The Human Toll of America’s Air Wars

November 15, 7pm EST
UMass Amherst Student Union Ballroom & Online

Azmat Khan

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Investigative Reporter

In recent American wars, the United States traded many of its troops on the ground for an arsenal of aircraft, high flying drones, and precision weapons, often directed by controllers thousands of miles away. Successive U.S. administrations have boasted America’s air wars are the “most precise” in the history of warfare, replete with pledges of transparency and accountability. Investigative reporter Azmat Khan set out to test those claims on the ground in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, and within confidential troves of documents she obtained through years-long lawsuits against the Department of Defense. In this lecture, Khan detailed the culmination of her findings and the pattern of impunity within this new way of war. 

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg delivered introductory remarks by video. A public Q&A moderated by historian and Ellsberg Initiative director Christian G. Appy followed Khan’s lecture.

This is the first annual Ellsberg Lecture, co-sponsored this year by the Feinberg Series and the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy. The Ellsberg Initiative was inspired by the acquisition of the papers of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, by the Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives at UMass. The Initiative’s mission is to promote public awareness, scholarship, and activism on the overlapping causes that define Ellsberg’s legacy: peace, anti-imperialism, democracy, truth-telling, nuclear disarmament, and social and environmental justice.

Top photo: Sayf Saleh, Syria by Azmat Khan

The Recordings

En español

The Presenter

Azmat Khan is a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter whose work grapples with the human costs of war. She is a writer for the New York Times Magazine, a Carnegie Fellow, and the Birch Assistant Professor at Columbia Journalism School, where she also leads the Li Center for Global Journalism. Khan is writing a book for Random House investigating America’s air wars.

Her multi-part series in the New York Times, “The Civilian Casualty Files,” was awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. The project was the culmination of more than five years of Khan’s reporting, including ground investigation at the sites of more than 100 civilian casualty incidents in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, more than 1,300 formerly secret military records she obtained in a legal battle with the Pentagon, and scores of interviews with military and local sources.

She received an MSt. from Oxford University, which she attended as a Clarendon Scholar, and a B.A. from the University of Michigan. She has also studied at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

Recommended Reading

This Resource Document contains links to Khan’s publications and research mentioned in the event, including paywall-free access (through 11/27/22) to her Pulitzer-winning articles, “Hidden Pentagon Records Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes” and  “The Human Toll of America’s Air Wars”. Learn about Khan and read all of her reporting by visiting her website:

Recommended Readings

The Feinberg Series

The 2022-2023 Feinberg Series is exploring histories of U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance. It is presented by the UMass Amherst Department of History in collaboration with the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy and in partnership with more than two dozen co-sponsors. The Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is made possible thanks to the generosity of UMass Amherst history department alumnus Kenneth R. Feinberg ’67 and associates.