The US drone strikes may be war crimes, Amnesty International report claims
The US has killed civilians in unlawful drone attacks on north-west Pakistan, Amnesty International has said, alleging the Obama administration may be guilty of war crimes.
In a just-released report Will I be next?: US drone strikes in Pakistan, Amnesty claims that many of those killed by drone strikes and accounted for by the US military as terrorists were in fact civilians, including a 68-year-old grandmother and a 14-year-old boy.
“Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the US administration a licence to kill beyond the reach of the counter or basic standards of international law. It’s time for the US to come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account,” Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty’s Pakistan researcher said. Some of the attacks “could even amount to war crimes”, the Amnesty report said.
The US has consistently defended its drone program, saying the drone attacks are “surgically precise” and “make the US safer”.
The administration told the UN this year: “The United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces, and may use force consistent with our inherent right to self-defence … these strikes are conducted in a manner that is consistent with all applicable laws of war”.
Amnesty documented 45 known drone strikes in the lawless North Waziristan region of north-west Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013. It conducted field research on nine attacks.
It says in one attack on Ghundi Kala in October 2012, 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed by a double-tap strike as she picked vegetables in her family’s fields, surrounded by several of her grandchildren.
And in July 2012 in the village of Zowi Sidgi close to the Afghan border, 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, sitting down to dinner in a tent were allegedly killed by multiple drone strikes.
“We cannot find any justifications for these killings. There are genuine threats to the US and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of labourers were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States,” Mr Qadri said.
In March this year, Fairfax Media conducted an investigation into drone strikes in Pakistan, finding there were serious concerns raised by new US tactics, in particular the use of “signature strikes” – where unidentified men are targeted simply because of the way they appear, from a distance, to behave – and “double-tap” assaults, where targets are hit twice in quick succession, often, it’s alleged, as rescuers are trying to save the injured.
Fairfax found too, that drone strikes that hit civilian targets were a powerful recruiting tool for the Taliban looking to attract young fighters and suicide bombers to the insurgency.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said repeatedly the unauthorised drone strikes were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and that they should cease immediately. Mr Sharif will meet with President Obama in the White House on Wednesday.
The United Nation’s special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson said in September US drone attacks had killed at least 400 civilians in Pakistan, but that US refusal to confirm or deny strikes created “an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency”.
“The special rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tallies drone strikes and their casualties, says the US has conducted 376 drone strikes since 2004 (325 under President Obama), killing between 2500 and 3600 people, with between 400 and 900 of those believed to be civilians. The US says the number of deaths is much lower, but the exact figure is classified.