Do US drones in Pakistan really combat terrorism?

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A newly released report claims the Obama administration's use of drones in Pakistan is far more deadly than the president is letting on. Obama has increased the use of unmanned drones to combat terrorism in Pakistan’s strongholds. But civilian casualties make this operation too risky. To answer that question and more we’re joined now by Peter Asaro, who’s a professor of Media Studies at the New School University.

This new report that was just released by researchers at the NYU School of Law, as well as Stanford University’s Law School doesn’t mince words, the use of the drones by the American administration is simply put “terrorism”. Is that true?

Well, I don’t know what they call “terrorism”, but it definitely creates terror amongst the civilians who live under the drones. You can find that on website And they have high incidents of post-traumatic stress and other forms of psychological stress amongst the civilian population Pakistan who have to live underneath the constant surveillance by these drones and predictable strikes that they make against buildings and cars.

The Obama administration has really touted the use of unmanned drones as a way to minimize civilian deaths and to be more precise in combating terrorism and finding the exact people who the US feels are responsible for terrorism. And statistics from New America Foundation showed that the types of deaths attributed to drones in the year 2012 alone that there were 0 zero civilian deaths and 177 militant deaths. That’s quite a different picture than from this newly released report. Who are we supposed to believe?

I think it’s important to look at the methodologies by which these numbers are generated. The New America Foundation get their numbers strictly from what’s reported in the press and often what’s reported in the press is what the Pentagon officially releases. There’s been better methodologies used, for example, the Bureau for Investigative Journalism which is an independent journalistic organization out of London has done much more rigorous analysis of these strikes and actually got to Pakistan and did interviews and tried to verify whether the people killed were actually militants or not. And according to their numbers, in Pakistan since 2004 there’s been 2500 – 3300 deaths total. Of those they estimated that 474 to 884 were civilians. And, according to those numbers, about 21%-26% of people killed in drone strikes are civilians. Then, according to the military itself, only about 2% of people killed were actually high-level terrorist targets. So that numbers seem really disproportionate to me. You’re hearing about 2% versus 25%. And so you have to think what’s the value of getting those 2% of terrorists when you’re talking about 25% of civilian casualties.

Peter, the report that was released by the two law schools also claim that a lot of these drone strikes are happening targeting people who are coming to the aid of those who fell victims to these strikes. So, for example, more strikes are being executed during, let’s say, a funeral of someone who died from a drone strike. Now, that, to me, sounds like it’s implying that the Obama administration is malevolently killing innocent people through these drone strikes. What is the real case here? The Obama administration says this is done to combat terrorism. But what does it mean that the drones are also targeting people who are innocent?

There’re two different types of strikes that they pursue. One is called “signature strike”, the other is called “the personality strike”. The personality strike is when they’re going after specific personality and trying to identify their location and hit them a missile. And then a signature strike is where they’re just looking at the pattern of behavior or pattern of life, the activity of the people that they could see through their cameras and then they’re striking those who are determined to be of militant or terrorist nature. So the cases with funerals – and there also have been a number of cases of meeting with of tribal elders – those often got stoke with missiles. The consequences of these strikes are that most people don’t get the funerals and a lot of these tribal elder meetings aren’t taking place. I think this is really dangerous tactics. And then there’s another issue with “the double strike” where you strike a target and then within a few minutes you strike it again. And, generally, what that means is that you have people who have come to lend aid, these could be first-responders, neighbors, people who are just trying to help. This is problematic in terms of Geneva Conventions.