It seems that President Obama is very much aware of the effects of his drone campaign, as he reportedly told aides he’s “really good at killing people.”
The quote comes from a new book called “Double Down,” by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, which chronicles the inside story of the 2012 election. The Washington Post was the first outlet to expose the quote in its review of the book.
The White House has yet to comment on the alleged quote, but one of the president’s senior advisors, Dan Pfeiffer, rejected many of the book’s claims on ABC’s Sunday show “This Week.” The book also claims that Obama’s political team considered replacing Vice President Joe Biden with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the reelection campaign.
“The president is always frustrated about leaks,” Pfeiffer said. “I haven’t talked to him about this book. I haven’t read it. He hasn’t read it. But he hates leaks.”
The revelation of the quote comes as the administration’s drone campaign is placed under increasing scrutiny. Since taking office in 2008, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones and targeted killings in foreign nations. He oversaw the 2009 surge in Afghanistan, drone operations during NATO’s 2011 involvement in Libya, the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the most recent strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, the president has authorized 326 strikes in Pakistan alone. It also estimates that, since George W. Bush took office for his second term in 2004, the strikes have killed anywhere between 2,500 and 3,600 individuals, and that between 416 and 948 of those individuals were civilians.
The White House claims the number of civilians killed by drones is much lower than that, though it has declined to release its own number for national security reasons. The administration considers any “military-age males” within a strike zone to be combatants.
Civilian drone deaths came under the spotlight just recently in Washington, when a Pakistani school teacher and his family testified before Congress on the effects of the program on civilians. According to Amnesty International, the family’s grandmother was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2012, along with 18 other civilians.
The use of drones also made national news when it was revealed that the machines killed 16-year-old American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of a radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, on September 30, 2011 in Yemen. The young man was killed two weeks after his father, and his family is still searching for answers as to why.
For his part, Obama has argued that the drone program is legal, and that it actually prevents the death of even more civilians at the hands of terrorists.
“Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes,” Obama said during a speech earlier this year.