On Thursday, the White House revealed that a US drone strike in January accidentally killed an American and Italian being held hostage by al-Qaeda, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The American, Warren Weinstein, was a development expert. The Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, was an aid worker.
The drone strike, which occurred in an undisclosed location in Pakistan, was directed at an al-Qaeda compound where they were being held. In addition to Weinstein and Lo Porto, the strike killed Ahmed Farouq, an American citizen and al-Qaeda leader.
It's also been reported that another American citizen, Adam Gadahn, was killed in January in what is believed to have been a separate drone strike.
President Obama spoke publicly about the incident on Thursday morning, taking "full responsibility" for what occurred:
Since coming into office in 2009, President Obama has relied heavily on the use of drones and drone strikes in counterterrorism operations.
In countries where the United States is not currently at war -- Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen -- drones have been used to track and kill suspected terrorists. Yet, due to the relative novelty of this technology and the dubious criterium used to designate appropriate targets, mistakes have been made.
The government prefers to refer to these errors as collateral damage, but others might characterize them as civilian casualties or the killing of innocents. This specific instance is likely getting more attention due to the fact it involved an American citizen.
This is also the first incident (that we know of) in which hostages were inadvertently killed by a US drone strike. It reveals the need for increased oversight and transparency surrounding the use of drones and drone strikes. Last May, President Obama promised to bring changes in this regard, but they have yet to be seen.
The use of drones by the US in counterterrorism operations is arguably immoral, illegal and ineffective. With that said, this tragic incident reveals how vital it is to have a concerted public discussion on drones and drone strikes.
Citations: American Italian Hostages Killed in CIA Drone Strike in January (Wall Street Journal ), US drone strike accidentally killed 2 hostages (CNN), Remarks by the President at the National Defense University (White House)