In January, a barrage of American missiles struck a suspected Al Qaeda hideout in Pakistan. Unbeknownst to intelligence officials, however, American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, both kidnapped aid workers, were held hostage inside and died in the attack. Then three weeks ago, after a preliminary investigation, President Obama did something wholly unprecedented in his global war of “targeted killings”: he stepped up to a podium in the White House and apologized to Weinstein and Lo Porto’s families.
“One of the things that sets America apart from many other nations,” Obama said, “one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
Yet Obama’s square confrontation with his mistakes has never included an apology before—the overwhelming majority of as many as, by one count, 1,250 civilian deaths in what has become known as his “drone war” never get acknowledged by the administration at all, let alone elicit public contrition.
Now, a coalition of human and civil rights groups are pushing the administration to put its policies in line with Obama’s lofty rhetoric. Today, they wrote a letter to the president demanding that he do for all the alleged civilian victims of drone strikes what he’s doing in Weinstein and Lo Porto’s cases.
The groups—which include the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, CIVIC, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Columbia Law’s Human Rights Clinic, Human Rights First, Open Society Foundations and Reprieve—welcomed Obama’s promise of an independent investigation into Weinstein and Lo Porto’s deaths as well as the offer of compensation to their families.
“We write to urge your administration to adopt the same approach to all other U.S. counterterrorism strikes in which civilians have been injured or killed—regardless of their nationalities,” the coalition letter goes on. “To that end, your administration should establish a systematic and transparent mechanism for post-strike investigations, which are made public, and provide appropriate redress to civilian victims.”
And the rights groups came with suggestions of some places for the Obama administration to start: the letter included an appendix of ten cases—not “an exhaustive list, but ten examples of strikes in which civilian harm has been credibly alleged”—for the administration to investigate and make its findings known. The ten cases, based upon on-the-ground investigations of strikes by some of the groups on the letter, first appeared in post by a professor and three students from the Human Rights Clinic on the legal blog Just Security.