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October 22nd, 2013
06:39 PM ET

Amnesty International: Obama needs to explain why drone strikes killed civilians

Two new reports highlight the toll of drone strikes carried out by the Obama administration. There have been civilian casualties, something even the president has acknowledged.

The human rights group Amnesty International documents nine strikes in Pakistan between 2012 and 2013. One strike on October 24, 2012, killed a 68-year-old grandmother who was tending to her crops, according to Amnesty. They say her family witnessed her death, including her young grandchildren.

Human Rights Watch looked at six U.S. strikes in Yemen that they say killed 57 civilians, including a cleric and his cousin on August 29, 2012. Human Rights Watch said these men were known to preach against al Qaeda's violent methods.

Obama administration officials maintain that drone strikes allow the U.S. government to keep the world safer with small, strategic hits that eliminate enemies of the U.S. and its allies, at less of a cost in money or animosity than boots on the ground.

"In every operation that I'm aware of, I would say that the ironclad rule is that if a noncombatant is there, if a woman or child is there, no operation will proceed. And our operators are very diligent and this weapon is very, very precise," said Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

But Amnesty International's report disputes that, documenting at least two cases where civilians were killed.

"The problem is right now there's no accountability. So we have to open that up. At least in these cases, we've documented them very diligently ... the authorities must explain. President Obama has to explain why have these people been targeted, what kind of threat do they pose to the United States," said Amnesty International's Mustafa Qadri.

But these are top secret strikes, and the U.S. would certainly not explain targets beforehand.

"Certainly in these sorts of cases, where clearly you're talking about civilians, clearly people who are not a threat to the United States, at a minimum the U.S. should explain how did this happen, why did it happen, who was the target," said Qadri.

Additionally, said Qadri, if human rights were violated during a drone strike, then someone needs to be investigated.

"We're not talking about every single drone strike. What we're saying is that at the moment, there has not been a satisfactory explanation of law or fact to justify this whole program," said Qadri.

Both of these reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch detail strikes in which al Qaeda, in the cases of Yemen and Taliban in the cases of Pakistan, individuals – militants or terrorists – were struck and were killed, but they also talk about civilians as well.

For more of this discussion with Beacon Global Strategies' Jeremy Bash, and Amnesty International's Mustafa Qadri, watch the video above.

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