Report: U.S. drones also killed rescuers after strikes

Razani Base, Waziristan,Aug. 1938, from which British and Indian forces suppressed a local insurrection.
Photo: Brian Harrington Spier, under CC

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that drones targeted funeral mourners and rescuers responding to prior strikes. One government official, granted the veil of anonymity by The New York Times, would not deny that it had done so. Instead, he or she suggested that to "malign the efforts" was to "help Al Qaeda succeed."

Glenn Greenwald notes that the New York Times broke its own policies on source anonymity to run the quote.

The Bureau’s journalists and researchers spent months engaged in the painstaking and difficult task of gathering documentation on the effects of the top secret U.S. drone program in Waziristan — producing extraordinary findings — only to find themselves and their sources, many of whom are local villagers whose children have been killed, depicted as Al Qaeda’s witting or unwitting allies the very next day in The New York Times, by some senior government official too frightened to put his name on his accusations and aided (as always) by a newspaper that has repeatedly vowed to stop these practices.

It looks like the price of continued access to "senior counterterrorism officials" is that you must, now and again, launder their dirty political opinions.


  1. In the G+ Hangout that Obama did, he was asked about drone strikes, and his response included the claim that the strikes were precisely targeted against confirmed, active terrorists.

    Between this and the above article, which claim do you believe?

    1. Would these be the same sort of “terrorists” as the ones who “blew themselves up” in Syria?

    1.  Why does it have to be news?  We’re trying to shame the NYT into delivering responsible journalism.  The news is their job, we just want them to do it better.

  2. Those so-called rescuers were confirmed terrorists.  They destroyed US military property (about $80,000 per missile it took to blow them up) and getting killed by US ordnance has been classified as a terrorist act.  

    1. Sorta like how some guys and gals assault police officers by striking the officers’ fists with their unmoving faces.

  3. How, er, uncomfortably similar to the similarly craven claim that Gitmo detainees attempting suicide were actually just sinister asymmetric PR-warriors…

  4. Clearly, just killing them is immensely less troublesome to this administration than is the wrangling that ensues if we take them prisoner instead.

  5. I came upon this yesterday (via Greenwald) and boy, was I nauseas.

    I know that the Taliban didn’t hand over OBL no-strings-attached, but is that really grounds for death for every member of the group for all eternity? These people are not a threat to us, and raining down death from the skies until they all die is not going to work.

    Yes, the Taliban is nasty. I’ve hated them since they blew up those Buddhist statues. But this drone campaign, beyond being counter-productive, profoundly immoral. They have every right to fight back against foreign occupiers (us). We need to get out of there, NOW.

  6. The drone operator has strict rules of engagement to follow, and if it’s determined that those conditions weren’t met, they will be charged with murder. Every kill is witnessed, verified and accounted for.

    1.  Which happens in every case at all times.  There has never been and never will be a failure in oversight, and it’s absurd to suggest that the U.S. military would ever lie about or attempt to cover up a mission, botched or otherwise, that reflected poorly on the ethics or competence of that organization. 

      Also, Nixon was a fantastic human being.  A real mensch.

  7. Instead, he or she suggested that to “malign the efforts” was to “help Al Qaeda succeed.” 

    What a nasty little bastard…


      Er, yeah. That all caps was for the 1984 effect, not internet shouting. I’m just typing this, really, to prove that I can type like a normal human being. And sometimes I wish I didn’t live on this continent/planet/solar system anymore.

  8. Nice base in the picture.  I wonder how long it took to make it flat, who did all the work and how much they weren’t paid.  Anyway, back on topic: near speechless.  I used to call for war crimes prosecution of Bush and Cheney, I guess if I’m going to be consistent I have to say the same about Obama. Damn.

    Update III in the Greenwald piece is pretty choice: “Nobel Peace Prize officials were facing a formal inquiry over accusations they have drifted away from the prize’s original selection criteria by choosing such winners as President Barack Obama.”

    1. “We believe that our Peace Prize candidate selections effectively honor the spirit of Alfred Nobel, as empirically determined by what he did, if not what he wished to be remembered for.”

      Bulletproof(but not HE-resistant) defense…

  9. I wrote a letter to the Time’s Public Editor,

    To the Public Editor:

    Yesterday’s story by Scott Shane, “U.S. Said to Target Rescuers at Drone Strike Sites” (Feb 5th, 2012), quotes an anonymous “senior American counterterrorism official” to smear the work of Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and to imply that all those who question any aspect of the War on Terror “would like nothing more than to … help Al Qaeda succeed.”

    The use of an anonymous source in this context appears to run directly counter to the following policies in the Time’s “Principles for Granting Anonymity” (

    – We do not grant anonymity to people who are engaged in speculation
    – We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack. If pejorative opinions are worth reporting and cannot be specifically attributed, they may be paraphrased or described after thorough discussion between writer and editor.
    – We should avoid automatic references to sources who “insisted on anonymity” or “demanded anonymity”
    – The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy.

    By granting this anonymous official the pedestal of a direct quotation, the Times is breaking its own policies to allow an administration to continue repeating the old lie that those who question US policies aid terrorists.

    The readers of the Times deserve better: Why was this personal, partisan and speculative attack granted anonymity?


    Cambridge, MA

    1. The Public Editor wrote back. Here is his reply:

      Thanks for your message, one of a number I received about this story.

      I have had an opportunity to ask the reporter, Scott Shane, about it and reflect on the circumstances. On the positive side, I applaud The Times for covering the findings of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as I believe that the scale of civilian casualties is a very important aspect of the U.S. drone program. Covering this aspect of the issue, especially considering the findings that civilians casualties are significant, is essential for The Times and, it should be mentioned, not welcomed by the Obama administration.

      Among the challenges of covering the drone program is the fact that administration officials refuse to speak for the record on the basis that the program is secret. Obviously, this is an area of contention — I have written in the past challenging The Times to do more to force the government to say more for the record about the program and its legal rationale.

      The Times since then has sued the government to publish its legal rationale.

      There is, I believe, a very legitimate question about whether Mr. Shane should have used the anonymous quote in his recent story. His defense is that there’s a good case for letting readers know what their government actually said. On the day he was reporting the story, Mr. Shane said, the only response he had from the government was the statement he used, which had come to him as a formulated statement via email. It can certainly be argued that the government’s statement appeared to put the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in a bad light, particularly the unnamed official’s phrase about a “number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.”

      On the other hand, the quote does not specifically accuse the bureau of anything, and it is possible to interpret the quote as referring not to the bureau itself but instead to sources of information to the bureau, which could include militants and others with an interest in countering the U.S. drone program.

      Mr. Shane acknowledges it would have helped the story if he had been able to get officials to clarify the meaning of the statement but he was not able to do so.

      On balance, my view is that the quote was vague and did not explicitly accuse the bureau of anything. The Times’s reliance on anonymous statements by U.S. officials remains a significant problem but it has to be acknowledged that the paper, via its lawsuit, is actively engaged in forcing more public accountability of the program. At the present, given the choice between no statement at all from the government and an anonymous one, the anonymous one is preferable so long as it complies with The Times’s policy on anonymous sources (which I believe allows for the quote that was used in this instance).

      Mr. Shane, thanks to readers raising questions about this and other uses of anonymous quotes in coverage of the drone program, tells me he will work in the future to try and get better clarity from officials when they offer statements like this one, which carried a dark implication re the bureau but was vaguely worded.

      Art Brisbane
      public editor

  10. [Cue teapot’s ridicule of the NYT’s increasing insignificance]

    I have never gone from liking something to hating it in such a short time. Goes to show what happens when the reader pays attention for more than one day’s news.

    Realise it people: NYT is just a shitty, unethical mouthpiece for those with power and money.

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