movement through Afghanistan.
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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