An imam dies in a U.S. drone strike days after preaching against Al-Qaeda. American missiles wipe out a carload of shoppers, including a mother and her 10-year-old daughter. A wedding is ruined when a drone attack kills a dozen guests.
These are some of the most well-documented cases of civilian deaths from President Barack Obama’s secret war in Yemen. In each instance, multiple witnesses with broadly consistent accounts have told several independent parties what they saw. When media attention to one of these stories reaches a certain pitch — as the December 2013 wedding convoy strike recently did — the administration typically issues a spare, unattributed denial without further explanation or any contradictory evidence.
As a result, despite the strenuous efforts of field journalists and investigators at Reprieve — the nonprofit I work for that represents victims of the war on terrorism — and other organizations, the public lacks answers to essential questions. How do these keep mistakes happening? Why do they persist after Obama claims to have reined in his drones? Why do his officials refuse even to engage witnesses?
The short answer, it appears, is that an overweening faith in surveillance and Big Data has come to exercise a dangerously strong grip on this administration.