Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Airstrikes killing Civilians

BFTF saddened by an article in The Guardian describing how, in complete contrast to US claims, airstrikes were killing many innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

A single quote from the story (written by a representive of the Reprieve charity) will suffice to explain what is happening:
"During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west...Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee."

Also read this article in the Independent on the "Living Under Drones" report by researchers at Stanford University. The researchers make a number of points, including:

Between 2004 and 2012 drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children...Drones strike without warning, their presence terrorizes men, women, and children - and the US practice of striking one area multiple times, sometimes killing rescuers makes rescuers afraid to assist injured victims.

Most importantly, the report makes a series of recommendation, including:

- Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan.
- Make public the tar­geting criteria and the mechanisms to track and publicly recognize civilian casualties.
- Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, as called for by the UN Special Rapporteur.

Also moved by a passionate speech by Yasmin Queshi MP(LAB), part of a debate on unmanned aerial vehicles secured by Rehman Chisti MP:
Yasmin Queshi MP : ...I have constituents of Pakistani Kashmiri and Afghan heritage, and they have several times come to see me, and written many e-mails and letters to me, about drone attacks, especially as some of them have family members living in the relevant parts of Pakistan—Waziristan and other areas. They have told me in person about the effects of drone attacks. They ask, “How would you feel if you were asleep at night and suddenly you heard drone attacks—buildings being destroyed and people being killed: you would not know from day to day what would happen. One minute you are peacefully asleep in bed, and the next an attack is happening.” How would we like that—if people were asleep in Bolton, for example, and that were to happen, with the deaths of young children as well as adults, including old people. Much has been made of the shooting of young Malala, but there are many other young Malalas in that part of the world—and young boys, too, and families being destroyed...

... the evidence increasingly shows that drones are being targeted not at specific people but randomly, that they are being controlled, in America, not by the army but the CIA, and that there are successive strikes with more than one hit in the same place. That cannot be right. I am sorry if I sound very passionate about this, but thousands of innocent lives have been taken in Pakistan and Afghanistan—and in Yemen and elsewhere, although I do not have many constituents from there. I can talk more about Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the most intensive drone use has been.

There are ways to fight a battle, but we must abide by international law. I am grateful that an investigation is being carried out by the UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, on whether the use of drones is legal, and I wonder whether the Minister will also welcome that. If it is found that they are illegal, will we desist from using them in our campaign?...

Further Information
"DroneWars" - a site that contains information on drones and their use.


Oct 2012 : A recent report by researchers at Stanford Universtity entitled "Living Under Drones" (see summary at the end of this post) contained a section on the recent practice of "double tap" drone strikes, where people trying to rescue possible survivors of a first strike are hit by a second drone strike minutes later.

The report states that :

"... In a February 2012 joint investigative report, Chris Woods of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) documented that: of the 18 attacks on attacks on rescuers and mourners reported at the time by credible media, twelve cases have been independently confirmed by our researchers. In each case civilians are reported killed...

...Those interviewed for this report were acutely aware of reports of the practice of follow-up strikes, and explained that the secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.

...One interviewee told us that a strike at the home of his in-laws hit first responders: “Other people came to check what had happened; they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.” A father of four, who lost one of his legs in a drone strike, admitted that, “[w]e and other people are so scared of drone attacks now that when there is a drone strike, for two or three hours nobody goes close to [the location of the strike]...

...Crucially, the threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbors and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded. According to a health professional familiar with North Waziristan, one humanitarian organization had a “policy to not go immediately [to a reported drone strike] because of follow up strikes. There is a six hour mandatory delay.” ...

...The dissuasive effect that the “double tap” pattern of strikes has on first responders raises crucial moral and legal concerns. Not only does the practice put into question the extent to which secondary strikes comply with international humanitarian law’s basic rules of distinction, proportionality, and precautions, but it also potentially violates specific legal protections for medical and humanitarian personnel, and for the wounded. As international law experts have noted, intentional strikes on first responders may constitute war crimes." (emphasis BFTF's)

NB: Updated 2019 for concisenes.