A somber President Obama revealed today that two al-Qaeda hostages, one American and one Italian, and two other Americans working as al-Qaeda operatives were inadvertently killed by a U.S. drone strike.
The president takes full responsibility of the accident and regrets the death of the two hostages, Warren Weinstein of Rockville, Maryland, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker.
“It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur," Obama said at the White House.
U.S. officials had been monitoring the area and did not believe at the time that either hostage or al-Qaeda operative was present at the site.
“We believed that this was an al-Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible," Obama said. "And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of al-Qaeda."
Obama has ordered a full review of what happened to identify any changes that could have been made in order to prevent future innocent deaths.
Yet this devastating piece of news brings to light the inevitable problem with drones used for counter terrorism efforts.
While the weapon technology has an egregious amount of concerns associated with it, one of its main issues (as clearly proven by these accidental killings) is American officials are blindly shooting at targets. The government is firing without truly understanding what they are aiming at.
“In neither of these two cases did the government actually know beforehand who it was killing. It does raise questions about how much the government knows – or how little the government knows – before it pulls the trigger,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview with The Guardian.
A 2013 policy change was supposed to ensure an almost absolute terrorist target when striking, yet as The Guardian points out “the US continues to launch lethal operations without the necessity of knowing who specifically it seeks to kill, a practice that has come to be known as a ‘signature strike.’”
Numerous outlets have reported that we are dropping bombs left and right based on signature activity that is often misinterpreted, as Cenk Uygur writes in the Huffington Post,
“This is why we sometimes bomb weddings. People in Afghanistan and Pakistan often bring weapons to weddings and they fire the guns in the air to celebrate. We see the 'signature' of terrorists because there are many guns in the area and obliterate the entire wedding party.”
The hope is that this military accident will push for greater transparency with drone technology, but we also can’t help but question why it took Westerners' deaths to finally shed light on a reoccurring and too often ignored issue.
As reprieve lawyer Alka Pradhan, who represents victims of drone strikes, noted,
“The White House is setting a dangerous precedent - that if you are western and hit by accident we’ll say we are sorry, but we’ll put up a stone wall of silence if you are a Yemeni or Pakistani civilian who lost an innocent loved one. Inconsistencies like this are seen around the world as hypocritical, and do the United States’ image real harm.”