On 24 September, the Every Casualty Campaign, in partnership with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), held an event at Somerset House to mark the launch of TBIJ’s new ‘Naming the Dead’ Project. The initiative aims to identify those killed by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. It builds on the Bureau’s two-year project tracking drone strikes in Pakistan and the numbers of people reportedly killed.
TBIJ and the Every Casualty Campaign marked the launch with a screening of a short film on the project’s background and the launch of a dedicated website - www.thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead. The website lists the known names of those reported killed by drones, together with as much biographical information as can be gathered. In attendance were journalists from British and British-based Pakistani media organisations, including the BBC, Channel 4 and Geo TV, along with representatives from government and NGOs, including Amnesty International, Save the Children and Plan UK.
Hamit Dardagan, Co-Director of the Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group (ORG) provided introductory remarks before the film’s screening. He echoed one of the campaign’s main tenets, calling on states (in this case the US) to ensure that all casualties of armed violence are promptly recorded, correctly identified and publicly acknowledged.
The onus has to be on those who propose drone strikes to be able to justify them not just in advance, but afterwards, to actually show that they killed who they said they would (…) There is a great deal of interest before a strike as to who is hit, but a strange incuriosity about who was actually killed after these attacks.
While the Obama administration claims that drones have killed only militants – and praised the ‘surgical precision’ allowed by drone technology – it does not publish its own account of who has been killed. By gaining a clearer understanding of who is being killed in drone strikes in Pakistan the Bureau aims to inform the debate around the effectiveness of the United States’ use of drones and to highlight the civilian and ‘militant’ casualties.
All sorts of claims are made about drones and their effectiveness, and this is clearly a brand new weapon of war that is going to become even more significant in the future”, Christo Hird, Managing Editor of TBIJ, told the audience. “Yet, this public debate has very little information at the centre of it (…). We can’t have a debate (…) unless we have the absolute basic facts about who it is that is being killed (…). This was the aspiration behind setting up this project.”
After over two years of investigation, combing media sources, as well as court sources and field studies, the Bureau has so far identified by name 568 individuals killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. This includes 295 casualties classed as civilians. Based on their ongoing work, TBIJ estimates that more than 2,500 people have died over the course of the CIA’s drone war, with over 400 civilian casualties. Their figures – publicly documented on Naming the Dead's website – contradict the United States’ assertion that no civilians have been killed in the covert drone war in Pakistan.
A panel discussion followed the film. This also included BBC Journalist and former Pakistan Correspondent, Owen Bennett-Jones, and Human Rights Barrister, Shazadi Beg. Alice Ross, Project Leader of TBIJ’s work on drones, warned that:
2,500 is the tip of the iceberg (…). There is significantly more harm that is going on. This is the start of a long process with which we really hope to bring home the human aspect of the covert drone war: the fact that these are not just numbers, these are people that matter.
Casualty recording efforts, such as ‘Naming the Dead’, are a key step towards transparency and truth. A comprehensive recording of the deaths of individuals as a result of drone strikes can and should be done. Yet, the reality is that many deaths will go unrecorded and unrecognised. As a consequence, the rights of victims and their families remain unfulfilled, and a culture of impunity for conflict parties and indignity for those killed is allowed to take root.
The Every Casualty Programme at Oxford Research Group, the Every Casualty Campaign and TBIJ are contributing to establishing and advocating for a norm that every casualty should be recorded and acknowledged.