The former White House press secretary has admitted that the Obama administration had pressured him not to ‘discuss’ or even ‘acknowledge’ the existence of US assassination drone program during his tenure.
“When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists,” Robert Gibbs said on Sunday.
He added that the US government’s “policy of secrecy” made it difficult for him to answer reporters’ questions about the targeted killings carried out by the assassination drones.
“Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: you’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program… pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” Gibbs stated.
US officials refuse to publicly discuss any details of the covert program and the death toll from the drone strikes remains a mystery.
However, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on February 20 that the drone strikes had killed around 4,700 people, including civilians, a number that exceeds some independent estimates of the toll.
A report by the Washington-based New America Foundation has said that there have been 350 US drone attacks since 2004, most of them under President Obama.
The United States has used its assassination and surveillance drones in several countries including Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently said that between 2,627 and 3,457 people have been killed by US terror drones in Pakistan since 2004.
The use of assassination drones overseas under the Obama administration has caused a national debate in the US.
On February 14, Obama promised to be more forthcoming with the American public on his administration’s drone campaign. He vowed to work with the Congress to craft a “mechanism” to be more open about how the drone war is conducted.
Washington claims the assassination drones target terrorists, but local reports show the airstrikes have mostly led to civilian casualties.