Saturday, March 26, 2011

NPR Drones and Disappearing Civilian Casualties

It took awhile, but on Tuesday morning (3-22-11) NPR finally got around to covering (covering up) the March 17th drone-slaughter of civilians in AfPak. On the positive side, the report did feature the dire mental health effects that drone strikes have on residents of the area, and Julie McCarthy did contact a shopkeeper who ends the report by explaining:
"If anyone thinks that people here are happy over the drone strikes, they are foolish....In fact, the drones are fomenting hatred against the government and turning the people against America. We are killed by drones and then labeled as terrorists."
However, the story is undermined from the start. Steve Inskeep kicks things off this way,
"An attack last week reportedly killed at least 40 people. Some WERE militants but most are DESCRIBED as tribal elders." [No mention of where the confirmation of "militants" came from or why those other dozens are only "described" as elders.]
From this modest beginning, Julie McCarthy goes full-in:
"The U.S. has been conducting a covert program using unmanned drones to target militants in Pakistan since 2004. According to the Long War Journal, an authoritative website, the large majority of the 2,000 killed since 2006 were from the Taliban, al-Qaida and affiliated groups."
This statement tells you a lot about the rigor of NPR's standards. If thoroughly enmeshed with US state security/military institutions means authoritative - then the Long War Journal (LWJ) is very authoritative. Take a look at its website where you'll find out that its managing editor Bill Roggio has close ties to the conservative Hoover Institute and The Weekly Standard, frequently embeds with the US and allied militaries, and "presents regularly at the US Air Force's Contemporary Counterinsurgency Warfare School on the media and embedded reporting" (oh, and he also "served as a signalman and infantryman in the US Army and the New Jersey National Guard from 1991 to 1997.") As the LWJ masthead indicates, it is a project of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies - which a glance at its "Who We Are" section (rogues gallery) reveals what kind of "authoritative" viewpoint one can expect from the LWJ:
"Our Leadership Council of Distinguished Advisors includes former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former State Department Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, Forbes CEO Steve Forbes, former National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane, former Ambassador Max Kampelman, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey."
No surprise then that the LWJ's snappy charts claim - absent of any hard evidence - that in 2010, US airstrikes killed 801 Taliban/al-Qaeda operatives and only 14 civilians. In all the searching I've done it is clear that hard evidence is extremely difficult to come by - and that estimated of rates of civilian casualties in US drone strikes range from very high (over 90%) to high (about 30%) to low (3.5% ) to the LWJ's very low 1.7%! Given that the US and Pakistani governments have every reason to low-ball civilian casualties - and given that the US military always denies civilian casualties unless confronted by hard evidence - only a propagandist for the US military would claim a source for the lowest number as "authoritative."

This opting for the lowest numbers of civilian victims of the US long, long, long war is nothing new on NPR, in fact it's their gold standard.

1 comment:

larry, dfh said...

I'm sure you'll never hear

version of the raymond davis affiar, or the ensuing drone strikes on S-4-0 radio. Keepin' 'em stupid, indeed!