Obama's Forgotten Drone Victims
May 24, 2013
Mirza Shahzad Akbar / The New York Times & The National
Commentary: "When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, his message of hope and change gave us -- the citizens of lesser republics -- hope that he would close Guantánamo and shut down programs where extrajudicial killing had become standard practice. Instead, a few days after his inaugural address, a CIA-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi's home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members."
Obama's Forgotten Victims
Mirza Shahzad Akbar / The New York Times
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (May 22, 2013) -- When Barack Obama ran for president of the United States in 2008, his message of hope and change gave us, the citizens of lesser republics, hope that he would close Guantánamo and shut down programs where extrajudicial killing or bribing foreign heads of state with American taxpayer dollars had become standard practice.
Instead, a few days after his inaugural address, a CIA-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi's home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim. He was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach.
There was no militant present. A recent book revealed that Mr. Obama was informed about the erroneous target but still did not offer any form of redress, because in 2009, the United States did not acknowledge the existence of its own drone program in Pakistan.
Sadaullah Wazir was another victim of hope and change. His house in North Waziristan was targeted on Sept. 7, 2009. The strike killed four members of his family. Sadaullah was 14 years old when it happened. A few days after the attack, he woke up in a Peshawar hospital to the news that both of his legs had to be amputated and he would never be able to walk again. He died last year, without receiving justice or even an apology. Once again, no militant was present or killed.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on drones at the National Defense University today. He is likely to tell his fellow Americans that drones are precise and effective at killing militants.
But his words will be little consolation for 8-year-old Nabila, who, on Oct. 24, had just returned from school and was playing in a field outside her house with her siblings and cousins while her grandmother picked flowers. At 2:30 p.m., a Hellfire missile came out of the sky and struck right in front of Nabila. Her grandmother was badly burned and succumbed to her injuries; Nabila survived with severe burns and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder.
Nabila doesn't know who Mr. Obama is, or where the Hellfire missile that killed her grandmother came from. As she grows older, she will learn about the idea of justice. But how will she be able to grasp it if she herself has been denied this basic right?
The civilian victims of drone strikes have not been let down just by Mr. Obama. Their own government is equally culpable; Pakistan has been complicit in several strikes.
I have brought litigation on behalf of more than 100 civilian victims and their families before the provincial High Court in Peshawar and lower courts in Islamabad, the capital, to demand that the Pakistani government exercise its duty to protect the lives of its citizens.
A growing number of civilian casualties has raised the question of the efficacy of drone strikes in killing militants. Clearly Fahim, Sadaullah and Nabila were not menaces to America who had to be attacked in a brutal and lawless manner.
According to the revelations in a recent McClatchy News Service article, the CIA has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.
The burden of accountability is not exclusively on the American side. It is widely believed that the Pakistani government not only gives tacit consent for such strikes but also provides ground intelligence to the United States.
In response to our lawsuit, the Pakistani government has claimed that there is no written, verbal or tacit consent for such strikes nor any intelligence sharing. It cites two joint parliamentary resolutions declaring drone strikes a counterproductive violation of sovereignty and a request to stop such strikes. But Pakistan's former military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, painted a different picture in a CNN interview in April, admitting that he consented to a number of strikes during his tenure as president.
In a recent landmark ruling on one of our drone lawsuits, the Peshawar High Court categorically ordered Pakistan's government to end its duplicity and defend its citizens' right to life by demanding that America halt drone strikes and compensate civilian victims.
People in Waziristan do not expect much of their government, but they at the very least deserve justice and a right to live.
If Mr. Obama will not end the strikes that are killing innocent Pakistanis, it is the duty of our government to stop America's extrajudicial campaign of killing on our territory, just as it is the Pakistani government's duty to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the country -- but within the bounds of law and adhering to the principles of due process.
Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer and former special prosecutor for Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau, is co-founder and legal director of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a legal aid organization.
Drone Killings Draw Ire of Amnesty International
NEW YORK (May 24, 2013) -- A leading human rights organisation has criticised the United States' increasing use of drone aircraft for the targeted killing of terrorism suspects overseas and questioned its legality.
Amnesty International, in its global review of human rights issues, said the US drone policy was shrouded in secrecy but the killings appeared to amount to extrajudicial executions that violate international rights laws.
"Our view is that the legal basis is quite unclear," said Salil Shetty, the London-based group's secretary general. "We have issues with how the United States defines the 'theater of war', which is a very broad definition which allows them a free rein to use drones and other weapons under a very wide set of circumstances."
In its annual review, Amnesty said "available information, limited by secrecy, indicated that US policy permitted extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law under the US's theory of a 'global war' against Al Qaeda and associated groups".
Drone strikes have risen under the US president, Barack Obama. According to the Long War Journal, which tracks such attacks, there were 35 strikes in Pakistan during 2008, the last year George W Bush was president. That number grew to 117 in 2010, then fell to 64 in 2011 and 46 last year.
The US is expected to increase its use of drones and other counterterrorism techniques as the war in Afghanistan winds to a close at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of US troops return home.
Elsewhere in its report, Amnesty warned that the plight of refugees and migrants fleeing wars and economic hardship is worsening in Europe as financial turmoil and austerity stoke bias against foreigners.
Amnesty documented serious problems "in Greece and Italy, where the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers has really been disgraceful", Mr Shetty said. He blamed tough economic times for the anti-foreigner attitudes.
"Certainly you could argue that austerity measures and economic crises have led to scapegoating of asylum seekers and people seeking a better life," he noted.
Also in its review, Amnesty criticised discrimination against dissidents, migrant labourers, women and religious minorities in the Gulf.
In particular, it said, women in some Gulf states were victims of legal discrimination and inadequately protected against domestic and other violence. Shiite Muslims also were targets of discrimination, it added.
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