For every high-level suspect in Pakistan, the U.S. military kills 49 other people who we know little to nothing about.
U.S. support for drone strikes has dropped 18% over the last year (see the Washington Post/ABC poll conducted in 2012 and the Gallup Poll released in March 2013), but almost two thirds of the U.S. population still supports drone strikes "in other countries against suspected terrorists."
As the first two numbers below demonstrate, the majority that believe drone strikes are effective, surgical tools used against terrorists hold this belief against the available facts. Both numbers are published in Living Under Drones, a report conducted by human rights and law clinics at Stanford and NYU about drone strikes in Pakistan, and confirmed by a variety of other sources.
49 - The number of people killed in U.S. drone strikes for every high-level suspect. Despite President Obama's statement on CNN in September 2012 that drone strikes were used in “[situations] in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States," only two percent of the people drones killed in Pakistan between 2004 and 2012 actually fit that description.
3 - The number of children killed between 2004 and 2012 for each high-level suspect.
It might be surprising to learn that we kill more children than high-level suspects. News reports flood in daily about the scores of "militants" killed in U.S. drone strikes, but these reports rely on the Obama administration's offensive, illegal definition of "militant" as all "military-age males in a strike zone." Think of the justifiable outrage if this same definition were applied to people killed in attacks on U.S. soil.
The above two numbers replace the reckless ambiguity of "militant" with categories that can be counted with accuracy. The amount of high-level suspects were all confirmed by at least two reliable news agencies, and the amount of children killed by drones in Pakistan is kept in daily reporting by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Together, these first two numbers present the reality of U.S. drone strikes as it is hardly every covered: for every high-level suspect in Pakistan, the U.S. military kills 49 other people who we know little to nothing about and at least three of those 49 are children.
The second set of numbers come from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Pew has been reporting on global attitudes for over ten years, polling what citizens of countries around the world think about the United States, other countries, and a variety of issues. The results from their recent report on Pakistan, published earlier this month, will come as a surprise to anyone still holding the belief that that the United States is helping Pakistan with its barrage of drone strikes. Here are two important numbers from the report:
11 - The percentage of Pakistanis who hold a favorable view of the Taliban. On top of that, 98% of Pakistanis see terrorism as a problem and only 13% of Pakistanis see Al Qaeda as favorable. It would seem that these numbers, alongside regular U.S. reporting on the Taliban's heinous abuses, surely justify U.S. drone strikes in the region. Polls show that the population does not like terrorist groups and the United States is a self-certified terrorist killer, so we must be welcome there, right? See the next number.
11 - The percentage of Pakistanis who have a favorable view of the United States. That's right, the same percentage of Pakistanis favor the U.S. as favor the Taliban, and Pakistanis actually have a more favorable view towards Al Qaeda than they do towards the United States. The report also finds that only 5% of the population is supportive of U.S. drone strikes.
For folks who have read first-hand accounts of drone strikes in Pakistan, like those published in Living Under Drones, these numbers should come as no surprise. The citizens of Pakistan talk about US drone strikes in the same language that we use to describe terrorism in this country—constant fear, psychological trauma, never knowing if someone leaving the house to go to a wedding, community meeting, or funeral will end up dead as the result of a drone strike. That we fall into the same category of favorability as the Taliban and Al Qaeda speaks to the sort of actions we carry out in Pakistan.
Some cynical readers may not care what Pakistan thinks about drone strikes, but hopefully these numbers dispel any myths about our violence in the region being more favorable than our enemy's violence, and they very clearly dispel any myth about our presence in the country as helping Pakistani citizens.
Ben Kuebrich is a graduate student at Syracuse University and the head of Syracuse Students Against Drones.