Ten More Strikes the Obama Administration Should Immediately Acknowledge and Investigate

The Obama administration took a long overdue step toward transparency for its “targeted” killing program when it last week openly acknowledged and took responsibility for the deaths of an American and an Italian civilian in a January 2015 strike in Pakistan.

But as many commentators rightly noted following the public acknowledgement, there are hundreds of other strikes that remain unexplained, and Pakistani and Yemeni civilian victims and families deserve the same public accounting.

NGOs and journalists have investigated and reported numerous cases in which there is credible evidence of civilian harm from US strikes outside traditional battlefields.

We’ve compiled here a selection of ten such cases, which the US government should immediately acknowledge and investigate. Where civilian harm is found, the government should publicly explain the injuries or deaths, and offer compensation to the families:

1. Yemen, December 17, 2009: 41 Civilians Allegedly Killed

On December 17, 2009, a US cruise missile strike in al-Majalah in southern Yemen is alleged to have killed at least 41 civilians in a Bedouin camp, in addition to possibly 14 members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Human Rights Watch (HRW) determined that the civilians included 21 children and nine women — five of whom were pregnant. Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that the United States and Yemen initially collaborated to portray the strike as a Yemeni operation.

2. Pakistan, March 17, 2011: 24 Civilians Allegedly Killed

A March 17, 2011 strike on a large gathering near a bus depot in Datta Khel, North Waziristan, is alleged to have killed at least 24 civilians. (See here, here, here, and here).

3. Pakistan, October 30, 2011: 4 Civilians Allegedly Killed

A US strike on October 30, 2011 reportedly killed four civilians who were traveling in a car in North Waziristan, Pakistan. According to an Open Society Foundations investigation, those killed were likely a businessman and several day laborers.

4. Pakistan, July 6, 2012: 18 Civilians Allegedly Killed

On July 6, 2012 a series of US strikes allegedly killed 18 civilians in Zowi Sidgi, North Waziristan, Pakistan. Amnesty International reported that the 18 victims were likely laborers, ten of whom were killed by a second round of strikes targeting those who had arrived at the scene of the first strike to help the wounded and recover the dead. The strikes reportedly injured 22 others, including an eight-year-old girl.

5. Yemen, August 29, 2012: 2 Civilians Allegedly Killed

An August 29, 2012 strike reportedly killed five men outside a mosque in Kashamir, Yemen. HRW determined that the strike killed a popular anti-AQAP cleric, Salim bin Ali Jaber, and his cousin Waleed, one of the village’s only policemen. The strike is also alleged to have killed three members of AQAP who had come to confront the cleric about his sermons. It has recently been reported that the US government knew civilians had been killed and the Jaber family says it received $100,000 in compensation, likely from the US. However, the United States has never publicly acknowledged or apologized for the strike. The Jaber family, represented by Reprieve and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, has filed a lawsuit in Germany over the role of the Ramstein military base in facilitating the US “targeted” killings program.

6. Yemen, September 2, 2012: 12 Civilians Allegedly Killed

There is credible evidence to suggest that a September 2, 2012 strike on a Toyota Land Cruiser in Yemen killed 12 passengers, including three children and a pregnant woman. In its investigation, HRW found that those killed included the breadwinners for more than 50 people in one of the poorest areas of Yemen.

7. Pakistan, October 24, 2012: 1 Civilian Allegedly Killed

An October 24, 2012 strike allegedly killed Mamana Bibi, a 68-year-old grandmother tending her crops in Ghundi Kala, a village in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Investigations conducted by Amnesty International found credible evidence that nine others were injured in the strike that killed Bibi. Eight of the injured were children, including several of Bibi’s grandchildren. In 2013, Bibi’s son and two of her grandchildren traveled to the United States and testified on Capital Hill.

8. Yemen, January 23, 2013: 5 Civilians Allegedly Injured

A January 23, 2013 strike in al-Baidha Governorate in Yemen targeted a house in which 19 civilians lived, near where approximately 30 civilians had gathered to watch the only television in the village. The Open Society Justice Initiative and the Yemeni organization Mwatana determined that the strike injured five civilians, including two children.

9. Yemen, December 12, 2013: Up to 12 Civilians Allegedly Killed

A December 12, 2013 strike on a convoy in rural Yemen allegedly killed at least 12 and wounded 15 others. HRW has reported on investigations that suggest the convoy was a wedding procession, and that there is evidence to suggest that some, if not all, of those killed and wounded were civilians. Journalist Iona Craig also investigated the strike, reporting that the government of Yemen offered representatives of each victim’s family $9,300.

10. Yemen, April 19, 2014: 4 Civilians Allegedly Killed

On April 19, 2014 the United States allegedly targeted a truck carrying suspected militants in al-Sawma’ah, Yemen. An investigation by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Mwatana found credible evidence that shrapnel from the strike killed four civilians and injured five others who were traveling in a nearby car. 

About the Author(s)

Sarah Knuckey

Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, Director of the Human Rights Clinic, Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute, Former Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions (2007-2016) Follow her on Twitter (@SarahKnuckey).

Balqees Mihirig

LL.M. Candidate in International Law, Member of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, Former Litigator at the Department of Justice in Canada

Bassam Khawaja

Third Year Law Student at Columbia Law School, Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Incoming Sandler Fellow at Human Rights Watch Follow him on Twitter (@Bassam_Khawaja).

Surya Gopalan

Australian Lawyer, LLM Student at Columbia Law School, Former Adviser to a Council of Australian Governments' Review of Counter-Terrorism Legislation Follow him on Twitter (@surya_gopalan).