U.S. Has Only Acknowledged A Fifth of Lethal Drone Strikes, New Study Finds

Home / U.S. Has Only Acknowledged A Fifth of Lethal Drone Strikes, New Study Finds

Over the past decade, the United States has claimed broad authority to carry out drone strikes across the world, even in places far from the battlefield. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. acknowledged killing between 2,867 and 3,138 people in strikes that took place in countries like Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan.

Although in the waning days of his presidency, Obama took some steps to improve transparency about drone strikes, including providing the total estimated death toll, a new report by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies says that the U.S. is still lagging in providing a full accounting of its drone program. Among other failures, the report, titled “Out of the Shadows: Recommendations to Advance Transparency in the Use of Lethal Force,” says that the U.S. has only acknowledged approximately 20 precent of its reported drone strikes — failing to claim responsibility or provide details in the vast majority of cases.

Meanwhile, the drone program is intensifying. Since President Donald Trump took office earlier this year, the rate of drone strikes per month has increased by almost four times Obama’s average. Yemen in particular has been a target of many of these operations, with between nine and 11 strikes hitting the country this year, according to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.


The authors of the new report say that the government’s failure to provide information or legal rationales for its strikes is making it impossible to understand the full scope of the government’s targeted killing program, as well as its impact on civilians.

“For years, the only way we knew anything about individual strikes was from media reports or individual statements about strikes from government officials,” said Alex Moorehead, of the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, highlighting the failure of the government to provide details about cases in which drones have been used for targeted killings. “When we talk about official acknowledgment, we are talking about specific information about individual strikes, which is what matters to people who have had loved ones killed.”

© 2020 The Intercept / First Look Media

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