Why the U.S. Should Retire Its Drones
A new Amnesty International report has strongly condemned the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan.
The report (PDF) begins very movingly.
“In October 2012, sixty-eight-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed in front of her grandchildren while gathering vegetables in her family’s large, vacant fields,” it starts. “She was blasted into pieces by a drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her. A year has passed but the U.S. government has not acknowledged Mamana Bibi’s death, let alone provided justice or compensation for it.”
The document is harsh in its assessment of the American assaults.
Many of the casualties from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan “violated the right to life and may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes,” the report states. “The U.S. appears to be exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the local region to evade accountability for violations of the right to life.”
The Amnesty International report was released at the same time as a Human Rights Watch report on drone attacks in Yemen that condemned their civilian casualties as being “in violation of the laws of war.”
Human rights groups are not the only ones subjecting the drone program to scrutiny. Even the United Nations has in recent days been paying close attention.
The drone campaign “gives rise to a number of issues on which there is either no clear international consensus, or United States policy appears to challenge established norms,” stated Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism.
“The report says the involvement of the CIA in drone operations has created an ‘almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency,’ and Emmerson is also critical of the ‘almost invariably classified’ nature of special forces drone operations in Yemen and Somalia,” reports the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The U.N. report urges the United States “to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information relevant to its lethal extraterritorial operations; and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties.”
These aren’t abstract legal issues; drones are having a substantially damaging impact on civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Pakistani journalist Mudassar Shah reported on this in the February issue of The Progressive. Shah met a man, Wakil Khan, who lost his wife, three children and his business to a U.S. drone strike.
“It would be better if I had died too, in the attack,” Wakil told him. “I can’t do business nor can I meet people like I used to meet. I can’t sleep properly nor can I have peace of mind since then. The incident and the scenes are always in my mind. May God curse the USA because they don’t differentiate between the innocent and the guilty.”
Shah interviewed another person, Mehmood Khan, who had lost his parents and a stepmother along with six of his siblings in a drone strike. Mehmood explained to Shah how people live in the region.
“Two or more young children can’t sit together due to the fear, and they run away from gatherings,” he said. “All people are extremely tense.”
Such social effects of U.S. strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions are confirmed by a joint report issued by Stanford University and New York University-based organizations.
“The U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims,” states the report. “Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”
And the civilian toll has been huge. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in a prize-winning project, has estimated that hundreds of civilians have died in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. (In an interview with me for the upcoming issue of The Progressive, Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkol Karman asked that the United States halt drone attacks in her country.)
Besides, the drone strikes may actually be increasing extremism in the region, as a new book, “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam,” by Pakistani-American scholar Akbar Ahmed, points out. There’s been immense public anger in Pakistan and Yemen directed toward the United States due to the strikes. Plus, plotters such as the failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad have cited the U.S. drone campaign as a primary motivation.
It’s time for the United States to retire its drones.
Photo: Flickr user Donkey Hotey, creative commons licensed.
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