This joint report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic is an in-depth look at the US government’s covert drone program and its impact on civilian populations. Our objective is to critically assess US government procedures and standards for ensuring civilian protection and responding to civilian harm from drone strikes conducted both outside of full-scale military operations and with a degree of secrecy. The study is based on a review of publicly available materials, interviews with current and former government officials, responses to requests for information from agencies, and previous field interviews by Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Drones are touted as the most precise and humane weapons platform in the history of warfare. The technological advance is significant, but covert drone strikes carry costs for civilians and local communities even as they become a policy norm. Blinded by the promise of this technology and reports of short-term effectiveness in killing militants, policymakers are failing to ask hard questions of the drones program, including whether other tactics or strategies are more appropriate to counterterrorism strategy, and whether US expansion of strikes to new places and against new groups is truly justified.


Notes to editors:

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.