How Much Blood Money does the US Pay to Families of Innocent Drone Victims? It’s Classified (Currier)

Cora Currier writes at Propublica:

There have been nine drone strikes reported in Yemen in the past two weeks – an uptick apparently connected to the Al Qaeda threat that shut down U.S. embassies across the Middle East and Africa. As many as six civilian deaths have also been reported.

President Obama has promised increased transparency around drones, but when asked about the strikes on Friday, Obama wouldn’t even confirm U.S. involvement.

“I will not have a discussion about operational issues,” he said.

The military is also following that line, refusing to release details about what happens when civilians are harmed in these strikes, including if and how families of innocent victims are compensated.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, U.S. Central Command told ProPublica it has 33 pages somehow related to condolence payments in Yemen – but it won’t release any of them, or detail what they are.

The military’s letter rejecting our FOIA cites a series of reasons, including classified national security information. (Here’s the letter.)

There’s no way to know what the military is withholding. A Pentagon spokesman told us they haven’t actually made condolence payments in Yemen. But CIA director John Brennan said during his confirmation process in February that the U.S. does offer condolence payments to the families of civilians killed in U.S. strikes. (Both the military and CIA fly drones over Yemen.)    

In May, the White House released new guidelines for targeted killing, saying that there must be a “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.” But the administration has said little about how civilian deaths are assessed or handled when they do occur. It has refused to address the U.S. role in almost any particular death – including that of a 10-year-old boy, killed a few weeks after Obama’s promise of increased transparency.

Outside reporting on drone strike deaths is spotty and often conflicted. On Sunday, a Yemeni activist and journalist named three civilians who had been injured, “just hanging arnd n thir neighborhood.” Another recent strike killed up to five “militants,” according to Reuters and other news agencies. But Yemenis reported on Twitter that a child was also killed. (The White House declined to comment to ProPublica on the recent strikes or on condolence payments.)

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has long given out condolence payments, which military leaders have come to see as a key part of the battle for hearts and minds. What might seem like a callous exercise – assigning a dollar amount to a human life – is also embraced by many humanitarian groups. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, for example, sees it as a way to help families financially and as “a gesture of respect.” In fiscal year 2012, condolence payments in Afghanistan totaled nearly a million dollars.

It’s likely harder to do that in the drone war. Military and intelligence leaders have expressed concern about “blowback” from local populations resentful of the strikes. But the U.S. has no visible troops on the ground in countries like Yemen or Pakistan, and almost never acknowledges specific strikes.

Despite the recent surge, overall there have been far fewer drone strikes and civilian deaths alleged in 2013 than in previous years.


For more on the U.S.’ shadowy drone war, read our latest story, “Who are we at war with? That’s Classified,” our coverage of the controversial practice of “signature strikes“, and our chat with national security reporters on the challenges of covering a remote and secret war.

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4 Responses

  1. This is so terrible. I can’t imagine being scared to take a walk or run an errand outdoors. It’s so sad to think of the families that are suffering, especially because I’ve met Yemenis who happened to be soft spoken, kind, and free-spirited. Heck, my best friend is Yemeni-Austrian, the most level-headed, intelligent person I know.

    What’s the rationale for the use of these drones? AlQaeda. Makes sense, except that there must be other ways -ways that don’t involve an aircraft dropping bombs (erroneously) on civilians.

    I don’t understand… How important are US interests in that region (MENA)? How ridiculous would it be do disengage? Let go? Why can’t the US be like Iceland, or New Zealand, or Bhutan, or Malaysia, or Finland? Live and let live.

    Does the US need to be expansionist? Imperialist? It is necessary? Is it really that ridiculous to consider for a second that if the US starts cooperating (fairly) with MENA countries, instead of imposing the terms of cooperation, that terrorists like AlQaeda won’t have anything to justify their attacks and condemnation (or will have much less ammunition to justify it)?

    Silly rant, I know. But I needed to say something.

    What’s happening ain’t right.

  2. It is surprising that the United States government would pay “blood money” for victims of drone attacks. This could set a precedent for reparations to Iraq that would shatter the American economy.

    • Aaaahh, but the “condolence payments” appear to be pretty cheap, and serve Vital Important “National Interests.” But we can’t tell anyone what those Interest are! That might give away Secrets to The Enema! “In time of war, when truth is so precious, it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

      And since our rulers have chosen to force-frame all future human interactions as various types of fundably fungible Conflict Operations in the Grand Global Network-Centric Interoperable Battlespace which is nicely subdivided into fiefdoms labeled stuff like CENTCOM and AFRICOM, milbabble acropseudonyms that just warm and cheer the hearts of a certain kind of authoritarian human critters, the means for morphing all the rest of us into little social units that are expected to keep our heads down and while expecting us to just keep on funding this dead-end idiocy, why there you are! Blow them up, and hey! it appears we can diminish the immediate retaliation and vengeance response by laying a few shekels on the bloody ground! Just a cost of doing business, and after all, the Business of America is and always has been Business! Which in the nature of the beast has exported and expatriated itself and now smears the planet like the oily flood of black or red that in the old newsreel and propaganda animations spread evilly and sinisterly and implacably across the globe under Swastika or Hammer and Sickle or now Star and Crescent. And a certain amount of killing has always been an incident of Business, after all…

      “What! Me Worry?”

  3. Actually, I’ve not heard of blood money being paid by the U.S. in Yemen. I’m doubtful we have anyone “on the ground” capable of delivering same.

    The only reference I found to blood money was money paid by the Saleh government when the relative of an official was accidentally killed in a 2010 drone strike (which didn’t stop them from retaliating). [ link to ]

    “Our reaction [to the presence of drones] is like any Yemeni’s. It is a violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and a crime committed against the Yemeni people,” says Ahmed al-Shabwani, whose brother, former deputy governor of the Marib Governorate Jabr al-Shabwani, was accidentally killed in a May 2010 US drone strike. Even after being paid blood money by the Saleh regime, the Al Shabwani family carried out attacks against Marib’s oil and power infrastructure demanding that the Yemeni government stop cooperating with the US drone and missile strikes.

    I’m not sure how much the Yemeni government “cares” or how much they are affected by unhappy families of (poor)victims.

    Rather like AQAP, I suspect having suvival “issues”, they have bigger fish to fry.

    According to cite from FAIR (from today) the government has had a history of concealing drone deaths: link to

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