by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, July 11 (Xinhua) -- Human rights groups are criticizing a recent White House report on the civilian deaths caused by U.S. drone strikes abroad for missing key information as the numbers are far too low.
The report released on July 1 revealed that U.S. drone strikes, aimed at terrorists, may have been linked to between 64 to 116 civilian deaths from 2009 to 2015 in countries where the United States is not at war.
Critics say the numbers of civilian deaths reported are far too low to be accurate, with some watchdog groups estimating that the actual number could be as high as 800 since 2009. They also blast the report for not containing enough details on when and where the deaths occurred.
Elizabeth Beavers, policy and activism coordinator at Amnesty International USA, said it's true that Amnesty International has continued to voice questions and concerns about the U.S. drones program, and it believes these disclosures are incomplete.
"We'd like to see a year-by-year breakdown, information about who is being targeted and why, and names and identities of victims," Beavers told Xinhua.
"But we also recognize these disclosures (are) ... a remarkable shift for the Obama administration, which until now has operated its drones program under the shroud of secrecy," she said.
"This should be the beginning of the conversation, not the end," she added.
Amnesty International has long been concerned that U.S. drones could be carrying out unlawful strikes under international law.
In its 2013 report "Will I Be Next?," the group identified egregious cases, such as the story of a woman killed by a drone strike in front of her grandchildren while standing alone in a field.
"The U.S. government has never acknowledged or explained this and other strikes," Beavers said.
Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama did acknowledge and apologize for the deaths of an American citizen and an Italian citizen who were inadvertently killed by U.S. drones. "Amnesty International simply wants the same dignity for non-Western victims," Beavers said.
Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, said that without the administration having made clear what year and in what country the strikes took place, it's very difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the accuracy of their figures.
Indeed, the organization has investigated strikes in Yemen, for example, and found that there were 57 civilians killed in that country alone.
"In our investigations we found 57 killed just in Yemen over a period of several years," Pitter told Xinhua.
"That should be changed," she said, adding that her organization will ask the U.S. government to provide more information, such as breaking down civilian deaths by country.
Pitter said she believes the Obama administration has the missing figures.
"They must have them themselves," she said. "The entire reason they are putting this out is because they're claiming that their strikes are incredibly accurate."
"I can't speculate as to the reason why, but it certainly makes it difficult for anyone to put a lot of stock in the figures," she said.
Pitter added that it is a positive step that the Obama administration is now required to acknowledge strikes going forward and also to provide some form of compensation for civilian casualties in these strikes.
"That is really important," she said. "I think that one of the problems in the past was that they would not even acknowledge the strikes, let alone compensate victims. So the fact that they are doing that going forward is a really positive, important step," she said.
Beavers echoed those thoughts, saying: "We are very happy to see the executive order that prioritizes civilian protection, requires future disclosures, and condolence payments."
She hoped that this would spark a national conversation about transparency and accountability in drone strikes. Enditem