Are Drone Strikes Killing Terrorists or Creating Them?
What the evidence says about one of the biggest questions in the debate over targeted killings.
Hassan Abbas, The Atlantic, March 31, 2013
There's been a lot of chatter recently about "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," a new online infographic which shows a chilling visualization of all estimated deaths in Pakistan caused by U.S. drone strikes, including children and civilians, based on estimates from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and New America Foundation. Whether you agree with the numbers, or the politics, behind this particular project (put together by the data visualization firm Pitch Interactive), at least it's sparking debate. And that's got to be a good thing -- there's still so much we don't know about this highly controversial issue.
To say that the use of drone strikes is a polarizing topic would be a vast understatement. In U.S. policy circles, it's projected as an effective counter-terrorism tactic, whereas globally, it is often seen as tacit abuse of state sovereignty. And that's before you get to the debate over potential international law and human rights violations.
Take, for example, the use of drone strikes to target al-Qaida, the Taliban and their affiliates in the restive tribal belt of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. There are a variety of studies available regarding the accuracy, reliability and ultimate effectiveness of this tool of war, and, using the same data, analysts can come to very different conclusions depending on their particular point of view, or -- in some cases -- that of their employers.
For some, the percentage of civilian deaths is the criterion, and for others, denying the terrorists sanctuary is a critical benchmark. The problem is a lack of credible data (and consensus) regarding exactly how many terrorists have been killed by drone strikes and who those terrorists are. Thus, objectivity has become another victim in the process.