Kerry says U.S. drone program strict, fair

JIM YOUNG/REUTERS - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry jokingly checks his height compared to a student, who was used as his stand-in for rehearsals, before the start of a town hall meeting with students in Addis Ababa, Ethi­o­pia on May 26, 2013.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The United States uses drones only after excruciatingly careful vetting and never when civilians might be killed, Secretary of State John F. Kerry asserted Sunday, despite the Obama administration’s admission last week that civilians had been killed in such strikes.

“The only people that we fire on are confirmed terrorist targets, at the highest levels, after a great deal of vetting,” Kerry told a group of young people at the University of Addis Ababa.

epa03714567 A Thai Buddhist family take an offering of lotus flowers to pay respects to a giant Buddha surrounded by more than 1,000 smaller Buddha statues at a Buddhism Park, on Vesak or Visakha Bucha day, in Nakhon Nayok, north of Bangkok, Thailand, 24 May 2013. Buddhist devotees throughout the world offer blessings at temples to mark one of the holiest days in Buddhism, commemorating the birth, enlightenment and the death of Buddha. EPA/BARBARA WALTON

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“I am convinced that we have one of the strictest, most accountable and fairest programs,” Kerry said. The United States is the only nation known to operate killer drones against foreign targets.

“We do not fire when we know there are children or collateral,” civilians, Kerry said. “We just don’t. We have absolutely not shot at high-level targets when we have seen that there are people there.”

Obama defended targeted drone killings as effective and legal last week, but set new limits on the use of drones. The new rules are intended to make the government’s reasoning more transparent.

Obama acknowledged that civilian deaths sometimes result. Civilian deaths, and the perception that they are frequent and indiscriminate, have angered leaders and the public in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and dinged the United States’ reputation abroad.

”For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live,” Obama said last week. Before any strike, he said, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured, the highest standard we can set.”

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