The CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization which runs the Center for Naval Analyses, recently published an important report by Larry Lewis, entitled Drone Strikes in Pakistan: Reasons to Assess Civilian Casualties. Below is my summary of its major conclusions, and some of my concerns and criticisms. [For other (more positive) reactions to the study, see Professor Charli Carpenter's and Professor Derek Gregory's posts.]
I. Summary of major conclusions
Conclusion 1: The US government underestimates civilian casualty rates in Pakistan.
The report identifies two types of mistakes—legal errors and factual errors—that are part of current US policy.
Legal error: According to the report, the administration classifies some casualties as combatants when they should instead be presumed civilian unless proven otherwise. The source of this error includes: the legal definition of civilians, the presumption that should apply in cases of doubt, and the factors that should be used to rebut or uphold that presumption.
Factual error: According to the report, the US government tends to underestimate the actual count of civilian casualties because of flawed methods of verification (e.g., insufficient HUMINT and follow-up investigations on the ground).
Add-on no. 1: The study makes an interesting analytic point: the failure to count civilian casualties properly makes it difficult for the administration to meet its legal obligations to avoid harms to civilians. The report states:
“[T]he ability of a military to do everything possible to avert civilian harm is limited by its ability to consistently recognize instances of civilian harm. If the problem of civilian harm is not recognized and well-understood, then the actual scale of civilian harm will be misunderstood and measures will not be put in place to address it effectively.”
Added-on no.… continue »