The US Central Intelligence Agency is seeking new drone bases in unnamed countries in Central Asia, fearing the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would affect the targeted killings in neighboring Pakistan.
The spy agency asserts that if the US fails to sign a bilateral security deal with Afghanistan and secure an enduring military presence there, it would not be able to fly drones from its Afghan bases because drone operations are covert and need US military protection.
The security deal, which Washington says “ought to be signed” and is not renegotiable, could allow thousands of US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
However, despite pressures from the White House and Congress, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign the deal and the US intelligence community is hoping that the next Afghan president will agree to sign it.
Worried that its drone killings can become a casualty of strained relations between Kabul and Washington, the CIA is reportedly making contingency plans to use bases in other countries.
“There are contingency plans for alternatives in the north,” an unnamed US official briefed on the matter told the Los Angeles Times without specifying the countries.
According to Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts professor, the CIA and the Pentagon used to fly drones from an airbase in Uzbekistan until the US was evicted in 2005.
Michael Nagata, commander of US special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, also traveled last month to Tajikistan, which is Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, to discuss “issues of bilateral security cooperation” and “continued military cooperation.”
Meanwhile, US officials say a new jet-powered drone, called Avenger, which will be able to “get to ‘hot’ targets in Pakistan much faster,” could soon be flying from bases outside Afghanistan.
The CIA is in charge of drone strikes in Pakistan since the country is not officially a war zone and the CIA’s program is covert.
US President Barack Obama has already stated that the responsibility for Washington’s deadly drone attacks could gradually shift from the CIA to the Pentagon. However, the idea of putting the US military in charge of drone attacks is not favored by US lawmakers.
A new documentary by Madiha Tahir
The drone war is obscure by design. Operated by armchair pilots from clandestine bases across the American west, the Predators and Reapers fly over Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas at invisible heights, where they are on orders from the CIA to kill “high value” targets with laser-guided “surgical” precision thousands of feet below. But because of where the Hellfire missiles land, and because the program is operated in secret, verifying their precision and their lasting effects isn’t easy.
For years, US officials have downplayed the number of civilian deaths in particular, even as a chorus of independent reports have offered their own grim estimates. The latest, according to new research by the United Nations and Amnesty International: 58 civilians killed in Yemen, and up to nine hundred in Pakistan. In a speech in May, President Obama finally broke his silence on drones, acknowledging that civilians had been killed—he didn’t say how many—and promising more transparency for the program. “Those deaths,” added the President, “will haunt us for as long as we live.”
For journalist Madiha Tahir, the numbers are important, but they’re not the whole story. Her documentary “Wounds of Waziristan,” which premieres above, features interviews with the people who live in the southern part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, bordering Afghanistan, under the eyes of the drones, and in the wake of their destruction. The film switches up the typical calculus that drives the drone debate at home. Tahir, who grew up between Pakistan and the U.S., points out that drone strikes aren’t just about the numbers of casualties, or the kinds of ethical arguments that arise around “just war” concepts like proportionality. The effects of the drone war have as much to do with the way those casualties rip apart communities and haunt the living, in distant places that exist on the fringes of law and order.
“Because drones are at a certain remove, there is a sense of uncertainty, a sense that you can’t control this,” Tahir says, describing the attitude among the people who live in Waziristan. Already haunted by the legacy of British colonialism and the laws it left behind, this part of the Tribal Areas is now ruled with a brutal fist by the Pakistani military and various insurgent groups. But the buzz of the drones, sometimes seven or eight overhead a day, signals another kind of indeterminate power. “Whether its true or not, people feel that with militants there is some degree of control. You can negotiate. There is some cause and effect. But there is no cause and effect with drones. It’s an acute kind of trauma that is not limited to the actual attack.”
For the operators of the drone program, who have launched more than 300 missile attacks in Pakistan since 2008, the political vacuum of the Tribal Areas have encouraged a special kind of war-on-terror calculus. As the New York Times reported last year, the American government has been counting all military-age males in a strike zone as “militants,” which leads to skewed figures about who exactly has been killed. The Obama administration has executed “signature strikes,” drone attacks based on a so-called “pattern of life” analysis in which simply suspicious behavior is enough to qualify for an attack. And in a so-called “double tap” maneuver, a second attack follows an initial strike, killing those who have come to recover bodies from the scene.
“When an attack happens, the media claims to know how many militants were killed,” says Noor Behram, a journalist in the Tribal Areas who has been photographing the casualties of drone strikes for years. “Actually, you only find body parts on the scene, so people can’t tell how many have died.”
In one interview, Tahir speaks with a man from South Waziristan named Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike. “What is the definition of terrorism?” he asks her, and she returns the question to him. His tired eyes light up.
“I think there is no bigger terrorist than Obama or Bush,” he says. “Those who have weaponry like drones, who drop bombs on us while we are in our own homes, there are no greater terrorists than them.” …
There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.” However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.
(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)
We don’t need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let’s stop for a minute and consider. The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it’s not a case where they could have been captured, it’s not “disproportionate,” it’s not too “collateral,” it’s not too “indiscriminate,” etc., — the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it. We’re not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let’s be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it’s done properly, and it’s giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but that’s stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.
What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning? Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be “proportionate” and “necessary”? If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can’t always tell which is which, won’t drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?
For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don’t we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill? Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.
It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?
It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.
We’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.
I’ll be part of a panel discussing this at NYU on Wednesday. See http://NYACT.net
The comments come from Malala and the U.N. respectively.
President Obama invited Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls’ education, to meet with his family. And she promptly explained that what he is doing works against her agenda and fuels terrorism.
Malala is a victim of violence in Pakistan, having been attacked by religious fanatics opposed to her work. But Obama may not have expected her to speak up against other forms of violence in her country.
Malala recounted: “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact.”
President Obama may also have not expected most people to notice or care. The corporate media have virtually ignored this part of a widely-reported meeting.
It’s up to us to surprise everyone with the depth of our interest and concern. Almost 100,000 have thus far signed a petition to ban weaponized drones, soon to be delivered to the U.N., the I.C.C., the State Department, the White House, Congress, and embassies.
The United Nations has released a report on “armed drones and the right to life” (PDF). The report begins by noting that, as of now, weaponized drones are legal:
“Although drones are not illegal weapons, they can make it easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. If the right to life is to be secured, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of force are not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes.”
Drones, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reports, risk making war the normal state of affairs:
“Peace should be the norm, yet such scenarios risk making its derogation the rule by privileging force over long-term peaceful alternatives. . . . Given that drones greatly reduce or eliminate the number of casualties on the side using them, the domestic constraints — political and otherwise — may be less restrictive than with the deployment of other types of armed force. This effect is enhanced by the relative ease with which the details about drone targeting can be withheld from the public eye and the potentially restraining influence of public concern. Such dynamics call for a heightened level of vigilance by the international community concerning the use of drones.”
The U.N. Charter and this report seek to make war an exceptional state of affairs. This is a very difficult, and a morally depraved thing to attempt with an institution that deserves total abolition. War does not work as a tool with which to eliminate war. But, even within that framework, the U.N. finds that drones create extra-legal war:
“An outer layer of protection for the right to life is the prohibition on the resort to force by one State against another, again subject to a narrowly construed set of exceptions. The protection of State sovereignty and of territorial integrity, which onoccasion presents a barrier to the protection of human rights, here can constitute an important component of the protection of people against deadly force, especially with the advent of armed drones.”
The strongest excuse for war is the claim of defense against an actual attack. The next best thing is to pretend an attack is imminent. The Obama Administration has famously redefined “imminent” to mean eventual or theoretical — that is, they’ve stripped the word of all meaning. (See the “white paper” PDF.) The U.N. doesn’t buy it:
“The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack distorts the requirements established in international human rights law.”
U.S. lawyers at Congressional hearings have tended to maintain that drone killing is legal if and only if it’s part of a war. The U.N. report also distinguishes between two supposedly different standards of law depending on whether a drone murder is separate from or part of a war. Disappointingly, the U.N. believes that some drone strikes can be legal and others not:
“Insofar as the term ‘signature strikes’ refers to targeting without sufficient information to make the necessary determination, it is clearly unlawful. . . . Where one drone attack is followed up by another in order to target those who are wounded and hors de combat or medical personnel, it constitutes a war crime in armed conflict and a violation of the right to life, whether or not in armed conflict. Strikes on others confirmed to be civilians who are directly participating in hostilities or having a continuous combat function at the time of the follow-up strike could be lawful if the other international humanitarian law rules are respected.”
The complex mumbo-jumbo of multiple legal standards for multiple scenarios, complete with calculations of necessity and distinction and proportionality and collateral damage, mars this report and any attempt to create enforceable action out of it. But the report does, tentatively, find one little category of drone murders illegal that encompasses many, if not all, U.S. drone murders — namely, those where the victim might have been captured rather than killed:
“Recent debates have asked whether international humanitarian law requires that a party to an armed conflict under certain circumstances consider the capture of an otherwise lawful target (i.e. a combatant in the traditional sense or a civilian directly participating in hostilities) rather than targeting with force. In its Interpretive Guidance, ICRC states that it would defy basic notions of humanity to kill an adversary or to refrain from giving him or her an opportunity to surrender where there manifestly is no necessity for the use of lethal force.”
Pathetically, the report finds that if a government is going to pretend that murdering someone abroad is “self-defense” the action must be reported to the U.N. — thereby making it sooooo much better.
A second UN report (PDF) goes further, citing findings that U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians, but failing to call for prosecutions of these crimes. That is to say, the first report, above, which does not list specific U.S. drone murders of civilians, discusses the need for prosecutions. But this second report just asks for “a detailed public explanation.”
The fact that an insane killing spree is counter-productive, as pointed out to Obama by Malala, in case he hadn’t heard all his own experts, is not enough to end the madness. Ultimately we must recognize the illegality of all killing and all war. In the meantime, prior to the U.N.’s debate on this on the 25th, we can add our names to the growing movement to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org.
A new UN report warns that the use of armed drones threatens global security and encourages more states to acquire unmanned weapons.
The report, which has been submitted to UN General Assembly by Christof Heyns — the organization’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions — called for states that operate armed drones to be more transparent and publicly disclose how they use them, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
“The expansive use of armed drones by the first states to acquire them, if not challenged, can do structural damage to the cornerstones of international security and set precedents that undermine the protection of life across the globe in the longer term,” the report said.
“The use of drones by states to exercise essentially a global policing function to counter potential threats presents a danger to the protection of life, because the tools of domestic policing (such as capture) are not available, and the more permissive targeting framework of the laws of war is often used instead,” it pointed out.
The report also called for international laws to be respected rather than ignored.
“The view that mere past involvement in planning attacks is sufficient to render an individual targetable, even where there is no evidence of a specific and immediate attack, distorts the requirements established in international human rights law,” stated the report.
Countries cannot consent “to the violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law or international human rights law,” it added.
Heyns noted that “drones come from the sky but leave the heavy footprint of war on the communities they target.”
“The claims that drones are more precise in targeting cannot be accepted uncritically, not least because terms such as ‘terrorist’ or ‘militant’ are sometimes used to describe people who are in truth protected civilians,” he said.
The report is the first of two major papers on drone strikes due to be debated at the UN General Assembly on October25. The second, by Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, will be published next week.
Although no state is identified in the report, the comments are clearly directed at the legal problems raised by the US program of aerial attacks against what it describes as militants in other countries.
Emmerson said that drone strikes have killed far more civilians than US officials have publicly acknowledged.
He said on Thursday that at least 400 in Pakistan and as many as 58 in Yemen have been killed by the CIA drone strikes, and censured the US for failing to aid the investigation by disclosing its own figures.
The report was welcomed by the London-based human rights group Reprieve, which represents several civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.
“This report rightly states that the US’s secretive drone war is a danger not only to innocent civilians on the ground but also to international security as a whole.
“The CIA’s campaign must be brought out of the shadows: we need to see real accountability for the hundreds of civilians who have been killed – and justice for their relatives. Among Reprieve’s clients are young Pakistani children who saw their grandmother killed in front of them – the CIA must not be allowed to continue to smear these people as ‘terrorists’,” said its legal director, Kat Craig.
Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists”. According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.
I am an invisible man. My name is unknown. My loves are a mystery. But an unmanned aerial vehicle from a secret location has come for me. – Teju Cole, Nigerian-American writer, from his Seven Short Stories about Drones
Just before noon on October 30 2011, a CIA drone attacked a vehicle near Datta Khel in Pakistan’s tribal northwest. At least four people were reported to have been killed and two injured. Pakistani intelligence officials said the dead men were militants. But local villagers disagreed. They said the dead men were ‘peaceful tribesmen’. They even named one of them: Saeedur Rahman, described as a local chromite dealer.
Five months later, in March 2012, journalists from the New York Times spoke with a 64-year-old farmer called Noor Magul. He said three of the men killed in the strike were relatives of his. He named them as Khastar Gul, Mamrud Khan and Noorzal Khan, and all three, he claimed, were not militants but worked in a local chromite mine.
This is just one of more than 370 drone strikes to hit Pakistan’s Afghan border region in the past nine years. More than 2,500 people have reportedly died in these strikes, including at least 400 civilians.
What makes Saeedur Rahman and his fellow passengers unusual is that they have been identified by name.
Although the US government claims drones are highly precise and target ‘high-value’ terrorists, including members of al Qaeda and affiliated organisations, it is only in exceptional circumstances that the administration will acknowledge responsibility for a particular strike – let alone admit to killing a specific person.
At the same time, reporting from the tribal regions is challenging. These are remote lands, largely out of bounds to foreign reporters, and even local journalists can face threats from the militant groups that control swathes of the area. Because of this, news reports can be vague and often lack details.
Tracking the drones
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been tracking drone strikes in Pakistan for more than two years. We have combed through thousands of credible press reports, as well as court documents and field studies. Our search has revealed that these reports identify fewer than 570 of the dead by name. This is little over one in five of those who have been clearly reported as killed. Of these, 295 are classed as civilians in the reports.
On the occasions when civilians are identified it is often only by a single name, as is common in this area. Just over 200 people, representing more than a third of those named, are identified in this way. Where full names have been reported, they have usually been supplied to journalists by local village elders or field researchers. But further details about the person killed are often in short supply.
With such limited information, it is impossible to definitively chronicle who is being killed.
‘In armed conflict, it is not necessary for an armed force to know the individual identities of those they are killing, but they must determine whether those persons are in fact combatants or fighters,’ says Professor Sarah Knuckey, who led Living Under Drones, a major study by New York University’s School of Law and Stanford Law School.
‘The troubling aspect of US strikes is that there have been numerous reports put forward of evidence of civilian casualties, which the US has failed to publicly address in any meaningful manner,’ she adds, ‘and that it is not sufficiently clear what criteria and standards the US is using for classifying someone as a lawful military target.’
A US official told the Bureau: ‘The notion that any US actions in Pakistan have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis is ludicrous. There is no credible information whatsoever to substantiate such claims and there are many who are interested in spreading this disinformation.’
The Bureau’s identification of high civilian casualties rests on hundreds of media reports and other sources, which are presented transparently.
From the Bureau’s research, one group that is almost never identified by name is women. Just two adult women are identified using their own names, while more than 20 others are identified as the wife, mother or other relative of a named person.
Many others – men, women and children – are referred to only in the vaguest terms, described as ‘foreigners’ or ‘women and children’. It is often impossible to even say how many people died, let alone who they may have been.
There are a rare few cases in which a more detailed picture of the deceased emerges, usually because a field researcher working for a newspaper, campaign group or academic organisation has tracked down relatives of victims to get a deeper understanding of a particular attack.
It is thanks to the Living Under Drones report, for example, that we know about Akram Shah, who died on June 15 2011. He was a government driver, in his mid-30s, had three children, and worked for the Pakistani Water and Power Development Authority, according to those who knew him.
But as time passes, those details become harder to ascertain. It is already nine years since two boys aged 10 and 16 were killed in the very first strike in Pakistan in June 2004 – the first civilian deaths to be reported from a drone attack. Missiles hit their home as their father Sher Zaman Ashrafkhel was playing host to militant leader Nek Mohammad. The two children’s names have never emerged.
For senior militant commanders, though, it is sometimes possible to develop a fuller picture. In the cases of Abu Yahya al Libi, the second-in-command of al Qaeda, or Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP), for example, there is a wealth of information.
The deaths of senior militants are often widely reported, both in the Pakistani press and in western news outlets. The US administration occasionally acknowledges that they have taken a major figure off the field, although in the few instances that this happens the information usually comes through anonymous officials.
In addition, there are often fairly extensive details available: most-wanted lists, terrorism databases and sanctions lists can all provide information. The deaths of leading figures are also often marked by militants through detailed obituaries and martyrdom videos posted in jihadist forums.
But it is only usually the top tier of militants whose lives are recorded so thoroughly. Major players rarely die alone – and the record is often almost silent on the details of those who died alongside them.
Followers of particular militant leaders are often identified only in the vaguest terms – press reporting will refer to ‘three Arabs’, ‘four militants’ or even just ‘non-locals’. More than 300 people are identified in similar terms – nearly all of them alleged militants.
‘Thus far, all we know and all we are told by the US government is that “we are killing militants”. We can’t start to get to the bottom of who’s being killed until we get the names of those people,’ says Jennifer Gibson, attorney at legal charity Reprieve.
On December 6 2012, for instance, drones attacked a house in Mubarak Shahi, North Waziristan, as its inhabitants were eating a pre-dawn meal. Parts of the building were completely destroyed. The attack killed Sheikh Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman al Hussainan, described as a leading member of al Qaeda’s religious committee, and his wife. Up to nine others were also killed, but little is known about them aside from the suggestion they were ‘Arab nationals’.
While the Bureau’s data suggests that more than 2,000 of those who have died in drone strikes may have been militants, we have the names of just 255, including the 74 senior figures.
Discovering the stories of alleged militants is made all the more difficult by the fact that many use noms de guerre, chosen precisely to obscure their true identities.
‘You don’t want your family members to get in trouble, which could happen if you come out and say, “Here’s my name, here’s where I’m from”,’ explains terrorism analyst Jacob Zenn. ‘Also, people in war for centuries have taken noms de guerre – it’s a war tradition, and it’s helpful to conceal your identity to make it tricky for other people to catch you and know who you are.’
It is likely that we will never know the full story of everyone killed in CIA drone strikes. This is a common problem with armed violence of all kinds – information gets lost, and the record of who was killed loses definition. Memories fade and evidence disappears.
Casualty recording efforts such as Naming the Dead are a key step towards avoiding future conflicts, says Hamit Dardagan, co-director of the Every Casualty campaign, which calls for every death in conflict to be recorded. ‘Casualty recording is a way of recognising the humanity of people who have been killed, and making not just their death but also the manner of their death part of the public record – which is important if one is to prevent these kinds of deaths happening again.’
He adds: ‘If things such as human loss and suffering are important, then it’s important to have the correct facts: it’s in the self-interest of militaries to show that they have made every effort to confirm who was killed by their actions.
‘The recognition of human losses is a necessary part of peace and reconciliation efforts.’
Related project: Covert Drone War
The US Government has, for a second time, failed to grant a visa to Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, preventing him from speaking in congress on the CIA drone programme next week.
The hearing will be chaired by Congressman Grayson of Florida who has encouarged the US to immediately issue Mr Akbar with a visa. Scheduled for October 1st the hearing will feature testimony from Rafiq ur Rehman, a primary school teacher whose 67 year old mother was killed in the same October 2012 drone attack that hospitalized his children Nabila and Zubair.
Before 2010 Mr Akbar travelled regularly to the US. It was not until 2011, when he began representing victims of CIA drone strikes, that Mr Akbar began having significant difficulty getting a US visa. This current instance is the second time that the US has failed to grant Mr Akbar a visa to speak at a U.S. event.
Mr Akbar, who founded the Islamabad-based human rights group the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, and is a fellow of legal human rights charity Reprieve, filed the first ever case in Pakistan on behalf of civilian drones victims. Should Mr Akbar get a visa to accompany them, the October Congressional hearing will be the first time that drone victims have travelled to the US to speak with lawmakers.
Congressman Grayson (FL-09), said: “Congress would like to conduct an ad hoc hearing on drones, and it is very important for us to hear from victims of drone strikes. Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher in Pakistan, lost his 67-year old mother in a drone strike, and two of his children also suffered drone-strike-related injuries. The State Department has granted the visas of Rafiq and his children to allow them to travel to the U.S. and share their stories with Congress. However, it has not yet issued a visa for the family’s lawyer and translator, Shahzad Akbar. Without Mr. Akbar, Rafiq and his children will not be able to travel to the U.S. I encourage the State Department to approve Mr. Akbar’s visa immediately, so that Rafiq and his family can share their stories with Congress and the American public.”
Shahzad Akbar, Reprieve fellow and director of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, said: “Once again I find myself being denied entry to the U.S. This time to stop me talking to American lawmakers who have invited me to speak about what I have witnessed. I hope to tell them about the impact of drone strikes on civilians in Pakistan, and to shed light on the fact that rather than keeping the US safe, counterterrorism policies like drone strikes are instead a threat to America’s national security.
“Failing to grant me a visa silences the 156 civilian drone strike victims and families that I represent. These families, who have lost children, parents, and siblings, are now trying through legal means to achieve justice. They have powerful stories to tell in their own voices, but will not travel without me, their legal representative.”
“While filming Unmanned in Pakistan, I saw first-hand the critical role Mr. Akbar is playing in reaching, protecting, and encouraging those, like Rafiq and his family, affected by tragic drone attacks to use the legal system – not violence. This man should be welcomed and celebrated, not silenced.
“I also met and interviewed Rafiq and his family and know that if Mr. Akbar were allowed into America by the State Department, Congress and the American people would be as moved as I was about the plight of these survivors in a covert war.”
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The CIA unmanned aircraft deliberately targeted rescuers attempting to help victims of previous drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found.
A field investigation by the Bureau focuses on drone strikes in a single village in North Waziristan last year when the CIA was after Yahya al-Libi, an alleged senior al-Qeada member who was finally killed in one of the aerial attacks on June 4, 2012.
The CIA had at the time shown a video to Congressional aides in which only Libi is killed in a drone strike.
It was first in February 2012 that an investigation by the Bureau found that the CIA had conducted 11 drone attacks on rescuers of previous strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2009 and 2011.
The tactic, called “double-tap” strikes, apparently stopped in July 2011 but new reports show that the CIA had resumed the strikes a year later.
Five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, killing 53 people and injuring 57 others. One of the attacks targeted a mosque, a report by Pakistani journalist Mushtaq Yusufzai, commissioned by the Bureau, found.
The US has always escaped from admitting that civilians have been killed in drone strikes. However, in investigation by legal charity Reprieve indicated that eight civilians died in a double-tap strike on July 6 2012 with the possibility of further civilian deaths in a July 23 attack.
“On both occasions [in July] our independent investigation showed a high number of civilians who were rescuers were killed in the strikes,” Shahzad Akbar, Islamabad-based lawyer, says, confirming the findings of Reprieve’s investigation.
UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Christof Heyns noted in June 2012 that double-tap strikes can be labeled as war crimes.
“If civilian ‘rescuers’ are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime,” he said.
Another UN official, Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on torture, also agreed with his colleague. “Christof Heyns… has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.”
- At least 1 in 5 drone strike victims a confirmed civilian – leaked Pakistani records (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Leaked internal data produced by Pakistani officials documenting drone strikes on the ground reveal a high civilian death toll, countering US claims that the targeted assassination campaign results in “exceedingly rare” fatalities.
A 12-page report, titled ‘Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)’ describes 75 CIA drone attacks between 2006 and 2009, with death tolls compiled by officials in the turbulent border regions for internal use by the government. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a UK news website – says it obtained three identical copies of the classified document from various sources in Pakistan.
The numbers show a death toll of 746 people, 147 of whom were confirmed as civilians. Of those civilian deaths, 94 are children. Statistically, it means at least one in five victims of US precision strikes was a civilian, and more than 12 per cent were minors.
“There was no benefit in officials ‘cooking the books’ here, since this document was clearly never intended to be seen outside the civilian administration,” said Rauf Khan Khattak, who recently served as Pakistan’s interim finance minister.
The US President and the CIA do not have to disclose details of what is officially considered a classified program to Senate or to the public, so official American estimates have never been released. CIA Director John Brennan, considered to be the architect of the drone program, has said that “we only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances,” and that collateral deaths themselves are “exceedingly rare.” And an internal incomplete official report leaked earlier this year – covering a later period – showed that the CIA thought that only one out of every 482 people it killed was a civilian.
But the Pakistani numbers tally much closer with those provided by outside sources. The bipartisan New American Foundation estimates that at least 12 per cent of drone strike victims are definitely civilians, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism itself claims the number could be as high as 25 per cent.
Rauf Khan Khattak, a long-time opponent of foreign drone strikes, believes the newest figures could be the most reliable obtained so far.
“What you end up with in these reports is reasonably accurate, because it comes from on-the-ground sources cultivated over many years. And the political agent is only interested in properly understanding what actually happened,” he told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
But others have urged for these documents to be taken into consideration only when measured against other sources. For example, following Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, only three civilian death incidents are recorded through the year up until late October, when the data ends – even though media reports from the same time indicate that civilians and children had died in attacks included in the FATA document.
“Tribal documents might present a broad picture. But any accuracy is dependent on what data the military chooses to release to or withhold from the political agents. In the last eight years, for example, no precise casualty figures have ever been submitted to Pakistan’s parliament,” said former FATA official and minister Rustan Shah Mohmand.
Independent sources estimate that around 2,500 and perhaps more than 3,500 people have been killed in UAV strikes on Pakistan since 2004. Obama has ramped up the program significantly since coming into office.
The difficulty in establishing the precise number of civilians among those is also compounded by the identity of the supposed militants and the CIA’s own targeting protocols , known as ‘signature strikes’.
Militants may simply be a villager engaged in an insurgency, and will have little to separate himself from a civilian, and vice versa. There is also little incentive for relatives to inform the authorities that any UAV strike victim is a militant, and much of the data is compiled on hearsay and local knowledge.
In turn, the US has tacitly admitted that it picks the majority of its targets based on a pattern of behavior – suspicious movements, contact with established targets, attendance of training centers, and other indirect indicators. Drones sometimes target follow-up events that occur as a result of its previous strikes, such as funerals of past drone targets. The earlier leaked documents showed that out of the 482 people killed, only six were known al-Qaeda commanders.
But even when taking all these variables into consideration and interpreting them in the most favorable light possible to the US, it is hard to agree with Obama’s recent assertion that the CIA has a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” before each drone attack.
In a speech to the National Defense University yesterday outlining his new policies regarding the use of drones in targeted killings US President Obama told his audience;
…before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.
This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.
At least Obama is admitting – contrary to CIA director John Brennan’s claims that no civilians have been killed in drone strikes – that there are civilians being killed in these attacks though he is inferring that civilian deaths are not as high as some are reporting (though the Human Rights Institute are saying that some non-government reports are actually under-reporting the numbers) suggesting that the people of the world should believe US assessments rather than ‘non-governmental reports’. (Why would anyone want to believe ‘US assessments’ after the Iraq WMDs fiasco?)
Obama goes on to say that the civilian deaths will ‘haunt him’ and all those involved in the killings for ‘as long as we live’. This is unadulterated and utterly transparent garbage. Obama and his willing killers that operate the drones couldn’t care less about the civilian casualties. They do it time and time again. Thousands of civilians have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan alone and each time Obama thinks it’s enough just to say; ‘Sorry. We didn’t mean it. We’ll do our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again’, but, of course, it does happen again – and again, and again. Obama then sinks to new low levels of rhetoric by resorting to the use of moral relativism as he attempts to justify civilian deaths by saying that the ‘enemy they are targeting also kill civilians’.
The reality is that Obama and the US kill the enemy off battlefield simply because they can and they really are not in the slightest bit concerned about the civilian deaths except inasmuch that it may adversely effect public opinion; hence the attempts at justification. What doesn’t seem to have been thought through yet is the possibility that America’s enemy may one day have the same ability to kill by remote control. What then when scores of American citizens die when the enemy makes an attempt to assassinate an American political or military leader via a remotely controlled weapon?
TEHRAN – Pakistan rejected US media reports that the country has struck a deal with the CIA over a secret drone campaign in the tribal regions.
The New York Times has reported that Pakistan and the United States had signed the deal in 2004 and a US spy aircraft in its first strike had killed senior Pakistani Taliban commander Nek Muhammad in South Waziristan, Xinhua reported.
The CIA has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike, the paper said.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the story is baseless and a part of the propaganda to create confusion about the clear position of Pakistan on this matter.
“We have repeatedly affirmed that Pakistan regards the use of drone strikes as counterproductive,” the spokesman said while responding to a query regarding a story published in New York Times on an alleged deal on drones.
“It (drone strikes) violates Pakistan’s sovereignty and it violates International Law,” the spokesman said in a statement.
He said in a statement that there is now a growing debate in the international community to consider the legality and legitimacy of drone strikes.
The New York report claimed that Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI and the CIA agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the CIA’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.
A UN team investigating civilian casualties from US assassination drone attacks in Pakistan has stated that the terror airstrikes violate sovereignty of Pakistan.
Ben Emmerson, head of the UN team, said in a statement on Friday that Pakistani government told him at least 400 civilians have been killed in US drone strikes.
The team paid a three-day research trip to Pakistan that ended on Wednesday. The trip was kept secret until the team left the country.
“The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Emmerson said.
The attacks “involve the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he added.
The UN launched an investigation into civilian casualties from drone attacks and other targeted killings in Pakistan in January 2013 and will publish the final report in October.
Pakistani officials have condemned the attacks as violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism said in a report in February that the United States has carried out more than 360 drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004, killing nearly 3,500 people.
Over the past few months, demonstrations have been held across Pakistan to condemn the United States for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty.
On February 13, hundreds of Pakistani tribesmen held an anti-US demonstration in Islamabad to protest against the killing of innocent civilians by the US drones.