“We’ve killed 4,700,” Graham said, according to an Easley website. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida.” Graham did not evidently offer an estimate of how many innocent people the drones have killed.
Graham staffers did not return voicemails and e-mails seeking elaboration. (We’ll update if they do.) But that’s a very high figure — at least as it pertains to the CIA’s drone strikes, outside the declared battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is what the context of Graham’s remarks make it seem like he’s referring to. As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations blogs, that’s on the highest end of the drone-death estimate compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from publicly available news reports. Zenko’s compilation of the averages of non-governmental organizations’ guesstimates for drone casualties is about 1,700 people lower.