ACTION ALERT: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Accuse US of War Crimes for Drone Deaths of Civilians
October 23, 2013
Amnesty International & Declan Walsh and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud / The New York Times
In October 2012, 8-year-old Nabeela joined her 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi to do daily chores in a large, open field. Moments later, Mamana was blasted into pieces by a US drone that appears to have been aimed directly at her. Amnesty International found no evidence she was endangering anyone, let alone posing an imminent threat to the US. Yet a year has passed and the US has not acknowledged Mamana Bibi's death nor provided compensation. Such wanton acts constitute war crimes.
ACTION ALERT: "Will I Be Next?"
US Drone Strikes in Pakistan
(October 22, 2013) -- In October 2012, 8-year-old Nabeela ventured out with her 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi to do daily chores in their family's large, open field. Moments later, Mamana was blasted into pieces by a US drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her.
Amnesty International did not find any evidence she was endangering anyone, let alone posing an imminent threat to the US. Yet a year has passed and the US government has not acknowledged Mamana Bibi's death, let alone provided justice or compensation for it.
"Will I Be Next?," a new report from Amnesty International, finds that this killing, and several other so-called targeted killings from US drone strikes in Pakistan, may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes. Based on interviews with 60 survivors and eyewitnesses to these strikes, "Will I be next?" documents potentially unlawful killings and abuses, and makes recommendations to the US government for how to uphold the right to life and ensure accountability for any unlawful killings.
Nabeela's heart-breaking testimony is part of Amnesty International's new in-depth report 'Will I Be Next?: US Drone Strikes in Pakistan.' She is also speaks in this short video about her grandmother Mamana Bibi and her family.
Why Was Nabeela's Grandmother Killed by a Drone?
Zeke Johnson / Amnesty International USA
(October 22, 2013) -- The short answer is we don't know. Mamana Bibi, a 68-year-old grandmother, was killed by a US drone strike on October 24th, 2012, as she picked vegetables in her family's fields and while her grandchildren were nearby.
One of the grandchildren, Nabeela, who was 8 years old at the time and injured in the strike, told Amnesty International:
“The explosion was very close to us. It was very strong, it took me into the air and pushed me onto the ground…I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards…It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth… I wasn't scared of drones before, but now when they fly overhead I wonder, will I be next?”
Amnesty's report -- issued today in conjunction with Human Rights Watch's new report 'Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen' -- examines all 45 reported US drone strikes that occurred between January 2012 and August 2013 in North Waziristan, the region in Pakistan where the vast majority of drone strikes have occurred. Amnesty conducted detailed field research into nine strikes, including the strikes that killed Mamana Bibi, based on rare access to the region and more than 60 interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, residents and officials.
Amnesty International analyzed the killings under international human rights law and international humanitarian law(the law of armed conflict) and is seriously concerned that these and other strikes have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes.
Under international law, the burden is on the US government to show that the killing of Mamana Bibi -- and any others -- was lawful. But in keeping with the overall lack of transparency surrounding the drone program, the Obama administration has said nothing public about the killing of Mamana Bibi and has kept its legal memos on the rationale for drone killing secret. President Obama must explain why and on what legal basis Mamana Bibi and others were killed, and follow the laws restricting the use of lethal force.
Congress, particularly the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, must hold President Obama accountable to the law. It should start by launching a full, independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Mamana Bibi and all other cases documented in the reports by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
Take Action: Urge President Obama and Congress to address the death of Mamana Bibi and any other alleged unlawful killings.
Take Action: Prevent Extrajudicial Killings with Drones and Other Weapons
Petition to: Charles Timothy Hagel; John F. Kerry, Sec. of State; President Barack Obama: Your Senator(s) and Representative
I share Amnesty International's grave concern that the US administration's policy on intentional use of lethal force appears to permit violations of the right to life. I urge you to help prevent extrajudicial executions by adopting the recommendations in Amnesty International's 5 Point Plan for reform:
1) Reject the "global war" theory
* End claims that the US government is authorized by international law to use lethal force anywhere in the world under the theory that it is involved in a "global war" against al Qa'ida and other armed groups and individuals.
* Repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
* Recognize the application of international human rights law to all US counterterrorism operations, wherever they occur.
2) Follow the law
Bring policies and practices relating to the use of lethal force in line with the USA's obligations under international human rights law and, in the exceptional circumstances where it applies, international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict), particularly by:
* Ensuring that lethal force outside of specific recognized zones of armed conflict is used only when it is strictly unavoidable to prevent a truly imminent threat to life.
* Ensuring that any use of lethal force within a specific recognized zone of armed conflict complies fully with the USA's obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. If there is doubt as to whether a person is a civilian, the person is to be considered a civilian.
* Ensuring independent and impartial investigations in all cases of alleged extrajudicial executions or other unlawful killings; respect for the rights of family members of those killed; and effective redress and remedy where killings are found to have been unlawful.
3) Release more information
Disclose further legal and factual details about US policy and practices for so-called "targeted killings," "signature strikes," and "Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes," including any secret Department of Justice legal memorandums, and specific information about who has been killed.
4) Uphold the rights of all people, not only US citizens
International human rights law explicitly prohibits discrimination on grounds of national origin when it comes to respect for human rights. The US government is not allowed to treat the right to life of a non-US citizen as less worthy of protection than the right to life of a US citizen, just because the person is a foreign national.
5) Ensure justice and security with human rights
The US government should ensure that those responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001 or other crimes under international law are brought to justice in fair and public trials without recourse to the death penalty.
For more information, please refer to the following Amnesty International reports: "USA: 'Targeted Killing' Policies Violate the Right to Life" and "The Devil in the (Still Undisclosed) Detail: Department of Justice 'White Paper on Use of Lethal Force Against US Citizens Made Public."
Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes Cited in Report
Declan Walsh and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud / The New York Times
LONDON (October 22, 2013) -- In the telling of some American officials, the C.I.A. drone campaign in Pakistan has been a triumph with few downsides: In more than 300 missile attacks there since 2008, dozens of Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and the pace of the strikes, which officials frequently describe as "surgical" and "contained," has dropped sharply over the past year.
But viewed from Miram Shah, the frontier Pakistani town that has become a virtual test laboratory for drone warfare, the campaign has not been the antiseptic salve portrayed in Washington. In interviews over the past year, residents paint a portrait of extended terror and strain within a tribal society caught between vicious militants and the American drones hunting them.
"The drones are like the angels of death," said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah. "Only they know when and where they will strike."
Their claims of distress are now being backed by a new Amnesty International investigation that found, among other points, that at least 19 civilians in the surrounding area of North Waziristan had been killed in just two of the drone attacks since January 2012 -- a time when the Obama administration has held that strikes have been increasingly accurate and free of mistakes.
The study is to be officially released on Tuesday along with a separate Human Rights Watch report on American drone strikes in Yemen, as the issue is again surfacing on other fronts. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a vocal critic of the drone campaign, is to meet with President Obama in the White House. And on Friday, the drone debate is scheduled to spill onto the floor of the United Nations, whose officials have recently published reports that attacked America's lack of transparency over drones.
But nowhere has the issue played out more directly than in Miram Shah, in northwestern Pakistan. It has become a fearful and paranoid town, dealt at least 13 drone strikes since 2008, with an additional 25 in adjoining districts -- more than any other urban settlement in the world.
Even when the missiles do not strike, buzzing drones hover day and night, scanning the alleys and markets with roving high-resolution cameras.
That is because their potential quarry is everywhere in Miram Shah -- Islamist fighters with long hair, basketball shoes and AK-47 rifles who roam the streets, fraternize in restaurants and, in some cases, even direct traffic in the central bazaar. The men come from an array of militant groups that take shelter in Waziristan and nearby, including Al Qaeda and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
The militants' commanders, however, are more elusive. Some turn up at the town's phone exchange, to place ransom calls to the families of kidnapping victims who have been snatched from across Pakistan. Others run Islamic-style courts, filling the place of the virtually invisible government system. Still others stay completely out of sight, knowing they are being sought by the C.I.A.
In theory, the Pakistani security forces should be in charge. A sprawling base, with a long airstrip that is home to a fleet of American-made Cobra helicopter gunships, dominates the northern part of the town. Military engineers have just completed a new road that leads to the Afghan border, 10 miles to the north.
But apart from sporadic exchanges of fire with the militants, the soldiers are largely confined to their base, leaving residents to fend for themselves.
Unusually for the overall American drone campaign, the strikes in the area mostly occur in densely populated neighborhoods. The drones have hit a bakery, a disused girls' school and a money changers' market, residents say. One strike occurred in Matches Colony, a neighborhood named after an abandoned match factory that is now frequented by Uzbek militants.
While the strike rate has dropped drastically in recent months, the constant presence of circling drones -- and accompanying tension over when, or whom, they will strike -- is a crushing psychological burden for many residents.
Sales of sleeping tablets, antidepressants and medicine to treat anxiety have soared, said Hajji Gulab Jan Dawar, a pharmacist in the town bazaar. Women were particularly troubled, he said, but men also experienced problems. "We sell them this," he said, producing a packet of pills that purported to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Rocket.
Despite everything, a semblance of normal life continues in Miram Shah. On market day, farmers herding goats and carrying vegetables stream in from the surrounding countryside. The bustling bazaar has clothes and food and gun shops.
Communication, however, is difficult. The army disabled the cellphone networks, so residents scramble to higher ground to capture stray signals from Afghan networks. And Internet cafes were shut, on orders from the Taliban, after complaints that young men were watching pornography and racy movies.
That ban distressed families that use the Internet to communicate with relatives working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and across the Persian Gulf states. Emigrant remittances are a cornerstone of the local economy.
On the edge of town, where buildings melt into low, tree-studded hills, young boys play soccer on the banks of the Tochi River. As in so many other countries, some youngsters wear the jersey of the English soccer club Manchester United.
But the veneer of normality is easily, and frequently, shattered. Every week the streets empty for a day as army supply trucks rumble through. The curfew is strictly enforced: several children and mentally ill residents who have strayed outside have been shot dead, several residents said.
In the aftermath of drone strikes, things get worse. Many civilians hide at home, fearing masked vigilantes with the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen Khorasan, a militant enforcement unit that hunts for American spies. The unit casts a wide net, and the suspects it hauls in are usually tortured and summarily executed.
Journalists face particular risks. In February, gunmen killed Malik Mumtaz Khan, the president of the local press club. Some blame Pakistani spies, while others say the Taliban are responsible.
Meanwhile state services have virtually collapsed. At the local hospital, corrupt officials are reselling supplies of medicine and fuel in the town market, doctors said. At the government high school, pupils are paying bribes to cheat in public exams -- and threatening teachers with Taliban reprisals if they resist, one teacher said.
The collapse has created business opportunities for Taliban spouses: one commander's wife is a gynecologist, while an Uzbek woman works as a homeopath, the pharmacist said.
For some residents, the only option is to leave. Hajji, a 50-year-old businessman, moved his family to the port city of Karachi in 2011. His family was scared by militant pamphlets that threatened to execute American spies, he said, and the militants prevented his children from obtaining polio vaccinations.
"They think vaccinators are spies who are looking for militant hide-outs," he said during an interview in Karachi, agreeing to be identified only by part of his name.
For a number of outraged Pakistani officials, the drone debate has centered on claims of civilian casualties, despite American assurances that they have been few. In defending the drone strikes, which have sharply decreased this year, American officials note that the operations have killed many dangerous militants. One major militant killed this year was the Pakistani Taliban deputy, Wali ur-Rehman. He was killed at Chashma village, just outside Miram Shah, in May.
Still, in a speech announcing changes to the drone program in May, Mr. Obama admitted that mistakes had been made. Civilian deaths from drone strikes will haunt him, and others in the American chain of command, for "as long as we live," he said.
He added, "There must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."
But the new Amnesty International report, which examines the 45 known strikes in North Waziristan between January 2012 and August 2013, asserts that in several cases drones killed civilians indiscriminately.
Last October, it says, American missiles killed a 68-year-old woman named Mamana Bibi as she picked vegetables in a field close to her grandchildren. In July 2012, 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.
Ms. Bibi's son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, and two of her injured grandchildren are due to travel to the United States next week to speak about their experiences.
"The killing of Mamana Bibi appears to be a clear case of extrajudicial execution," said Mustafa Qadri, the report's author, in an interview. "It is extremely difficult to see how she could have been mistaken for a militant, let alone an imminent threat to the US"
Declan Walsh reported from London, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Miram Shah, Pakistan. Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.
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