Demand Accuracy in Casualty Reporting for Drone Strikes

Target: President Obama

Goal: Stop considering all military-age males killed in drone strikes to be “enemy combatants,” which can lead to underreporting of civilian casualites.

For the past several years, the United States has been utilizing drone strikes in order to kill those suspected of terrorist activity. These drone strikes have been promoted as very effective in killing terrorists, completely safe to American troops, and having a low collateral civilian casualty record. Unfortunately, recent revelations as to how the military classifies civilian casualties versus killed enemy combatants have shown that the US drone program may have  serious problems in the accuracy of its casualty reporting.

Current casualty statistics, intended to show the effectiveness of drone strikes, count all military-age males killed in drone strikes to be “enemy combatants.” Unless those killed as collateral damage of the drone strike are posthumously proven to be innocent, which is particularly difficult considering the fact that missile strikes often leave their victims unrecognizable, they are reported as hostiles. This method of reporting casualties is absolutely inaccurate and can only lead to the underreporting of civilian causalities caused by drone strikes.

If all males of military age killed in drone strikes are reported to be enemy combatants, barring proof otherwise, it will inevitably lead to the over-reporting of killed combatants and the under-reporting of dead civilians (as many killed civilians are counted as combatants). This method of reporting will skew the analysis of the effectiveness of drone strikes and will minimize the number of innocent people reported to be killed in collateral damage.

To put this situation in perspective: If two suspected terrorists were killed with a missile-strike during a soccer game and eight other players (young males) were killed, it is conceivable that the casualty statistics would reflect ten killed enemy combatants, rather than two dead combatants and eight dead civilians.

Regardless of whether one supports the drone program, everybody can agree that reporting of casualties caused by drone strikes should be as accurate as possible. Inflating the numbers of combatants killed, while minimizing the number of civilians killed, is simply bad reporting and will lead to people supporting bad policy.

This petition is directed at President Barack Obama, and is intended to convince him to push for changing the methods by which drone strike casualties are reported. Those confirmed to be terrorists should be counted as such, but all who are killed as collateral damage should be considered innocent until proven guilty. While this change will not help the families of the innocents killed in drone strikes, it will allow us to accurately assess whether the civilian cost to life from drone strikes justifies the benefits.


Dear President Barack Obama,

Currently, the United States is engaged in a widespread armed drone campaign. While many Americans see this campaign as controversial, this letter is not addressing the use of drones, but rather the methods of reporting casualties.

It has recently come to the attention of the public that all male, military age, casualties, of drone strikes are, by default, considered enemy combatants. Only through a posthumous investigation, which is sometimes impossible, can such a casualty be considered a non-combatant.

This method of classifying casualties from drone strikes is deceptive and can only result in inaccuracies in the statistics of drone strikes; many casualties who are actually civilians will inevitably classified as enemy combatants.

I, as well as everybody else who signed this letter, ask you to push for the re-classification of drone strike casualties. Casualties of drone strikes should only be considered enemy combatants if there is conclusive proof of guilt, and the default classification of casualties should be non-combatant. You were a constitutional law professor, thus you know – and probably taught your students – that the American Justice system is built upon the ideal of a presumption of innocence until guilt is proven; while drone strikes are not a domestic legal situation, there is no reason why this assumption should not apply in the reporting of casualties from drone strikes.

[Your Name Here]

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47 Signatures

  • Emerson Emerson
  • Alice Rim
  • James Thrailkill
  • Marianne Oelman
  • Hermann Kastner
  • Eric von Borstel
  • Mal Gaff
  • Terrie Phenicie
  • A.D. Moore
  • Holly Hall
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