The Washington Post
Mon, 19 Dec 2011 00:00 CST
© Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Thir Khan
Pakistani tribesmen carry the coffin of a person allegedly killed in a U.S. drone attack, claiming that innocent civilians were killed during a June 15 strike in North Waziristan village of Tapi. Around 300 tribesmen gathered at the demonstration.
Since September, at least 60 people have died in 14 reported CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions. The Obama administration has named only one of the dead, hailing the elimination of Janbaz Zadran, a top official in the Haqqani insurgent network, as a counterterrorism victory.
The identities of the rest remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself. Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.
The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.
It has parried reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents by saying that drones, with their surveillance capabilities and precision missiles, result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons.
Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years - resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan - it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.
In outlining its legal reasoning, the administration has cited broad congressional authorizations and presidential approvals, the international laws of war and the right to self-defense. But it has not offered the American public, uneasy allies or international authorities any specifics that would make it possible to judge how it is applying those laws.