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Video: US investigating drone strike in Yemen

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    >>> america does not take strikes to punish individuals. we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the american people . and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. and before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no sieve vilcivilians will be illed or injured. the highest standard we can set. this last point is critical because much of the criticism about drone strikes, both here at home and abroad, understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties . there's a wide gap between u.s. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports. nevertheless, it is a hard fact that u.s. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties . a risk that exists in every war. and for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. for me, and those in my chain of command , those deaths will haunt us for as long as we live.

    >> president obama speaking last spring. those deaths will haunt us as long as we live. before that speech, there had been no acknowledgement by a president, ever, of the drone program. everybody knows it existed. people regularly reported on drone strikes, but there had been almost no public acknowledgement of it. certainly not at the level of the president. until that day last spring when president obama defended the program but also addressed its downfall. he promised greater transparency, promised more oversight. he promised, interestingly, to shift responsibility for the program away from the cia and toward the military instead so we can at least understand the chain of command for this kind of shadow war . tonight, we are learning exclusively about a move on this issue in washington. and in order to bring you that news, i have to warn you that the video you're about to see is not from washington, and it is graphic. this happened last month. a drone strike in yemen targeting a suspected al qaeda terrorist. a man suspected of orchestrating the plot that led to the shutdown of the u.s. embassy in yemen in august. that drone strike reportedly hit civilians who were in a convoy on their way to a wedding. this footage of the aftermath was posted on "the new york times'" lead blog. this exclusive video shown here, this footage was taken by yemeni journalist and given to nbc news by the human rights group, reprieve. as you can see, it's graphic, shows several casualties of the attack. local villagers say in all 12 sieve ville wrap s civilians were killed and 14 injured. pentagon officials declined to comment on. a yemeni official said the video is consistent with what the yemeni government knows about what happened after the attack but the security agency maintains some militants were killed in the strikes. drone strikes areless frequent than they used to be now. nor are claims or documented reports that drone strikes killed civilians instead of their targets. none of that is new. what is new here, what we're learning tonight is this. usual officials have told nbc news national investigative correspondent michael isikoff they launched an internal investigation into this strike that we just showed you that footage from. that is news. it seems like it could be important news. watch this from michael isikoff .

    >> drones have become america's weapon of choice against terrorists enclaves overseas. this exclusive video showing bodies of victims of a pentagon drone strike on the 12th was taken by a yemeni journalist and given to nbc news by reprieve, a rights group. u.s. in yemeni officials say the strike which killed is and injured 14 was aiming for shaki al badani, a plot that led to the shutdown of u.s. embassies last august. the victims were in a convoy that was part of a wedding procession. "yes, for sure, it was a wedding" this villager says. yemeni sources say badani was wounded and escaped. u.s. officials decline comment on who was killed in a rare acknowledgement, they tell nbc news they have launched an internal investigation into the strike.

    >> an internal investigation into the strike in yemen launched internally meaning inside the obama administration. that is not the kind of news, not the kind of review we are used to hearing about after reports like this. nbc 's michael isikoff is live with us for more. mike, u.s. officials telling you they have launched an internal investigation into this. is this a rare development? it seems rare to me.

    >> it is. first of all, the whole story is the reminder while the rest of the mideast appears to be blowing up, we're still actively fighting a very aggressive drone war in yemen that's killing people and if our reporting is correct, making lots of enemies. while president obama did acknowledge that civilians have been killed by u.s. drone strikes in that speech last may which you showed, it is extremely rare for the u.s. government to comment about any particular drone strike, much less acknowledge it is investigating whether or not that strike killed civilians. but that's what happened here. couple of factors. first, we showed this video to the administration. and it was after that that they made this acknowledgement that they are launching this investigation. but also, the yemeni government while it officially claims that those were militants that were killed, those scorched bodies that you see in that video. it also sent representatives to that village right after that attack to offer compensation to the tribe. cash and rifles. and that seemed to be a pretty big concession that something may have gone awry here. i spoke to a yemeni official about this who says, look, this whole thing is a mess, we're not sure who was killed. it is -- this should be a reminder we need more openness and transparency about what is going on in the drone strikes.

    >> on that issue, part of what has been so singular about covering this war, this in effect shadow war with the drone strikes is there really isn't a lot of independent journalism available in the places where these drone strikes happen. in this case, thanks to this group that's critical of u.s. policy reprieve, for making this footage from local sources available, you do have this documentation. do you think that this documentation, which, again, is a very rare thing, is what has caused the administration to take this unusual step of making the review? i mean, is it because there isn't film like this of other drone strikes that they haven't had reviews of other strikes before this?

    >> look, it is very hard to say, and i wouldn't say that they haven't had reviews. they would tell you they have. in fact, the official statement from the white house is whenever we have reports of civilian casualties , we investigate thoroughly. but then getting from there, that general statement, to a particular strike, which strikes have killed civilians? how many civilians does the u.s. government believe have been killed in these strikes is something we've never gotten an answer to. it's something human rights groups have been calling for. some of them met with senior administration officials today to press on this very issue including about this strike. so there are still a lot of unanswered questions here. in our package, which is now on nbcnews.com, you can watch a former obama administration official says, look, this video doesn't prove the case one way or another, whether those are civilians or militants but it does say -- but it does demand and suggest that we need more transparency, the transparency that was promised last may, we still don't have.

    >> michael isikoff , nbc news investigative correspondent. michael, thank you for helping us understand this. congratulations on the stoop. it is a dark story, but a really interesting political development. thanks

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