John Brennan’s Lie About Civilian Casualties

Chris Woods, January 09, 2013

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Claims by the Central Intelligence Agency’s new director-designate that the US intelligence services received ‘no information’ about any civilians killed by US drones in the year prior to June 2011 do not appear to bear scrutiny.

John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to take over the CIA, had claimed in a major speech in summer 2011 that there had not been ‘a single collateral death’ in a covert US strike in the past year due to the precision of drones. He later qualified his statement, saying that at the time of his comments he had ‘no information’ to the contrary.

Yet just three months beforehand, a major US drone strike had killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians. As well as being widely reported by the media at the time, Islamabad’s concerns regarding those deaths were also directly conveyed to the ‘highest levels of the Administration’ by Washington’s then-ambassador to Pakistan, it has been confirmed to the Bureau.

This confirmation suggests that senior US officials were aware of dozens of civilian deaths just weeks before Brennan’s claims to the contrary.

Jirga deaths

The CIA drone strike in Pakistan on March 17, which bombed the town of Datta Khel in North Waziristan and killed an estimated 42 people, has always seemed a contradiction of Brennan’s official statement.

The attack was later justified by an anonymous US official as a so-called ‘signature strike’ where the identities of those killed was unknown. They insisted that ‘a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ-linked militants, were killed.’

In fact the gathering was a jirga, or tribal meeting, called to resolve a local mining dispute. Dozens of tribal elders and local policemen died, along with a small number of Taliban.

Within hours of the attack Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief publicly condemned the mass killing of dozens of civilians. Pakistan’s president also later protested about the strike to a visiting delegation from the US House Armed Services Committee, led by Congressman Rob Wittman.

An official Pakistani government document issued at the time reports that Washington’s then-ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on March 18 for a dressing-down.

A strongly worded statement reported that ‘Ambassador Munter was categorically conveyed that such strikes were not only “unacceptable” but also constituted “a flagrant violation of humanitarian norms and law”.’

Munter also intended ‘to convey Pakistan’s message to the US Administration at the highest levels,’ the Foreign Ministry press release claimed.

While some challenge Pakistan’s portrayal of some aspects of the meeting, it is not disputed that the Ambassador did indeed convey Pakistan’s concerns to the highest levels in the US government.

‘Not a single collateral death’

Yet three months after the Datta Khel strike, John Brennan would insist that covert US drone strikes were so accurate that they were no longer killing civilians, and had not done so for the previous 12 months.

He told an audience on June 29 that ‘I can say that the types of operations… that the US has been involved in, in the counter-terrorism realm, that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.’

The Datta Khel attack was not the only time that civilians had died in the period referred to by Brennan. Working with veteran Pakistani reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai and field researchers in the tribal areas, the Bureau identified and published details of 45 civilians known at the time to have been killed by CIA drones in ten strikes between August 2010 and June 2011, the date of Brennan’s speech. Many of those killed had died at Datta Khel.

The Bureau presented a summary of its findings to the White House and to John Brennan’s office in July 2011. Both declined to comment.

Nine months later, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News challenged Brennan on his original claims.

‘Do you stand by the statement you have made in the past that, as effective as they have been, [drones] have not killed a single civilian?’  the interviewer asked. ‘That seems hard to believe.’

Brennan was robust, insisting that ‘what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed.’

Military-aged males

A later report in the New York Times provided a possible explanation for Brennan’s robustness. The paper revealed that Washington ‘counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’

Since all of the civilians killed at Datta Khel were adult males, officials may simply have discounted their deaths. There are no indications that the CIA has amended its records since.

The Bureau has now raised its estimate of the number of civilians killed in the period Brennan claimed none had died to 76, including eight children and two women. The new figures are based in part on our own research and on studies by Associated Press and Stanford and New York universities.

John Brennan, 57, is Barack Obama’s first choice as the new director of the CIA. As the president’s chief counter-terrorism adviser he helped to bring Yemen’s Arab Spring to a reasonably peaceful conclusion. And he also played a key role in the killings of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaqi and a host of other senior militant leaders.

Brennan also spearheaded a massive expansion of US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The American Civil Liberties Union urged caution in appointing him as CIA chief. Calling on the Senate to investigate any recent involvement by John Brennan or the CIA in ‘torture, abuse, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition,’ the ACLU’s Laura Murphy also urged an end to the CIA’s ‘targeted killing program.’

Mr Brennan’s office did not respond when asked to confirm whether he had been directly informed of the Pakistan government’s concerns over civilian deaths back in March 2011.

Follow Chrisjwoods on Twitter.

This article was originally published at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.




28 Responses to “John Brennan’s Lie About Civilian Casualties”

  1. Obama Drone Control got you scared?
    Obama's choice of John Brennan for CIA not your
    choice?
    How about signing the online White House Petition
    to End Drone Strikes Killing Children and
    innocent civilians? http://wh.gov/UKpQ

  2. Americans have become arrogant and are always engles bloody killers of Pakistanis in the name of terror as america has become terror state. If one suppose is a terrorist but hundreds are civilian what is then and for american civilian life has no value becaus those killed are poor people and our ISI is purchased by america even Zardari notorious president of pakistan a criminal who even killed his wife.
    Life is life a kiled is a killed person and not that american life is worth and those of Pakistanis is worth less.
    What a wonderful democraty so called civilised western world.

  3. C'mon, now. Our rationale is: kill them, and then let someone prove us wrong, because we exercise 'due process' through our partnership with Congress- after all we tell the Committees everything, you can trust me on that, and they exercise exceedingly careful oversight, just like us, even though we're not going to let them have our legal memoranda from our law guys telling us why program is legal. We just can’t. It’s classified, after all. So, after we do all of that, and let me tell you it's hard work and it’s a lot of work, we find them guilty (whoever they are, since we don't always know their names), guilty, as charged….as we always thought. I have good instincts for that.

    If you don't believe me, ladies, just ask Hillary and Diane. Susan and Samantha have our back, too. Maybe they're all on the review team, do you think? But you would never know it, and I could get in trouble and would be breaking the law if I told you….because… it's secret. And look, anyone in the vicinity- whether at a wedding, funeral, marketplace, mosque, wherever- is guilty as well. After all, they must have been or they wouldn’t have been there, right? And if it’s a young man, who cares who he’s with. He should have had more responsible parents. (They just don’t teach their kids the same way there as we do.)

    So you see, no one who's killed is not guilty, never. We're so surgical with that laser that we’re 100% on the money. Besides, it's so much easier on our troops. No labor problems there with someone going on strike because they lost their job to a robot. And it's so much cheaper than the cost of a manned air operation- you know how greedy those arms manufacturers are (though those drones are no cheap babies, let me tell you). And, it’s so much less complicated than having to capture and interrogate them, what with these problems of own people sometimes getting queasy over torture.
    Americans just don’t understand that it’s not torture. At least the Israelis know it, and they have the stomach for it. We should too. All’s fair in love and war, right? And whatever anyone else thinks, I like 24 and that Bigelow woman’s film. She’s got our back.

    But don't worry, I'm clean, I don't lie, I don't break the law, and I've been doing this for many, many years, so you can believe me, and anyway, I speak the lingo and know how those people think and live, and I've palled around with a few sheiks in my time. And don't forget: "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" and in our "war on terror" there is no "there" there, and no law either.

    So, keep it simple, stupid.

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  5. I guess " with term Military age man " Obama boys would be able the killing Military age man in Srebrenica or any other battle field is justify. I guess with good lawyers., and when you are able as Emperor to rule and appoint a judges evan in International War crime tribunal you can't commit war crime..it is impossible.Just Imagine Hitler had this power……wow…and of course Media in background to support it !

  6. When I read about people like Brennan and others of his ilk in the US administration and the massacres they have ordered and condoned I wonder what would have happened to them had they been before the Nuremberg Tribunal?

  7. But the deaths of those in the pentagon on 9/11 were Men of Military age and of the women, Women serve in the US Army. Surely that means that those killings were in fact lawful. They would be under the current criteria!

  8. intelligence services target networks of people (human terrain / humint) in order to id and mark bad guy(s) for death or capture.

    civil liberties / human rights groups, like ACLU, will deliberately target behavior that is not in line with their policies.

    therefore, the legal and moral challenge is trying to find a delicate balance / compromise between defending, or preventing against terrorism, and the right of human beings to avoid drone strikes.

    So far the problem is that no balance or compromise has been reached.
    the attacks began before any earnest resolution on the matter.

    now that the intel groups have started their drone campaign, the human right groups have an upward battle to show that protecting innocent people is equally important as defending / preventing against terrorism.

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  15. When was this happen? I think the CIA should do their best to determine who are the responsible of that civilian casualties

  16. I never heard civilian casualties from the CIA. . yeah, when was this happen.?

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