The Common Good

DRONE WATCH: Just the Facts, Ma’am.

The first news stories Friday afternoon (from AP and AFP) wrote of 4 suspected militants killed by two missiles fired from a drone in northwest Pakistan. It was soon updated to 9 dead, which is what we reported at the end of the day.

This morning, I checked my Reader and found 30-some new stories overnight (many just repeats of updated wire stories.) But the stories and death totals were all over the map. Some still echoed the earlier AP story; there were also reports of 12 deaths, or 15, or 21, and a few 24.  The most comprehensive stories told of three drones. According to the Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

"The initial strike on a house killed 13 militants, five more were killed in a second attack when they drove to the site to recover dead bodies, and a third drone killed six more five minutes later, a senior security official in Peshawar said."

Other stories also recounted the 3 drone strikes, but gave varying numbers of deaths in each of the three.

Here is a more detailed version from DAWN, another Pakistani newspaper, which tells of multiple drones and 20 deaths:

"According to sources, six missiles hit the fortress-like residence of tribesman Muhammad in Zoi Nari locality of tehsil Dattakhel at around 8:45pm.

Local people rushed to the site of the attack and started rescue work while drones continued to hover over the area. They retrieved 17 bodies and two injured persons from the rubble of the house.

At about 10:30pm, the drones fired another two missiles on the compound, some 35km from the agency’s headquarters of Miramshah, when tribesmen were still carrying out rescue work. Three people died and two others were injured in the attack.

Local tribesmen feared the number of the people killed or injured might go up because they had to stop work due to the hovering drones. They said most of the bodies retrieved were mutilated beyond recognition."

These details raise two questions:

First, will we ever know how many deaths there were on Friday? And if they were militants, civilians, or both?

Second, even if  one accepts the U.S. rationale for targeting militants (which I don’t), if it is true that after the initial strike, a second strike was launched some time later against rescue and recovery efforts, experts consider that a violation of international law – a war crime.

Perhaps in another day or so we will get the complete story, with timeline and casualty totals.  But what is already clear is that these attacks must stop.