02 Jul

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


Long-awaited assessment of death toll under Obama, criticized as an undercount, acknowledges government does not always know how many civilians it kills

US military drone

The White House and the CIA pioneered the strikes during the George W Bush era and dramatically accelerated them during Obama’s presidency. Photograph: James Lee Harper Jr/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama has claimed that drone and other airstrikes, his favored tactics of war, have killed between 64 and 116 civilians during his administration, a tally which was criticized as undercounted even before Friday’s announcement.

The long-promised assessment acknowledged that the government itself does not always know how many civilians it kills and that it may revise its death tolls over time.

Between 2009 and 31 December 2015, the administration claimed that it launched 473 strikes, mostly with drones, that killed between what it said were 2,372 and 2,581 terrorist “combatants”.

The assessment presents the White House’s account of the death toll from a method of warfare that defines Obama’s legacy in many parts of the world. The White House released its long-awaited drones report the afternoon before the Fourth of July holiday weekend, having pledged transparency on the drones issue for years.

Yet the count is also incomplete, leaving out the civilian toll from drone strikes in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Nor did the administration go into detail about where the strikes occur, citing what an official told reporters on Friday were “diplomatic sensitivities”, even as it presented the assessment as a significant advance in transparency. The Guardian has filed a freedom of information act request for the civilian-death assessment in the US bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

The upper limit of the civilian death toll from drones stands at more than 800 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, during the time period Obama’s drones tally covered. But that and similar accounts are imprecise, owing to both official secrecy and the difficulties of fact-finding and verifying in some of the world’s most dangerous places. In some cases, human rights groups have found that strikes intending to kill specific terrorist leaders killed many more people…………….


Senior military officials defend controversial tactic despite US government admitting it does not always know how many civilians it kills

A US Air Force B-1B Lancer refuels after airstrikes in Syria in 2014.

A US Air Force B-1B Lancer refuels after airstrikes in Syria in 2014. Photograph: Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs/AFP/Getty Images

The most controversial tactic of Barack Obama’s drone strikes has survived an internal review intended to reduce civilian deaths: killing people without knowing who they are.

So-called “signature strikes”, targeting people whose behavior is assessed to be similar enough to those of terrorists to mark them for death, will continue, according to senior US officials.

Human-rights groups have long denounced the practice – whose criteria can be as vague as killing “military-aged males” in regions where terrorists operate – as anonymous killing.

Speaking with reporters on Friday after the US released a long-awaited tally of deaths caused by its drone strikes since 2009, senior administration officials indicated they believed contingencies exist which necessitate the retention of signature strikes.

“We continue to reserve the right to take action not just against individual terrorist targets but when we believe we have, for instance, a force protection issue or information to suggest a continued imminent threat,” said a senior official, who would not be quoted by name, when the Guardian asked about the future of signature strikes………….


  • Jerry Brown passes six new laws as federal government remains deadlocked
  • New requirements on high-capacity magazines and background checks
California governor Jerry Brown. The Democrat also also vetoed five additional gun control proposals on Friday.

California governor Jerry Brown. The Democrat also also vetoed five additional gun control proposals. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

California has adopted expanded background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines as part of a sweeping package of gun control laws that advocates hope will pave the way for stronger firearm restrictions across the country.

Governor Jerry Brown signed into law six measures on Friday that include a wide range of new limits on the purchase and possession of rifles in the Golden State at a time when federal lawmakers have remained in a deadlock over any potential gun reforms.

The successful passage of the bills, signed two weeks after the deadliest US shooting in modern history in Orlando, Florida, offers a sharp contrast to the theatrical and unproductive fights in Washington DC over proposed gun control measures that some progressive activists don’t even support.

“California has taken a giant step forward in sensible gun safety regulations,” said state senator Loni Hancock, who sponsored one of the new bills, which bans the possession of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. “Taken together, they really will make our neighborhoods safer.”

Brown, a Democrat, also vetoed five gun control proposals on Friday, which pundits expected given his mixed record on firearms. Recently, however, the governor has been outspoken in criticizing neighboring states’ loose laws that he said create a “gigantic back door through which any terrorist can walk”.

In addition to the magazine ban, Brown signed into law legislation that outlaws assault rifles with a so-called “bullet button” that allows shooters to quickly eject and reload ammunition magazines………….


Lawyer for family of Antwun Shumpert says 37-year-old father of five was pulled over for ‘driving while black’ before fatal altercation with Mississippi police

Antwun ‘Ronnie’ Shumpert.

Antwun ‘Ronnie’ Shumpert was shot four times by Tupelo police officer Tyler Cook in June. He died in hospital hours later. Photograph: Carlos Moore

The family of an unarmed African American man who was mauled by a police dog and then fatally shot by a white officer in Mississippi after fleeing a traffic stop have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.

Antwun “Ronnie” Shumpert, a 37-year-old father of five, was shot four times by Tupelo police officer Tyler Cook in June, after a police dog “viciously attacked” him, almost mutilating his testicles, the suit contends. Photographs of Shumpert’s injuries, which the Guardian has chosen not to publish, appear to show deep claw marks on his back and a large bite mark to the groin.

Authorities have not said why Shumpert was stopped but have said he was subject to an outstanding felony warrant. Lawyers argue, however, that Shumpert was illegally stopped for “driving while black” and say Shumpert was not driving a car registered in his name and was not asked for identification before he fled.

Police have said that after Shumpert ran away, he emerged from a hiding location and attacked Cook and the K-9 unit. The lawsuit, however, alleges that Shumpert first attempted to voluntarily surrender but was then attacked by the dog.

Shumpert, who was driving within the speed limit according to lawyers, died five hours later at the hospital in the early hours of 19 June.

Members of Shumpert’s family have called for the FBI to intervene in the investigation, which is currently being handled by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. Lawyers representing the family were scheduled…………..


Two police officers and six militants also killed in 11-hour siege which ended as 100 commandos stormed bakery

Twelve people, including two foreign nationals, have been rescued following the decision by Dhaka city police to storm a restaurant in which an unknown number of people had been taken hostage on Friday night, according to Japanese officials. The spokesman was unable to confirm whether any Japanese citizens were amongst those rescued

An attack on a cafe in Dhaka has left 28 people dead, including 20 foreign hostages, most of whom were killed with sharp weapons, the Bangladesh army said.

Brig Gen Naim Asraf Chowdhury told a news conference on Saturday that six militants and two police officers were killed, and 13 people were rescued.

The prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, said one of the gunmen had been captured alive in the dawn raid.

More than 100 Bangladeshi commandos stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery in the diplomatic quarter of the capital early on Saturday after the 12-hour siege began on Friday night.

“The terrorists killed the civilians last night. We have recovered huge cache of IED explosives and AK-22 assault rifles,” Chowdhury said………….


On centenary of first world war battle, poignant services were attended by political leaders and victims’ descendants

David Cameron, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry attend a commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval Memorial on Friday

The absolute silence of 10,000 people is an immensely powerful sound, and shortly before 1pm local time on Friday, amid an international ceremony full of pomp and military honours, it was that moment of stillness that provided the most eloquent memorial to the horrors perpetrated at the Battle of the Somme exactly 100 years ago.

At Thiepval in northern France, the site of some of the worst carnage in a grimly competitive field, the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-nieces and great-nephews of those who died were joined by princes, presidents and a soon-to-be ex-prime minister, to fulfil a century-old promise to remember them……..


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