In recent days Amnesty International has taken the US government to task over its use of drones and also called into question claims by the government that civilian deaths are few and far between. The Amnesty International (AI) report which is a commendable and very well researched / investigated report titled “Will I be next?” US drone strikes in Pakistan, goes on to suggest that the US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign against suspected terrorists in Pakistan may have committed war crimes and should stand trial!
AI highlights in its report the case of a grandmother killed while picking vegetables along with other incidents which may have broken international law. The report was published as Pakistan’s PM. Nawaz Sharif, arrived in Washington for talks with US President Obama.
Pakistani PM demands end to drone strikes as he meets Obama. Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif, in a meeting at the White House, urged US President Obama to end American drone strikes in Pakistan. The strikes, which target terror suspects but have also killed innocent civilians, has angered the Pakistani population.
Pakistani officials have long complained that US drone strikes violate the nation’s sovereignty, with civilians living in constant fear of the unmanned aerial devices buzzing in the sky overheard. Sharif has been one of the foremost anti-drone leaders in Pakistan since he took office earlier this year. He recently told the United Nations General Assembly that the interference undercuts Pakistan’s “resolve and efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism from Pakistan.”
Tuesday, on the eve of his visit to Washington, Sharif said the strikes have “deeply disturbed and agitated” the Pakistani people.
“The use of drones is not only a violation of our territorial integrity but they are also detrimental to our efforts to eliminate terrorism from our country,” he went on, adding that the issue has become a “major irritant” in Pakistani/US relations.
How seriously Washington will take Sharif’s request remains to be seen. Along with Yemen, Pakistan has become a hotbed of US drone activity in recent years. The number of innocent civilians killed is estimated to be in the thousands, but official figures are not released publicly.
“I feel this is a temporary feel-good moment,” Farahnaz Ispahani, former adviser to former Pakistani president Asif Zardari, told USA Today of Wednesday’s meeting. “This moment, like a lot of moments of past years, will unfortunately not bear long-term fruit.”
The AI report was issued in conjunction with an investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which detailed missile attacks in Yemen which the group claims may also contravene international human rights law.
Getting to the bottom of individual strikes is exceptionally difficult in the restive areas bordering Afghanistan, where thousands of militants have settled. People are often terrified of speaking out, fearing retribution from both militants and the state, which is widely suspected of colluding with the CIA-led campaign.
There is also a risk of militants attempting to skew outside research by forcing interviewees into “providing false or inaccurate information”, the report said.
But Amnesty mounted a major effort to investigate nine of the many attacks to have struck the region over the last 18 months, including one that killed 18 labourers in North Waziristan as they waited to eat dinner in an area of heavy Taliban influence in July 2012. All those interviewed by Amnesty strongly denied any of the men had been involved in militancy. Even if they were members of a banned group, that would not be enough to justify killing them, the report said.
“Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions,” the report said. It called for those responsible to stand trial.
The US has repeatedly claimed very few civilians have been killed by drones. It argues its campaign is conducted “consistent with all applicable domestic and international law”.
The Amnesty report supports media accounts from October last year that a 68-year-old woman called Mamana Bibi was killed by a missile fired from a drone while she was picking okra outside her home in North Waziristan with her grandchildren nearby. A second strike minutes later injured family members tending her.
If true, the case is striking failure of a technology much vaunted for its accuracy. It is claimed the remote-controlled planes are able to observe their targets for hours or even days to verify them, and that the explosive force of the missiles is designed to limit collateral damage. As with other controversial drone strikes, the US has refused to acknowledge or explain what happened. (Complete article from The Guardian Here)
While the reports provide devastating details and draw attention to the debate, stories of innocent people hurt in drone strikes “don’t add substantively to knowledge of the drone program nor do they alter the standard line about needing more transparency and access to medical help,” Joshua Foust, a commentator on U.S. counter-terrorism policy and former fellow at the American Security Project, told TIME in an email.
Transparency in the drone program faces two main obstacles, Foust says: First, the drone politics of a country like Pakistan are messy, with the government quietly supporting the strikes (including feeding the U.S. intelligence), then publicly condemning them and whipping public opinion into a frenzy.
Second, there is little political incentive in the U.S. government to further declassify drone policy, and there are virtually no political consequences for the Obama Administration continuing as they have for years. Polls show Americans have few qualms with the U.S. deploying drones overseas. Until that changes Foust says, “none of the other calls for redress or openness will come to pass.”
On investigating this subject one could easily conclude that these US drone strikes are carried out against the will of the Pakistani & Yemeni governments / Leadership. However, over the past year it has become clear that the leadership of the aforementioned states appear at least to be only paying lip service to their own peoples with regard to condemnation of the drone strikes, whilst at the same time turning a blind eye.
That said, this cannot justify the actions of the US government nor does it in any way alleviate US responsibility for the ever increasing number of civilian deaths.
Having spent a very considerable amount of time researching the subject of drone strikes, the one thing that surprised me, was the willingness of some to accept such a practice as an inevitable progression of warfare, whilst citing the US government claims of accuracy of the drones, coupled with the need to continue the war on terrorism as overall justification.
However, Nabeel Khoury, a former US State Department official, speaking about Yemen, stated that the drone accuracy rate was an embarrassment and went on to claim that “Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the US generates roughly 40 to 60 new enemies for every Al- Qaeda operative killed by drones”
(source RT’s – Breaking The Set – video link here ).
One could therefore conclude that similar radicalization is also occurring in Pakistan as a direct result of the continued US drone strikes.
T.J. Total World View
26th October 2013