Each of us only lives once. It sometimes appears, however, that the covert US Kill List allows a man to die twice. Public reports suggest some men on the Kill List have ‘died’ as many as seven times.
The Kill List is a covert US programme that selects individual targets for assassination. The list is personally approved by President Obama and requires no public presentation of evidence or judicial oversight. Targets often die in covert drone strikes in foreign countries and are never notified of what they are accused to have done.
Information on the Kill List and drone strikes is limited to media reporting and anonymous leaks by US, Pakistani and Yemeni officials. Nevertheless, by sifting this information, we found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible: to have ‘died,’ in public reporting, not just once, not just twice, but again and again. Reports indicate that each assassination target ‘died’ on average more than three times before their actual death.
This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the Kill List, who filled the body bag in his place? In fact, it is more accurate to say ‘body bags’: many other lives are sacrificed in the effort to erase a name from the Kill List. In one case, it took seven drone strikes before the US killed its target. In those strikes, as many as 164 people died, including 11 children.
In total, as many as 1,147 people may have been killed during attempts to kill 41 men, accounting for a quarter of all possible drone strike casualties in Pakistan and Yemen. In Yemen, strikes against just 17 targets accounted for almost half of all confirmed civilian casualties. Yet evidence suggests that at least four of these 17 men are still alive. Similarly, in Pakistan, 221 people, including 103 children, have been killed in attempts to kill four men, three of whom are still alive and a fourth of whom died from natural causes.
One individual, Fahd al Quso, was reported killed in both Yemen and Pakistan. In four attempts to kill al Quso, 48 people potentially lost their lives.
Other key findings include:
- Twenty-four men were reported killed or targeted multiple times in Pakistan. Missed strikes on these men killed 874 people. They resulted in the deaths of 142 children.
- Eighteen men in Yemen were reported killed or targeted multiple times. Missile strikes on these men killed 273 others and accounted for almost half of all confirmed civilian casualties and 100% of all recorded child deaths.
- In targeting Ayman al Zawahiri, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults. They failed twice and Ayman al Zawahiri is reportedly still alive.
- In the six attempts it took the US to kill Qari Hussain, a deputy commander of the Tehrik- e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), 128 people were killed. including 13 children.
- Baitullah Mehsud was directly targeted as many as seven times, during which 164 people were killed, including 11 children.
- From 2004-2013, children suffered disproportionately in Pakistan. The pursuit of 14 targets killed 142 children. Only six of these children died in strikes that successfully killed their target (21% success rate).