Monday, July 04, 2016

U.S. AIRSTRIKES - President Obama's Order

"Obama order looks to curb civilian deaths in U.S. airstrikes and drone attacks" PBS NewsHour 7/1/2016


SUMMARY:  For the first time, the Obama administration has released the number of enemy combatants and civilians killed in drone attacks and airstrikes in some countries.  The President also issued an executive order aimed at reducing civilian casualties.  John Yang talks with Naureen Shah of Amnesty International USA and Sarah Holewinski, former executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

JOHN YANG (NewsHour):  Today's release is the first time the White House has said how many terrorists and innocent civilians it believes have been killed by airstrikes, including by drones.  Between 2009 and 2015, the administration says it launched 473 airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Africa.

It estimates that as many as 2,581 combatants, and as many as 116 noncombatants were killed.  Now, these numbers do not include airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, what the administration calls areas of active hostilities.

A new executive order has also been issued, with the aim of decreasing the number of civilian deaths.

We get two views on all this Sarah Holewinski.  She was recently with the U.S. mission to the United Nations.  And before that, she was the executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the number of civilian casualties.  And Naureen Shah is the director of the Security and Human Rights Program at Amnesty International USA.

Sarah, Naureen, thank you both for joining us.

Naureen, let me start with you.

The first time these numbers have been released, what do you make of these numbers?

NAUREEN SHAH, Amnesty International USA:  Well, this is a remarkable shift.

We have been asking for exactly these numbers for years.  But the numbers are extremely low, and they come along with a claim of extraordinary precision.  For the people whose cases Amnesty International has documented, it's anything but precise.

We're talking about kids struck by shrapnel, a woman killed in front of her grandchildren, families losing breadwinners.  These are names.  They're individuals.  hey're not numbers.  And we need to hear more acknowledgment from the Obama administration of that.

JOHN YANG:  I should say, the Obama administration acknowledges that these numbers are estimates.  They say that the NGOs, non-government organizations, like yours actually have more access to research these numbers.

But, Sarah, the policy has been and will continue to be that no airstrikes if there's a near certainty that a noncombatant would be killed.  But we have, on average, out of these airstrikes, one in every four of these airstrikes has claimed a noncombatant life.  What does that say about this system and the precision that Naureen was talking about of the system?

SARAH HOLEWINSKI, Former Executive Director, Center for Civilians in Conflict:  Yes, precision is a really tricky thing.

Precision means that you are hitting the thing that you think you're going to hit.  I am going to hit this folder.  I am going to hit this glass of water.  It doesn't mean that the folder or the glass of water is actually the thing that we think it is.

So if you are striking from the air with a drone, for example, you may be hitting a person that you thought was something, but is actually something else.  And sometimes those are civilians.

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