Fewer than 2 percent of drone-strike victims in Pakistan are senior al Qaeda leaders

Despite White House assurances that its lethal drone policy merely targets "senior operational leaders" of al Qaeda and its associates, a new McClatchy report finds that the majority of drone targets in Pakistan include a mix of unidentified "extremists" and lower-level Afghan and Pakistani militants.

The blockbuster report is based on copies of "top-secret U.S. intelligence reports" obtained by reporter Jonathan Landay and includes data on drone strikes in Pakistan in a 12-month period ending in September 2011. Here's Landay's breakdown of the data:

- At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were "assessed" as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as "foreign fighters" and "other militants." ...

- At other times, the CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.

A pie chart of the data quite dramatically demonstrates how few senior al Qaeda members were targeted in the year analyzed by McClatchy:

*Between September 2010 and September 2011.

According to McClatchy, the documents "show that drone operators weren't always certain who they were killing," which raises questions about Barack Obama's assurances that lethal killings are "not speculative" and that targets must be plotting "imminent" attacks on America. If you don't even know the identity of the target, how is the decision not "speculative"?

Some advocates of the drone program trust the administration's judgment, and feel that the White House deeming targets dangerous -- even if they had no association with al Qaeda -- is sufficient. But for others, the McClatchy report may only confirm allegations that terror suspects are killed with an insufficient degree of background information and oversight.


Literal skeletons found in deposed president's closet (OK, garage)

Looters ransacking one of the deserted homes of former Central African Republic President François Bozizé apparently made an extremely unpleasant discovery last month after rebels overthrew the government: two human skeletons stashed in two holes beneath the ousted leader's garage floor (see the picture above). AFP has more:

At the house in Sassara, on the outskirts of the capital Bangui, Colonel Ali Garba -- one of the Seleka rebels whose coalition toppled Bozize from power last month -- gives a tour....

He indicates the spot where the bodies were found, at the back of the garage, stowed in two-metre deep recesses underneath square tiles. All that now remains in the space is a scrap of coloured fabric.

"I saw them. They were bones with no flesh. The people had been dead for a while, at least several months, maybe more," he says....

As he scoured the completely ransacked house, Garba says he also found the dead body of a presidential guard, apparently killed during clashes between Bozize's supporters and rebels.

"The Red Cross collected the body of the guard and the skeletons," Garba says, a claim backed up by near neighbours.

The Red Cross could not however be contacted to find out where the skeletons were taken.

AFP says authorities have yet to identify the bodies or determine whether the victims were opponents of Bozizé, who fled to Cameroon in late March. But the news agency floats one other possibility about the remains:

Ritual killings are a known phenomenon in Central Africa, designed to empower or bring good fortune to whoever orders the murder. Bones belonging to those killed are sometimes also trafficked for use in witchcraft.

If it was good fortune the deposed leader was seeking, he seems to have come up short.