Despite President Barack Obama's recent admission that drones had inadvertently killed two innocent hostages during strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan, a new poll released Friday reveals that nearly 75 percent of Americans say it's acceptable to use such drones to kill an American citizen abroad if that person is said to have "joined a terror organization."
The poll, conducted by the Associated Press and the GfK Group between April 23-27, also found that a majority—6 in 10—supports the use of drones to target "terrorists" in general. Only 13 percent oppose the use of drones altogether, the poll said, and another 24 percent don't feel strongly either way.
"What [poll] does show is broad [American] support for a drone program that doesn’t exist."
—Dan Froomkin & Jon Schwarz, The Intercept
Strikingly, close to half of all respondents (47 percent) said they would back drone strikes where law-abiding Americans were possible collateral damage.
According to the AP:
The survey is the latest in several years of data showing broad support among the U.S. public for a targeted killing program begun under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama. While the U.S. once condemned Israel for targeted killing from the air, such operations are now the centerpiece of American counterterrorism policy, and they enjoy widespread public backing.
Support for targeted killing with drones crosses party lines, the new poll found. Nearly 6 in 10 Democrats favor using drones to bomb members of terrorist groups, while only 16 percent are opposed. Among Republicans, 72 percent are in favor and only 10 percent are opposed. Independents are more ambivalent, with 45 percent in favor and 12 percent opposed; 37 percent are neutral on the issue.
However, as Dan Froomkin and Jon Schwarz point out at The Intercept on Friday, the poll responses belie a lack of understanding among average Americans of the true nature of the U.S. drone program:
The problem is the U.S. drone program does much more than kill members of al-Qaida: it also kills a significant number of civilians, and drone operators often don’t even know exactly whom they're targeting. So the AP's own poll doesn’t show, as the story claims, "broad support among the U.S. public for a targeted killing program begun under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama." What it does show is broad support for a drone program that doesn’t exist.
Froomkin and Schwarz highlight this passage from the AP's own reporting: "The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government's assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists."
The journalists suggested the poll would get much different responses if different questions were asked. They wrote, "We'd prefer a question like: 'Do you support the U.S. government killing Americans who it claims to be involved in terrorism, without charges, trial or a lawyer?'"
According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, since 2002 there have been up to 548 drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan, which have resulted in more than 1,000 civilian deaths.
A poll conducted by The Hill last year also found that of the 1,000 Americans polled (a bipartisan group of likely voters), most were "inclined to support the government in its lethal attacks on citizens and non-citizens it deems to be terrorists."