Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released joint reports Tuesday documenting dozens of civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The reports challenge assertions by the Obama administration that such casualties are rare and call for official investigations into possible violations of international human rights laws.
Human Rights Watch investigated six drone strikes in Yemen since 2009 and concluded that at least 57 civilians were killed in those attacks. The group's counter terrorism researcher Letta Taylor says, in some cases, these targeted killings violated international law.
“Two of the six cases that we examined in my report show that the U.S. indiscriminately killed civilians. This is a clear violation of international law," said Taylor.
The report asserts that drone strikes also violated the standards President Obama set to justify these attacks -- that they respond to an imminent threat to the U.S., there's no hope of capturing the targeted terrorist; and there's "near certainty" that civilians will not be harmed.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says there is a wide gap between these new reports and U.S. casualty assessments.
"To the extent these reports claim that the U.S. acted contrary to international law we would strongly disagree. The administration has repeatedly emphasized the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counter terrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law," said Carney.
Amnesty International investigated nine U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and found evidence that more than 30 civilians were killed in four of the strikes.
A recent UN report estimates 400 civlians were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan over the last decade.
Most drone strikes occur in remote areas - making independent assessments difficult. And the U.S. government rarely acknowledges its role in individual strikes.
Amnesty International’s Naureen Shah is calling for official, public investigations into past drone strikes.
“We are asking President Obama to come clean about who the U.S. government is killing, not just to make a pledge of transparency or to make a promise that things are going right, but to say who has been killed, how many people have been killed and what the legal and factual justification for these killings was," said Shah.
The groups are also calling for more congressional oversight of the CIA and Defense Department, and reparations for innocent victims of U.S. drone strikes.