A project tracking drone
deaths in Pakistan

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Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London.

The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan.

Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks as the CIA has sought to stamp out al Qaeda fighters and the militant groups that have given them shelter.

Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings. At least 2,400 people have been killed, according to data already collected by the Bureau as part of our wider Covert Drone War research.

Senior US officials have described drones as highly precise weapons that target and kill enemies of the US. John Brennan, who oversaw the development of the drone campaign and is now director of the CIA, has called drone technology an ‘essential tool’ for its ‘surgical precision – the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.’

Those killed by drones include high-ranking militant leaders – figures such as Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s feared second-in-command, or Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).

But according to credible media reports analysed by the Bureau, the dead also include at least 416 civilians. Some were unlucky enough to be nearby when militants were attacked. Others were killed alongside their husbands or fathers, who were believed to be militants. Still others were mistaken for terrorists by drone operators sitting thousands of miles away.

In most cases, there is little information available about who the drones are really killing. Most of the dead – an estimated four-fifths of those killed – are believed to be militants. But their deaths are typically reported as a number – their names, origins and livelihoods remain a mystery.

For so many people to die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, is a tragedy. But it is a further tragedy that the public, and even policy makers, are unable to properly test whether drones are ‘highly precise weapons’ when so little is known about who is actually dying.

Through Naming the Dead, the Bureau aims to increase the transparency around this conflict and inform the public debate. Initially this project will record all names published in open-source material – in credible reports by journalists, in legal documents presented in court, in academic studies and in field investigations carried out by human rights groups.

In the future, the Bureau aims to identify more of the dead on a regular basis, and to uncover more details of those who have been killed. Where possible we will provide further identification – where they were killed, and their occupations, full names and ages.

In the remote areas of Pakistan where drone strikes take place, official identification is rare. Few people possess identification cards, birth certificates, or even documents recording their relatives’ deaths. But wherever possible this project will provide documentation recording a person’s death.

Photographs of the destruction of a particular site are included in the database. Affidavits, photos, hospital records, student identification and transcripts of interviews with researchers are all provided when available. Over time, the Bureau aims to build on such currently scarce records in an attempt to properly scrutinise the little that is reported, and the claims being made – on all sides.

If you have any information or documents that you think may be helpful to this project we would love to hear from you.

You can contact the team working on the Naming the Dead project by emailing [email protected]. Please provide contact details, these will not be published, or passed on, but we may have questions about the information provided.

About the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is an independent not-for-profit organisation established in April 2010.

We pursue research, investigations, reporting and analysis which is of public benefit by undertaking in depth research into the governance of public, private and third sector organisations and their influence.

Our aim is to help educate the public about the realities of power in today’s world. We are particularly concerned with the undermining of democratic processes and failures to accord with fair, legal and transparent practices.

We believe that the public needs to be provided with the knowledge and facts about the way in which important institutions in our society operate, so that they can be fully informed citizens, and that this is indispensable to democracy.

Based at City University London, the Bureau works in collaboration with other groups to get its investigations published and distributed. Since its foundation the Bureau has  worked with BBC File On Four, BBC Panorama, BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 Dispatches, Channel 4 News, al Jazeera English, the Independent, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times, Le Monde, mediapart, the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer and the Daily Mirror.

We make our work freely available under a Creative Commons licence.

About the Bureau’s wider Covert Drone War project
Since 2011, the Bureau has tracked and investigated US covert drone strikes, which started in 2002, using credible media press reports, legal affidavits, field investigations, research by NGOs and extracts published on social media.

Since 2002, the US has carried out more than 400 such strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia according to the Bureau’s research, of which the majority were in Pakistan.

This work has helped to inform the public debate both around the use of drones in Pakistan and about the emergence of the unmanned aircraft as a weapon of war. Our data has been used in academic studies, campaigns, new media projects and scores of press reports. Our investigations have been cited by UN special rapporteurs, the New York Times and campaign groups such as the American Civil Liberties Unit (ACLU) and Amnesty International.

The Bureau’s work on the use of drones in covert wars can be seen at Covert Drone War.

The Bureau’s work is philanthropically funded. The bulk of the funding comes from David and Elaine Potter.

The Naming the Dead project has received additional funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and through a crowdfunding initiative run by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

If you are interested in helping further fund this work you can do so here. 

The team
You can contact the journalists working on the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project here:

Jack Serle [email protected]