Under the circumstances, that’s difficult to prove. And as Natasha Lennard points out in Salon, “the very question of how the administration categorizes ‘civilian’ or ‘enemy combatant’ is in itself contentious.” It has been reported that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent evidence which later shows them to have been innocent bystanders.
But that low-number assertion by Sen. Feinstein, Mr. Brennan, and others has been challenged by independent reports indicating much larger numbers of civilian casualties due to “targeted killings” by drones.
In their report titled “Living under Drones,” researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School found “evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies” including “significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.”
Drawing on the work of the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the NYU/Stanford researchers report that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children, while injuring an additional 1,228-1,362 people.
“US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury,” the report states.
“Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities…. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.”