During the 2014 Gaza-Israel war, more than 2,100 Gazans died. The UN concluded--using corrupted data given to it by Hamas—that some 1,500 of these deaths were civilian.
America—Israel’s ‘greatest ally’--was quick to accept the Hamas estimates. The US condemned Israel for an excessive number of civilian Gazan deaths (Lara Jakes and Matthew Lee, “Washington scolds Israel over civilian casualties in Gaza”, Globe and Mail, July 17, 2014).
Hamas in Gaza had started the war. Hamas had used human shields in the war (“Additional findings in the examination of the names of Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge - Part Eight” December 29, 2014, Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center). Hamas had counted combatants as civilians in order to increase the civilian death toll (ibid).
Even the New York Times—whose coverage of the war was anti-Israel—noted problems with Hamas’ reporting of civilian death in Gaza (Jodi Rudoren, “Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead From the Gaza Conflict”, New York Times, August 5, 2015). Nevertheless, the US continued its ‘too many civilian deaths’ criticism (Izzy Lemberg, “Obama’s ambush of Israel”, Times of Israel, August, 14, 2015). America complained loudly that Israel simply wasn’t doing everything it could to reduce Gazan civilian casualties (Jakes and Lee, ibid).
You should remember this criticism of ‘excessive casualties’ because a report has surfaced about leaked secret US documents (Ari Rusila, “The Drone Papers By The Intercept”, Ari Rusila’s Balkan Perspective, October 31, 2015). It seems that a news/opinion site—The Intercept—has set up a secure ‘drop box’ to encourage US government employees to provide (illegally) classified information that reveals abuses committed by the US government (ibid).
The Intercept has published what it calls a cache of secret documents that detail the inner workings of a US military assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia (ibid). The document is called, “The Drone Papers” (ibid).
“The Drone Papers” contains eight independent essays (including a ‘glossary’). These separate essays detail how the US military has used ‘killer drones’ to assassinate terrorists in what is called, ‘targeted killings’ (ibid). These essays argue that the Obama administration has actively masked the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes “by categorizing unidentified people killed in a strike as enemies” (The Drone Papers, “The Assassination Complex”).
In fact, at one point in early 2012/late 2011, unnamed US counter-terrorism officials became concerned about these strikes. They felt the government wasn’t being honest about civilian deaths (Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will”, New York Times, May 29, 2012).
In 2011, a trusted White House advisor raised suspicions about those deaths: in a speech, he claimed that “not a single non-combatant had been killed in a year of strikes” (ibid).
That seemed to some to be completely unbelievable. Then, in an interview, an administration official claimed that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the ‘single digits’ (ibid).
Senior intelligence officials at the time were appalled. They expressed “disbelief that the number could be so low” (ibid).
Now, these leaked documents—if authentic—suggest that these intelligence officials had reason to express disbelief. For example, in an operation called ‘Haymaker’ civilian death numbers were excessive: in one 5-month period, 9 of 10 people killed during ‘Haymaker’ drone strikes were ‘not the intended targets’ (The Drone Papers, “Manhunting in the Hindu Kush”). That suggests they were civilians.
These documents further suggest a high probability that, in a period stretching a year that ended February 2013, only 35 of 200 killed on the ground were really terrorists. The remaining 165 dead were probably civilian (ibid).
There’s a reason for this civilian-death uncertainty. Drone-strike results were not based on verification. They were based upon a presumptive conclusion: if there was no real evidence that a killed person was civilian, he was counted as an enemy (ibid).
In practical terms, this meant that if a terrorist-target had, say, seven people around him at the time of a strike, all eight were presumed to be ‘enemies’ (“The Drone Papers”).
It’s altogether possible that US Drone strikes actually had civilian death rates between 75 -90 per cent on most strikes. No one knows for sure.
No one knows for sure because no one asked. No one asked because the drone-strike program had a policy: trust (that the intelligence you receive is accurate). But do not verify (New York Times, ibid).
How did the Obama administration protect civilians in its secret drone war? It did nothing. Instead, it counted many civilians as ‘enemies’.
The Obama administration vilified Israel for a civilian death rate in the 2014 Gaza war that ranged from 54 per cent (Meir Amit, above) to 72 per cent (UN). But two years earlier, US counter-intelligence officials were concerned about US civilian death rates which, we now learn, could have ranged up to 90 per cent.
More important, some say that Obama himself oversaw the drone program (New York Times, above). He insisted on approving every name on the drone hit-list (ibid). He personally oversaw this ‘shadow war’ (ibid).
If these leaked documents are authentic, Obama’s behaviour towards Israel in 2014 was outrageous. While he demanded that Israel ‘do more’ to protect civilians in Gaza, he himself managed a program that did absolutely nothing to protect civilians in secret drone wars in Afghanistan and Yemen.
In the end, Obama and Hamas sink to the same moral level. Hamas counts combatants as civilians—and Obama counts civilians as combatants.
What does that say about Obama?