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Inaugural Ellsberg Lecture: The Human Toll of America's Air Wars

Event Information


UMass Amherst Student Union Ballroom and Virtual

Date & Time

Nov 15, 2022 | 7:00 pm

Event Website


On Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. EST, UMass Amherst's new Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy presents the first annual Ellsberg Lecture in the UMass Amherst Student Union Ballroom and streaming on Zoom. Renowned reporter Azmat Khan will share findings from her 2022 Pulitzer-Prize winning investigation into U.S. air wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

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 areas of the Middle East and drawing on confidential troves of documents she obtained through years-long lawsuits against the Department of Defense, including 100 civilian casualty files and more than 1,300 formerly secret military records. In this lecture, Khan will detail the culmination of her findings and the pattern of impunity within this new way of war. 

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 on 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.

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.

This event is also part of the year-long Feinberg Family Distinguished Series, Confronting Empire, which is exploring histories of U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance. The Feinberg Series is presented by the UMass Amherst Department of History in collaboration with the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy and more than three dozen university and community and university partners. Visit the Feinberg Series website for more information about the series. The UMass Amherst Journalism Department is also a co-sponsor of this event.

The lecture is free and open to the public, and a question and answer moderated by Ellsberg Initiative director Christian G. Appy, will follow. Audio and video recordings will be available on the Feinberg Series website and the History Department's YouTube. Spanish interpretation and closed captioning will be available.