Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
New York Times, 29 May 2012, “Secret ‘Kill List’ proves a test of Obama’s principles and will”, Jo Becker & Scott Shane
It was necessary to provoke terror among the maquisards to deprive them of the support of the civil population. The remedial method was cruel, but it was war and I do not know any army in the world which would have done otherwise in a similar situation…I assume it is useless to recall that the Geneva Convention formally forbids the actions of franc-tireurs, and warns that all will be shot. I assume that it is equally useless to recall that General Sperrle…had given precise instructions for reprisals to be carried out in areas where the civil population attacked the German military…It was a matter of life or death for the German Army, and I approve of Dickmann’s actions in shooting the men and burning the houses in which maquisards had hidden, or in which arms and ammunition had been stored, conforming to the orders of General Sperrle…
General Lammerding, Officer Commanding 2nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’, describing after the war the justification for the razing of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10 1944. Some 648 people were killed, more than 400 of them women and children marched into the church and burned alive. There were no members of the Maquis active, based in, or sheltering in the town. There were no weapons. There was no ammunition. French men of military age were assumed to be terrorists and summarily shot.