WASHINGTON, DC— As US covert drone strikes become more entrenched as an accepted counterterrorism strategy, the US government needs to conduct a thorough accounting of the impact on civilians, said a new report released today by Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and Center for Civilians in Conflict.
The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions is the first systematic study of the US government’s covert drone program and its impact on civilian populations. The US claims of precision and the low number of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes, while not empirically disproven, obscure key questions about civilian harm in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
“Drones are a technological advance, but in practice they carry their own problems for minimizing harm to civilians, especially when used in places with fewer US boots on the ground,” said Naureen Shah, Acting Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia. “For example, drones produce a flood of video data that’s hard to corroborate, and it’s nearly impossible to properly investigate who was actually killed or injured.”
Signature strikes—strikes that target individuals based on patterns of behavior identified by US intelligence—are particularly risky for civilians.