The EditorsMarch 23, 2016

On March 7, U.S. drones and manned aircraft killed about 150 people in Somalia. The Obama administration claimed the dead were Shabab fighters gathered for a graduation ceremony from a “terrorist boot camp” of sorts and that no civilian lives were lost. Many Americans seem ready to take government officials at their word. As Glenn Greenwald, an outspoken critic of the president’s counterterrorism policy, wryly put it, “Huge numbers of people today who have absolutely no idea who was killed are certain that they all deserved it.”

The body count in Somalia made these strikes notable; but the shadowy, unaccountable manner in which they were conducted is unfortunately not unusual in the U.S. stealth drone program, which has been conducted away from active war zones in countries like Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. The Obama administration announced in March it would soon release a detailed report on how many combatants and civilians have died in such strikes since 2009. Coming in President Obama’s final year, his pledge that these figures would be released annually rings hollow, as no future administration will be obligated to do so.

The Congress can and should mandate a yearly casualty report. But as the news from Somalia makes clear, much can be masked even by a seemingly open accounting of military and covert operations. When we hear that 10, 50 or 100 “terrorists” were killed, it is easy to lose sight of the human realities behind the numbers as well as the legal and moral questions raised by taking even one life. Telling us “how many” is hardly sufficient from a president who claims to head “the most transparent administration in history.” True accountability demands that he also explain why and on what authority.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

The latest from america

Evyatar Marienberg, a historian of religion at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, has written a book about Sting’s Catholic imagination and how it fueled his creativity.
Some experts say the level of detail included in the story suggests that whoever provided the information has access to large datasets and methods of analysis that could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—or more.
The cast of ‘Father Ted,’ from left clockwise: Pauline McLynn, Dermot Morgan, Ardal O'Hanlon and Frank Kelly (photo: Alamy/Moviestore Collection Ltd)
“Father Ted” can be seen as both a relic of an Irish moment and a humorous, but serious, argument against the confessional state.
Addison Del MastroJuly 23, 2021
Whether you’re not quite ready to return to in-person retreats, looking for a reflective space amid a busy schedule or just trying this form of prayer for the first time, online retreats are designed to help you pray no matter where you find yourself this summer.
Grace DoerflerJuly 23, 2021