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Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan

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In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false. Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interview In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false. Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones. Real threats to US security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas now targeted by drones. It is crucial that the US be able to protect itself from terrorist threats, and that the great harm caused by terrorists to Pakistani civilians be addressed. However, in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated. It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account. First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.” It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals. Where media accounts do report civilian casualties, rarely is any information provided about the victims or the communities they leave behind. This report includes the harrowing narratives of many survivors, witnesses, and family members who provided evidence of civilian injuries and deaths in drone strikes to our research team. It also presents detailed accounts of three separate strikes, for which there is evidence of civilian deaths and injuries, including a March 2011 strike on a meeting of tribal elders that killed some 40 individuals. Second, US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US 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. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves. Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks. As the New York Times has reported, “drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.” Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani relations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy. Fourth, current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents. This report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US. The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments. As drone manufacturers and officials successfully reduce export control barriers, and as more countries develop lethal drone technologies, these risks increase. In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counter-productive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan. This report also supports and reiterates the calls consistently made by rights groups and others for legality, accountability, and transparency in US drone strike policies: • The US should fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies. The US should: o Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan; o Make public critical information concerning US drone strike policies, including as previously and repeatedly requested by various groups and officials: the targeting criteria for so-called “signature” strikes; the mechanisms in place to ensure that targeting complies with international law; which laws are being applied; the nature of investigations into civilian death and injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties; o Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, consistent with the call made by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2012; o In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions, establish compensation programs for civilians harmed by US strikes in Pakistan. • The US should fulfill its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations with respect to the use of force, including by not using lethal force against individuals who are not members of armed groups with whom the US is in an armed conflict, or otherwise against individuals not posing an imminent threat to life. This includes not double-striking targets as first responders arrive. o Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to “militant” deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.


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In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false. Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interview In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false. Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones. Real threats to US security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas now targeted by drones. It is crucial that the US be able to protect itself from terrorist threats, and that the great harm caused by terrorists to Pakistani civilians be addressed. However, in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated. It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account. First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.” It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals. Where media accounts do report civilian casualties, rarely is any information provided about the victims or the communities they leave behind. This report includes the harrowing narratives of many survivors, witnesses, and family members who provided evidence of civilian injuries and deaths in drone strikes to our research team. It also presents detailed accounts of three separate strikes, for which there is evidence of civilian deaths and injuries, including a March 2011 strike on a meeting of tribal elders that killed some 40 individuals. Second, US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US 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. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves. Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks. As the New York Times has reported, “drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.” Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani relations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy. Fourth, current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents. This report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US. The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments. As drone manufacturers and officials successfully reduce export control barriers, and as more countries develop lethal drone technologies, these risks increase. In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counter-productive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan. This report also supports and reiterates the calls consistently made by rights groups and others for legality, accountability, and transparency in US drone strike policies: • The US should fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies. The US should: o Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan; o Make public critical information concerning US drone strike policies, including as previously and repeatedly requested by various groups and officials: the targeting criteria for so-called “signature” strikes; the mechanisms in place to ensure that targeting complies with international law; which laws are being applied; the nature of investigations into civilian death and injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties; o Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, consistent with the call made by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2012; o In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions, establish compensation programs for civilians harmed by US strikes in Pakistan. • The US should fulfill its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations with respect to the use of force, including by not using lethal force against individuals who are not members of armed groups with whom the US is in an armed conflict, or otherwise against individuals not posing an imminent threat to life. This includes not double-striking targets as first responders arrive. o Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to “militant” deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.

33 review for Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jibran

    Here is the latest installment in the War of Terror. Medical charity 'Medecins Sans Frontieres' hospital has been attacked by an army that prides itself on its technology, sophistication and precision. BBC report. The precision drone campaign is sold for its effectiveness in eliminating militant targets in inaccessible areas with minimum "collateral damage." The precision, though, is restricted to how well the drone will hit the target to which they send it. It says nothing about precision in pro Here is the latest installment in the War of Terror. Medical charity 'Medecins Sans Frontieres' hospital has been attacked by an army that prides itself on its technology, sophistication and precision. BBC report. The precision drone campaign is sold for its effectiveness in eliminating militant targets in inaccessible areas with minimum "collateral damage." The precision, though, is restricted to how well the drone will hit the target to which they send it. It says nothing about precision in properly identifying the target before trigger happy controllers in faraway stations go for it. Living Under Drones, inter alia, cites reports from Bureau of Investigative Journalism with regards the legality of drone strikes. During their research they found that US forces launch what they called "signature strikes" which involves attacking unknown people gathering in large groups or for "behaving like militants"(*). This means militants are not often identified or known when they are droned. Only a thin suspicion will land a drone on you if you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. There have been a string of drone strikes on late night wedding receptions (common in the whole region) in which civilians have been blown to smithereens. When you don't know who you're targeting, "mistakes" like droning weddings and congregations become all too common. And now they have blown up MSF hospital in Afghanistan. For operators sitting far away in the US this is no more than a video game, and their targets are dehumanised shadow movements on their surveillance screens. This disregard for human life constitutes a war crime, pure and simple, but since it's the United States, we can forget about that. Hey, did anyone catch Omar al-Bashir yet? (*) (view spoiler)[ It's a norm to carry weapons in Pasthun culture (much like the Unites States with its school shootings no?). Due to the fragile state of law and order since the Soviet invasion of 1979, various tribes/regions have had armed young men filling in the shoes of a police force, for self-defence purposes. They often engage in skirmishes with the neighbouring tribes. They are prima facie "militants," but have no intention of attacking NATO forces. They are neither the dreaded Taliban nor your regular extremists with bombs, just ordinary people living in a weak state taking care of their own security. There have been other targets. A shepherd or a restaurant owner with a battered rifle slung on his shoulder who is meeting his buddies for a round of poppy drink is thought as showing "militant behaviour," and blown up. There have been so many such incidents that to call them a 'mistake' would be a mistake; it forms a pattern more like. I'm not pulling this out of thin air but from multiple witness accounts that have been covered in local media but do not make headlines in foreign press (A couple of them I have had the chance to interview). They are often illiterate, poor, guileless young men with no sense of the international conflict, no idea of why death is falling on their heads from above. When they are killed, their friends and relatives are easily recruited into Taliban ranks to fight the foreign forces, thus fueling the insurgency. Yet the United States wonders after 15 years of war why are the Taliban still running the show... (hide spoiler)]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sash Chiesa

    The FATA (Federally administered tribal areas) and its reality remain locked within the FATA itself. Living under drones is the reality about the drone operations of the U.S in Pakistan. From the illegality of such an operation, to the false propaganda about the precision technology, massive number of civillian deaths, the convenient definitions invented and used by the government and media to cover these crimes, silence and complicity of the Pakistani authorities and no accountability on the par The FATA (Federally administered tribal areas) and its reality remain locked within the FATA itself. Living under drones is the reality about the drone operations of the U.S in Pakistan. From the illegality of such an operation, to the false propaganda about the precision technology, massive number of civillian deaths, the convenient definitions invented and used by the government and media to cover these crimes, silence and complicity of the Pakistani authorities and no accountability on the part of U.S, the law schools have done a commendable job in bringing the truth to us, the media has not. Pakistan has been ignored as a victim of extreme violence due its being a safe have for terrorism, hosting of terrorists, the ISI & Pakistani military's relationship with the terrorist outfits, years of war in Afghanistan & support to insurgency and militancy in Jammu & Kashmir. All this makes it very easy to violate the sovereignty of Pakistan and the innocent victims since they have no sympathizers. Media has been playing an ugly role--either it's state-owned or by the industrialists, the government bars them from getting access to so much it wants to conceal, the governments are cooperating with each other to hide the wrongs they're inficting. The endless propaganda they've been selling and we've been buying raises a question-do we really know anything at all? Living under drones comes as a hope that the reality would finally emerge from the rubble!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rich

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jason Zumwalt

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kram

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Wilch

  7. 5 out of 5

    Fabiola Rivera (Amrit Sukhmani Kaur)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rodney Ulyate

  9. 4 out of 5

    Azizul

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Pettis

  11. 5 out of 5

    Monique

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alistair

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julz

  14. 4 out of 5

    Emily Horsman

  15. 4 out of 5

    Fatematuz

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zahraa

  17. 4 out of 5

    أميرة

  18. 5 out of 5

    Akshat Upadhyay

  19. 5 out of 5

    Iman

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mehwish Mughal

  21. 4 out of 5

    UsamaG

  22. 5 out of 5

    James Morcan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Donze

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Patin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Faryal

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ola

  27. 4 out of 5

    صباء

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gareth

  29. 5 out of 5

    TaimoorAJ

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bankim Datta

  31. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

  32. 5 out of 5

    Prasanna

  33. 4 out of 5

    Jasper Burns

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