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ISLAMABAD: A research and investigation report by the leading Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law in the United States has rejected Washington’s narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan and concluded that the strikes are counterproductive and damaging, kill innocent civilians, constantly terrorising the people of tribal areas, depriving children of education and even targeting rescuers.
To be released on Tuesday, the report, which is the result of nine months of research by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic), seeks a review of the drone policy.
It says: “The number of high-level militants 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.”
The report demands that the US explain under what law it carries out drone attacks, and seeks an independent investigation into the drone killings, respect for human rights and international laws with respect to the use of force. The report also asks journalists and media outlets to cease the common practice of referring simply to militant deaths, without further explanation. It says, “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 killings of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.”
The report warns that the CIA’s drone campaign “terrorises men, women and children” in North-West Pakistan “twenty-four hours a day,” adding that it is “damaging and counterproductive,” and neither the US policy-makers nor the American public can “continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm” it causes.
Through extensive interviews with the local population – including victims of strikes – humanitarian workers and medical professionals, the report demonstrates for the first time the devastating impact drones have had on the society of Waziristan as a whole.
The research spans nine months and includes two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting.
Although, the report does say that the US should protect itself from terrorist threats besides addressing the significant harm caused by terrorists to Pakistani civilians, the US drone policy should be re-evaluated in the light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to the US interests.
The report said, “The civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government though there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.”
The report said that the US publicly describes its drone programme in terms of its unprecedented ability to “distinguish effectively between an al-Qaeda terrorist and innocent civilians,” and touts its missile-armed drones as capable of conducting strikes with “astonishing” and “surgical” precision.
However, from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, the available data indicates that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. These strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals. Only in one case, a March 2011 strike on a meeting of tribal elders killed some 40 individuals.
In addition to causing deaths of innocents and civilians, the report said that US drone strikes also 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 terrorises 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 any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behaviour. 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 from school, and children injured or traumatised by strikes have dropped out of school.”
The report added that the drone strikes had 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.
The report also rejected the US policy statement that drones have secured the US. It says, “Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged militants 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 militants 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.”
The report added that the drone strikes had 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.
The report added, “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, 2011, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US.”
In the light of these concerns, the report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killings 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 killings and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counterproductive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan, the report maintains.
It also calls upon the US to fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies.
It also demanded that the US should: Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killings in Pakistan; 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 deaths and injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyse and publicly recognise civilian casualties; 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; In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions, establish compensation programmes 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.
The report says 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.
Reprieve, a UK based organisation along with its Pakistan partner organisation Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), had commissioned the independent study and facilitated access to many of the interviewees, and is currently bringing litigation in the UK to force the government to clarify its reported policy of supporting the CIA’s drone strike programme through intelligence-sharing.
Similar litigation challenging drone strikes in Pakistan have been initiated by FFR in Peshawar High Court on behalf of drone victims Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “This shows that drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe. George Bush wanted to create a global ‘War on Terror’ without borders, but it has taken Obama’s drone war to achieve his dream.”
Shahzad Akbar, Director FFR and Reprieve’s Legal Fellow in Pakistan said: “This report by US academics has established what we have been saying for years. Drone strikes are illegal, largely terrorising the civilian population in Waziristan and pushing them to militancy. The world cannot expect us to love the US when they are killing women, children, elderly and innocent civilians as indicated by this report. This new report will help poor victims in their quest for justice and due process.”