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Obama’s “Strict” Standards on Civilian Deaths That Never Were

By: Alice Salles - Oct 7, 2014, 9:57 am
US President Barack Obama has (The White House)
US President Barack Obama’s drone strikes brought 2,400 deaths in their first five years. (The White House)

EspañolA report published last Tuesday claims that President Barack Obama’s once-strict standards regarding civilian deaths have fallen by the wayside, as US forces intensify air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.

What is most troubling about this specific report is that it conveys the notion that President Obama’s civilian-death standards were, at one time, tight or even “strict.”

The article, originally published by Yahoo! News, affirms that the White House’s new policy can be considered less stringent than before, mostly because of its wording. The old policy outlawed US drone strikes, except in cases where there was “near certainty” civilians would not be directly affected. According to National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden, this policy represented, “the highest standard we can meet,” but it does not cover current air strikes against militants in Syria and Iraq.

But how is that possible?

According to Hayden, the conflict between the United States and ISIS militants takes place in areas of “active hostilities.” Former standards were only applicable in areas that were not engaged in active hostility, allowing airstrikes to take place outside the established guidelines, which could save the lives of countless innocent civilians.

Does this mean Syria and Iraq are civilian-free war zones, where only militants engaging in armed struggle are currently present? Of course not, but an acknowledgement of the presence of innocent civilians would impede the Obama administration’s prevailing military efforts.

Consider the questionable US attack on the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria’s Idlib province on September 23, which claimed the lives of women and young children. The Obama administration said this particular strike targeted the so-called Khorasan group, not ISIS militants. The stated reasoning for the attack included the group’s alleged plan to attack the United States.

Even if one were to assume noble intentions for the US offensive, it has received rebuke from local rebel commanders, working in conjunction with the United States against ISIS. They claim all that was accomplished on that day was damage to US reputation and an emboldening of the Nusra Front, the al Qaeda-related Syrian rebel group.

While White House officials assert that the air strikes follow US military laws of armed conflict, the actual operators appear to target civilian areas deliberately. And what if I told you these purportedly “strict” standards have been broken repeatedly under Obama’s oversight before?

Obama’s Drone Strikes Killed Thousands in Pakistan, Yemen 

The Obama administration have been known to bend their own outwardly strict standards to accomplish their war efforts.

During drone strikes against militants in Yemen and Pakistan, administration officials deemed all adult males present in targeted areas to be combatants and thus eligible for attack. Thus, they circumvented guidelines regarding how the United States counts civilian casualties.

According to recent reports, at least 2,400 people have been killed in five years of drone strikes carried out under Obama. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism claims, in Pakistan alone, between 416 and 951 civilian casualties have occurred, including roughly 200 children.

While most people killed in the attacks over the years have been alleged militants, the high civilian death count shows the United States has failed to meet her own standards.

While it’s important that the mainstream media has finally taken notice of Obama’s failure to follow US military guidelines, it’s also important to remember this is neither the first nor the last of such instances.

Alice Salles Alice Salles

Alice Salles is a wordsmith, editor, and ghost writer. As a UnitedLiberty.org contributor and columnist for the popular Brazilian culture and politics website Liberzone.com.br, she covers both foreign and domestic policy and offers commentary from a libertarian perspective. Follow @AliceSalles.