By Chris Allbritton
The Age Com Au
From dreams to drones: who is the real Obama?
June 9, 2012
BARACK Obama, according to Foreign Policy, ”has become George W. Bush on steroids”. Armed with a ”kill list”, the Nobel peace laureate now hosts ”Tuesday terror” meetings at the White House to discuss targets of drone attacks in Pakistan and at least five other countries. One of the latest of these killed 17 people near the border with Afghanistan on Monday.
Unlike the slacker Bush, who famously disdained specifics, Obama routinely deploys his training in law. Many among the dozens of ”suspected militants” massacred by drones this week in north-west Pakistan are likely to be innocent. Reports gathered by non-government organisations and Pakistani media about previous attacks speak of collateral damage running into hundreds, and deepening anger and hostility to the United States. No matter: in Obama’s legally watertight bureaucracy, drone attacks are not publicly acknowledged; or if they have to be, civilian deaths are flatly denied and all the adult dead categorised as ”combatants”.
Obama himself signed off on one execution knowing it would also kill innocent family members. He has also made it ”legal” to execute Americans without trial and expanded their secret surveillance, preserved the CIA’s renditions program, violated his promise to close down Guantanamo Bay, and ruthlessly arraigned whistleblowers.
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Not only is civil rights activist Cornel West, Obama’s most prominent black intellectual supporter, appalled, but also the apparatchiks of Bush’s imperial presidency such as former CIA director Michael Hayden. Perhaps it is time to ask again: who is Barack Obama? And how has Pakistan featured in his world view?
The first question now seems to have been settled too quickly, largely because of the literary power of Obama’s speeches and writings. His memoir, Dreams from My Father, was quickened by the drama of the self-invented man from nowhere – the passionate striving, eloquent self-doubt and ambivalence that Western literature, from Stendhal to Naipaul, has trained us to identify with a refined intellect and soul……
In an incorrigibly right-wing political culture, this obliged Obama to always appear tougher than his white opponents. During his 2008 presidential debates with John McCain, Obama often startled many of us with his threats to expand the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan. More disquietingly, he claimed the imprimatur of Henry Kissinger, who partnered Richard Nixon in the ravaging of Cambodia, paving the way for Pol Pot, while still devastating Vietnam.
It can’t be said Obama didn’t prepare us for his murderous spree in Pakistan. It is also true that drone warfare manifests the same pathologies – racial contempt, paranoia, blind faith in technology and the superstition of body counts – that undermined the US in Vietnam.
The White House has been used before to plot daily mayhem in some obscure, under-reported corner of the world. During the long bombing campaign named Rolling Thunder, President Lyndon Johnson personally chose targets in Indochina, believing that ”carefully calculated doses of force could bring about desirable and predictable responses from Hanoi”.
A weak Pakistan, its rulers bribed and bullied into acquiescence, is the easier setting for a display of American firepower. In ways his Pakistani college friends couldn’t have foreseen, their country now carries the burden of verifying Obama’s extra-American manhood, especially at election time.
Obama was quick to say sorry to Poland last week for saying ”Polish death camps” rather than ”death camps in Poland” in a speech. But he refuses to apologise for the American air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year. Widespread public anger has forced Pakistan’s government to block NATO’s supply routes to Afghanistan; any hint of infirmity on the sensitive issue of sovereignty is likely to strengthen some of the country’s nastiest extremists. Thus, the few possibilities of political stability in a battered country are now hostage to Obama’s pre-election punitiveness.
UN official urges Pakistan to query legality of drones
June 9, 2012
Pakistani women rally against drone attacks on their homeland. Photo: AP
THE United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has advised Pakistan to seek an official UN investigation into whether US drone strikes there are legal.
Navi Pillay told Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani he should invite the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to visit the country to examine the legality of missile attacks by remote-controlled aircraft in areas near the Afghan border.
”Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law,” Dr Pillay told a press conference in Islamabad. ”Ensuring accountability for any failure to comply with international law is also difficult when drone attacks are conducted outside the military chain of command and beyond … transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control.”
This week the US confirmed that one of its planes had killed al-Qaeda’s second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi.
The Obama administration has embraced the program, ordering a sharp increase in strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan in recent months. Dr Pillay’s intervention comes at a particularly fraught time for relations between Washington and Islamabad.
The Pakistani government has stepped up its denunciations, even calling in a top US diplomat for a dressing-down on Tuesday.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, meanwhile, said Washington was running out of patience over insurgent bases along Pakistan’s border.
Despite suspicions that the Pakistan government welcomes the killing of many dangerous militants, officially it has demanded an end to all US strikes. The US government and human rights organisations disagree on how many civilians are killed or hurt by drones.
Posted on 06/05/2012 by Juan
Chris Woods writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
CIA drones are reportedly reviving the use of highly-controversial tactics that target rescuers and funeral-goers.
On Monday US drones attacked rescuers in Waziristan in western Pakistan minutes after an initial strike, killing 16 people in total according to the BBC. On May 28, drones were also reported to have returned to the attackin Khassokhel near Mir Ali.
And on Sunday, a CIA drone strike targeted people gathered for funeral prayers of militant victims killed in an earlier attack. The intended Taliban targets appear to have survived, although up to ten people died. A mosque was also struck last week – possibly accidentally – killing at least three civilian worshippers.
The tactics may not be confined to Pakistan. In the Yemeni city of Jaar on May 15, a possible return US drone strike killed between 8 and 26 civilians, according to a USA Today report.
The deliberate targeting of rescuers and mourners by CIA drones was first exposed by the Bureau in February 2012, in a major joint investigation with the Sunday Times. On more than a dozen occasions between 2009 and June 2011, the CIA attacked rescuers as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured. Although Taliban members were killed on almost every occasion, so too were civilians – many of whom the Bureau’s field investigators were able to name. The investigation also reported that on at least three occasions the CIA had struck funeral-goers.
The UN Special Rapporteur called for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings at the time, with some international lawyers questioning the legality of the tactics.
The last reported attack on rescuers in Pakistan was on July 12 2011. Their cessation coincided with the departure of CIA Director Leon Panetta.
The revival of the tactics – at a time of outspoken public attacks on the US drones campaign by the Pakistan government - appears to indicate a further deterioration of relations between the two countries.
The US had recently eased off on its drone strikes in Pakistan, as the two countries negotiated the possible resumption of NATO supply deliveries to Afghanistan via Pakistan territory.
However, the absence of a deal – and public US anger at a Pakistan court’s imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who aided the CIA’s killing of Osama bin Laden – has seen a shift in strategy.
The Bureau’s data shows that since May 23 the US has launched eight CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, which have killed at least 48 people. Civilians have been reported killed in a number of those strikes.
The last occasion on which US strikes were at such an intensity was in June 2011, shortly after the death of bin Laden. At that time the CIA strikes were still thought to be with the tacit approval of Islamabad.
The Islamabad-based think tank the Conflict Monitoring Center has accused the United States of ‘a bid to punish Pakistan for its conviction of Dr. Afridi as well as its reluctance to reopen NATO supply routes.’
Pew Research Center: Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted – Drone Strikes Widely Opposed
13 June, 2012
There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries. In predominantly Muslim nations, American anti-terrorism efforts are still widely unpopular. And in nearly all countries, there is considerable opposition to a major component of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policy: drone strikes. In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Widespread Opposition to Drones
In the vast majority of nations polled, there is considerable opposition to the U.S. drone campaign against extremist leaders and organizations. In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of the U.S. conducting drone missile strikes to target extremists in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The policy is unpopular in majority Muslim nations, but also in Europe and other regions as well.
Indeed, at least three-in-four hold this view in a diverse set of countries: Greece (90%), Egypt (89%), Jordan (85%), Turkey (81%), Spain (76%), Brazil (76%) and Japan (75%).
The three outliers on this issue are India, Britain, and the U.S. itself. Indians who have an opinion tend to support American drone strikes (32% approve, 21% disapprove), but nearly half (47%) do not offer a view on this question. Meanwhile, the British are almost evenly divided (44% approve, 47% disapprove).
Americans largely support the drone attacks: 62% approve; just 28% disapprove. While support is especially high among Republicans (74%), most independents (60%) and Democrats (58%) also approve.
Roughly a yr after he ordered the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, just 7% of Pakistani have a positive view of Obama, the same percentage that voiced confidence in President George W. Bush during the final year of his term.
The U.S. receives many of its lowest ratings in predominantly Muslim nations. Fewer than one-in-five have a positive opinion about America in Egypt (19%), Turkey (15%), Pakistan (12%) and Jordan (12%). Views are divided, however, in Tunisia (45% favorable, 45% unfavorable) and Lebanon (48% favorable, 49% unfavorable).
What is PEW
The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducts public opinion surveys around the world on a broad array of subjects ranging from people’s assessments of their own lives to their views about the current state of the world and imp issues of the day. The project is directed by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, DC, that provides info on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Pew Global Attitudes Project is principally funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
These graphs accurately reflect the Bureau’s data on CIA drone strikes in Pakistan to the most recent strike.
Pakistan drone strikes: illustrating minimum reported total casualties, minimum reported civilian casualties and minimum casualties aged under 18.
This graph illustrates the minimum reported civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan year by year.
This graph shows the total number of people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.
This graph shows the tally of total drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 – 2012.
Terrorists killed in Drone Strikes
No of Killed
|Haqqani; al- Qaeda||
|Pakistani Taliban- Haqqani||
|Taliban/Pakistani Taliban/Swat Taliban||
|Hafiz Gul Bahadaur||
Drone Strikes -June 2004 – Jul
No of Attacks
Courtesy: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Is drone war moral?
UPDATED: A philosopher’s arguments in defense of drone strikes are both odious and wrong
“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer … [but] I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy. I have a duty, and I execute the duty.” By their own accounts, drone pilots spend weeks stalking their targets — observing the intimate patterns of their daily life such as playing with their children, meeting neighbors, talking to their wives — before finding a moment when the family is away to launch the missile that will end their target’s life. Afterward they drive home like any other commuter, perhaps stopping at a fast food restaurant or convenience store before coming home to their families for the night. “I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, I just don’t deploy to do it.”
Recently, the Guardian published a piece about Bradley Strawser, an assistant professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., which made the argument that drone strikes are not just moral but that the U.S. should in fact consider itself morally obliged to use them in combat. “It’s all upside. There’s no downside. Both ethically and normatively, there’s a tremendous value … You’re not risking the pilot. The pilot is safe.”
That the overwhelming majority of Strawser’s argument is based on the reduced potential of physical harm to the aircraft pilot, while precious little concern is given the people on the ground — often completely innocent, who are being killed in huge numbers by these strikes — is certainly abhorrent. But it must also be noted that for all the attention his work is receiving, he is of course a paid employee of an institution devoted to serving the military and his opinion is far from unbiased. His livelihood comes from the very people whom he is tasked with philosophically critiquing, a circumstance far more conducive to obsequious rationalization than moral criticism. At the end of the piece he even expresses his own gratitude for receiving gainful employment in his field of study: “I wanted to be a working philosopher and here I am. Ridiculous good fortune.”
Of course it would be nearly impossible for Strawser to come to a conclusion that would morally condemn the practice of his own employer, so in that sense it is difficult to fault him for coming to the conclusion he did. But it still does not mean that his philosophical opinions on such subjects are any more credible or less troubling – the employment of philosophers by governments and militaries to legitimize odious policies has a long and ignoble history and should be looked at as what it is: propaganda.
Having said that, it is worth understanding (from a position less obviously fraught with bias) whether there is in fact a unique moral detriment involved in using remote-operated drones for combat. Drones are obviously not the first major advancement in military technology; the past century alone has brought about a plethora of different tools that have enabled human beings to kill each other with greater effectiveness and with greater detachment than ever before. The days of lining up in rows to fire muskets or charging enemy positions with swords and shields have long since passed, and the physical detachment of launching a cruise missile from great distance is arguably comparable to firing a Hellfire missile from a drone.
Indeed, humans have been killing each other without even seeing each other’s faces since French Trebuchets launched projectiles at enemies miles away, and the artillery batteries of WW1 were able to inflict death from even longer distances and at even less personal risk. However, notwithstanding Bradley Strawser’s enthusiasm for the unprecedented degree of safety offered to the pilots of remote-operated drones, there are a few factors that make drone warfare particularly insidious and undercut his claims to its inherent morality.
Imagine a drone following a man who suddenly becomes aware of its presence. The pilot has orders to treat his target as hostile and is ready to pull the trigger. Frightened and aware of what is imminently coming, the man waves his hands to identify himself as non-threatening and to surrender to his enemy. The man, however, is standing on an embankment in North-Western Pakistan while the pilot who had been stalking him is thousands of miles away in the deserts of Nevada. There is no way to accept his surrender, and if a mistake has been made and this man has been misidentified as a target there is no way for this to be communicated. A pilot in this case would nonetheless be forced to pull the trigger, as there is no identifiable or feasible way for someone to surrender to an unmanned drone.
Protocol I of the Geneva Convention clearly states that there is a legal requirement to accept the surrender of an individual who expresses the intent to surrender himself. Such a person is literally considered “outside of combat” and thus even if he is a combatant at the point where he surrenders he is as illegitimate a target as any other civilian. Drone warfare, of course, offers no inherent facility to deal with such individuals, save for killing them or conversely allowing them safe passage — the latter being an extremely unlikely outcome in most cases. The oft-horrific result of such a circumstance has been noted by the people most intimately familiar with the program itself. As former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright put it, “To me, the weakness in the drone activity is that if there’s no one on the ground, and the person puts his hands out, he can’t surrender … What makes it worse with a Predator is you’re actually watching it. You know when he puts his hands up.”
In rationalizing such a scenario, one may perhaps argue that the Geneva Convention provisions that grant the right of surrender are themselves outdated and unsuitable to a new age of warfare. However, very few would be likely to waive this right for their own soldiers who one day may need to surrender, and declaring as antiquated the provisions of the international agreement that was created specifically to prevent a repeat of the mass bloodletting of World War II is a slippery slope.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants, they count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
Roughly speaking, there are two types of drone strikes that can be carried out: ones where the identity of the target is known and ones where it is not. The latter are known as “signature strikes” – drone strikes that are carried out against targets whose names, ages, occupations and political sympathies are completely unknown but who are still killed based on the opinions of those observing from abroad as to whether they are connected to militant activity. Behavior that may arouse such suspicion includes a group of males meeting together in an area considered hostile, a car driving in an area where militants are believed to be operating and other highly speculative and unverifiable rationales. In the revelations about the Obama administration’s secret “kill lists,” it also came out what exactly the official definition of a “militant” is from the White House’s perspective: “All military-age males in a strike zone.” In other words: Every man killed by a drone is by official definition a militant according to the U.S. government and correspondingly the news organizations who release reports regularly citing “militant” deaths.
Imagine sentencing someone to the death penalty without even knowing who they are and then after the fact branding them as a criminal and you will have an analogous situation to the drone war being fought in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. By any reasonable standard the tactics entailed in the drone campaign must fit into an accounting of its morality, yet this chilling and apparently integral aspect of drone warfare somehow manages to escape the scrutiny of Strawser. While he claims in his argument that drones are so accurate that they, by necessity, reduce civilian casualties, what he fails to realize in his Panglossian analysis is that in many cases the pilots are not even required to ascertain the identities of their intended targets. As many have noted, this policy of “kill first, ask questions later” is tantamount to extra-judicial murder and the supposed moral benefit of firing accurate missiles is greatly reduced when you don’t even know who is on the other end of them.
In stark contrast to traditional means of fighting wars, drones are both inexpensive and safe for the military to operate, even on a large scale. The risk of friendly casualties alienating domestic support for the war is almost nil, and the relative unobtrusiveness (at home) of operating these aircraft means that the military can fight wars in multiple countries with the public barely noticing the impact. After all, by the traditional standard of what one would define as a “war,” the United States is indeed at war in Yemen, Somalia and parts of Pakistan; yet few Americans recognize it as being the case and, indeed, neither officially does the United States. That violence can be carried out on such a massive scale with so little scrutiny is one of the most important aspects of the drone war and perhaps its most insidious. In the past governments have often found their ability to wage wars abroad constrained by the citizenry who have borne the brunt of the social pressures these wars inevitably create. As such, the prospect of perpetual war fought on an expanding scale would have been impossible until very recently. Casualties would occur, enormous sums of money would be spent, and upon reaching a breaking point in stress the people would come out into the streets to demand an end to such policies.
What the low-cost, zero casualties nature of the drone campaign does is compartmentalize the war away from public consciousness by taking away the externalities that would force people to take notice in the first place. That you can fight a drone war in Pakistan that kills thousands of people and terrorizes entire villages into PTSD while barely noticing it at home is something unique in history. Viewed in this light it is no wonder that Americans are so perplexed at Pakistani attitudes toward their country; because even though Pakistanis are intimately acquainted with the magnitude of suffering caused by U.S. policies in their country, most Americans scarcely feel the effects.
Thus to a degree unprecedented in history the advent of drone warfare has given the government a free hand to wage wars without public constraint and with minimal oversight. What this makes possible is a future in which there are far more wars, which for all their relative unobtrusiveness at home will continue to ravage the lives of people abroad. While such wars may be safer for soldiers, they will engender resentment and retribution as all wars do, and as a whole will make the world a more dangerous place for Americans in the long term.
President Obama’s “kill list,” which has been cleared so many times that it now includes among its high-value targets Yemeni teenage girls, is a manifestation of this policy of zero-consequence killing. With less public awareness there is necessarily less scrutiny and the war can continue while targeting people under an even wider definition of who constitutes “a threat.” While the people in these countries may be killed out of sight of the U.S. public, those on the receiving end certainly do remember who it was who ended the lives of their family members and are unlikely to be as laid-back toward civilian deaths as philosophers such as Strawser. As the Yemeni lawyer Haykal Banafa put it in a message directed at the president, “Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda.”
When viewed in complete isolation from other factors, the arguments that Strawser and other apologists for the drone war use about reducing military casualties can certainly be viewed as compelling and valid. As long as they have been fighting wars humans have sought out new technologies that would enhance their ability to kill without putting themselves in harm’s way. That fewer soldiers on one’s own side die in war is certainly a positive moral outcome when viewed in abstraction.
However, the drone war as a whole can only be viewed as a “moral obligation” if one ignores the massive destruction it continues to wreak upon the lives of those who are being killed by these weapons. Strawser’s analysis neatly brushes aside this group, as his argument can only stand on its own if the victims of drones are classed as immaterial non-humans. Far from being a uniquely moral weapon as Strawser claims, drones by their nature help facilitate more and longer wars, and do not even afford those targeted the ability to surrender or to identify themselves as non-combatants, a right enshrined in the Geneva Convention. While he understandably would like to brush aside these moral qualms about an establishment that has generously employed him as an in-house philosopher, they are nonetheless real and no amount of propaganda can plausibly turn the drone warfare into a “moral obligation” as he attempts.
Drones are thus not just a new weapon with which to fight conventional wars; they represent a sea change in the way conflicts in general are approached. Low-cost, low-risk killing will mean fewer questions and less scrutiny and ever higher body counts as the number of drones in the air continues to increase exponentially. The real ethical obligation is to remain vigilant against morally cretinous arguments such as the one put forth by Strawser and to fight against the normalization of a new, dangerous and in many respects fundamentally immoral form of warfare. That there is “no downside,” as Strawser claims, is only from the perspective of the military establishment he is a mouthpiece for; for the rest of us the downside is very real.
UPDATE: Professor Strawser has written a follow-up to his original Guardian article in which he says some of his views in the original article were misattributed or misconstrued. While the piece does not address the issues brought up here about the inherently immoral aspects of the drone war, his piece is still worth reading to give a more complete picture of his own position and the context in which it came about.
Cover-Up of Civilian Drone Deaths Revealed by New Evidence
An aerial drone launches from the guided-missile frigate USS Thach. (Photo: U.S. Navy / Flickr)
Detailed information from the families of those killed in drone strikes in Pakistan and from local sources on strikes that have targeted mourners and rescue workers provides credible new evidence that the majority of the deaths in the drone war in Pakistan have been civilian noncombatants – not “militants,” as the Obama administration has claimed.
The new evidence also shows that the statistical tally of casualties from drone attacks in Pakistan published on the web site of the New America Foundation (NAF) has been systematically understating the deaths of large numbers of civilians by using a methodology that methodically counts them as “militants.”
The sharply revised picture of drone casualties conveyed by the two new primary sources is further bolstered by the recent revelation that the Obama administration adopted a new practice in 2009 of automatically considering any military-age male killed in a drone strike as a “militant” unless intelligence proves otherwise.
The detailed data from the two unrelated sources covering a total 24 drone strikes from 2008 through 2011 show that civilian casualties accounted for 74 percent of the death toll, whereas the NAF tally for the same 24 strikes showed civilian casualties accounted for only 30 percent of the total.
The data on 11 drone strikes from 2008 through 2011 were collected in 2010 and 2011 from families of victims of the strikes by Pakistani lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar. Those 11 cases represent only a fraction of the total number on which Akbar has obtained data from victim’s relatives.
Although relatives of drone strike victims could have a personal interest in declaring the innocence of their relatives, the details provided by relatives in legal affidavits, such as the age, employment and other characteristics of the victims, appear in almost every case to support their claims that those killed were not actively involved with al-Qaeda or other military organizations.
The data on 13 drone strikes targeting rescuers and mourners from 2009 through 2011 were gathered by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) in a three-month investigation in late 2010 and early 2011 involving interviews with eyewitnesses and others with direct knowledge of the strikes.
The NAF Database: Origins of the Discrepancies
The NAF “Year of the Drone” project, headed by terrorism expert Peter Bergen, has been tracking casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan and estimating casualties from the strikes since 2009 based on news media reports.
But Bergen’s estimates are not focused on estimating civilian casualties. Instead, they track the deaths of an undefined category of victims called “militants” by individual drone strike and by year. Those totals are shown in graphs with the residual category of “other” reflecting the overall total minus the total of “militant” deaths.
A major problem with the NAF statistics on drone victims is the extraordinarily wide spread between the low and high estimates for total number of deaths from drone strikes, as well for as the total number of “militants” killed. The range in the total number killed in strikes is estimated in the NAF database at a low of 1,879 and a high of 2,887. The NAF estimates the “militant” deaths from a low of 1,586 to a high of 2,416.
Bergen deals with high-end estimates that are 54 and 52 percent above the low end estimate by averaging them out. But the real issue is whether a very large proportion of the dead referred to by those anonymous sources giving the totals to reporters in Pakistan as “militants” were, in fact, noncombatant civilians.
The data compiled by Akbar and the BIJ strongly suggest that conclusion.
The NAF tally on the 11 strikes on which Akbar collected data from the victims’ families shows a total of 66 to 78 “militants” killed along with 39 to 47 “others” – the term NAF uses in place of “civilians.” But the information from the victims’ families indicates that the number of “militants” killed was actually 27 to 34, while the number of civilians killed was 86 (See addendum below).
Instead of representing only 30 percent of the total casualties in those 11 strikes, as portrayed in the NAF accounting, civilian casualties actually accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total, according to the relatives’ testimony.
The data on 13 drone strikes targeting funerals and rescue efforts reported by the BIJin February similarly contradict the NAF tally of deaths. The NAF recorded a total of 90 to 176 dead in 12 strikes which the BIJ was able to confirm as targeting rescuers or mourners; 77 to 153 of the dead were listed as “militants,” whereas only 13 to 24 were listed as “civilians.” But eyewitnesses and other sources considered reliable in the localities reported that between 80 and 107 civilians had been killed in these attacks on rescuers or mourners. That suggests that the higher estimates for “militants” usually included the civilians killed in those strikes.
So, when adjusted for the new data, the estimate of “militants” killed would be 77 to 112, and the figure for civilians would be 80 to 107. The revised total of civilian deaths in those strikes is essentially equal to the revised total for “militants.”
Combining the data on the two sets of drone strikes, the original estimate for “militant” deaths in the NAF accounting was a range of 143 to 231, but the figure based on actual local testimony is 104 to 146 – a 60 percent decrease. The figures for civilian deaths, on the other hand, increases by 66 percent, from the range of 52 to 71, based on the NAF tally, to an adjusted range of 164 to 193.
Thus civilian casualties, which were less than a third of the “militant” casualties in the NAF accounting for the 24 drone strikes in question, are revealed to be 70 percent of the total.
The data from relatives of drone strike victims is not limited to the 11 cases cited in this article. Details on casualties may become available in the future on 39 more drone strikes.
When Akbar made the data on the first 11 cases available to Truthout in August of 2011, he offered to make the data on 15 more cases available when the process was complete. Akbar said that 25 relatives of victims had already been interviewed and signed affidavits, and that another 25 interviews were already in process. He said he believed an even larger set of interviews with victims’ families would eventually be possible.
Akbar decided later to turn over all the data he had collected from victims’ families to two academic institutions – New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Stanford University’s Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic. Neither of those institutions was willing to share the data they have obtained from Akbar with Truthout prior to publishing their own analyses of drone-strike casualties.
The Obama administration has sought to discredit Akbar, a UK-trained lawyer who has been practicing before the bar in Pakistan since 2003, ever since a Pakistani whose uncle and son had been killed in a drone strike publicly named the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Banks, at a press conference with Akbar in December 2010. Banks was forced to quickly leave the country. Akbar and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which he runs in Islamabad, initiated a lawsuit seeking $500 million in damages from Banks, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on behalf the families of victims of drone strikes.
In August 2011, administration officials attacked Akbar in interviews with Scott Shane of The New York Times as seeking to discredit the drone campaign on behalf of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. Shane wrote, however, that colleagues of Akbar in Pakistan “strongly deny” the accusation, quoting one lawyer who had worked with Akbar as saying the charge was “not credible at all.”
Bergen’s Flawed Methodology
The systematic underestimate of civilian casualties by the NAF statistical summaries is in part a result of Bergen’s methodology for estimating the number of “militant” deaths and “other” deaths – a methodology which assumes that news media reports can always be relied on to estimate the number of “militants” killed in each strike, and which also reflects an underlying political bias in favor of the drone-strike program. The consequence is the distortion of the real toll of drone strikes on civilians in the first four years of the program from 2004 through 2007.
During that period, the CIA carried out only 12 strikes, but one of them targeted a madrassa on October 30, 2006, killing as many 83. One of the press articles to which the NAF database links on that strike is a BBC story quoting the Pakistani Army spokesman as saying that the madrassa was destroyed by Pakistani air strike because of “confirmed intelligence reports” that militants were hiding in the school and that it was being used as a “terrorist training facility.”
But the same article quoted an eyewitness as saying that the dead were local students, not terrorists. Subsequently, a Pakistani newspaper, The News, published a complete list of the names and ages of the students showing that 26 of the 83 were children under the age of 15, but the NAF database account of the strike does not link to the story, even though it links to an earlier story by the same newspaper reporting the official line that “militants” were killed in the strike.
Despite the clear evidence that the victims were students, the NAF continues to list those 83 victims as “militants killed” in its statistical summary of the incident, while also estimating “others killed” as 12 to 83. Those figures were both illogical – since uncertainty would have demanded that both categories be scored 0-83, and failed to reflect the Musharraf administration’s admission to The Sunday Times a month later that the Pakistani military had lied about the strike at the time to cover for the CIA, thinking it would be “less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US” and that the “collateral damage” was such that they had requested that the Americans “not do it again.”
Six years later, the NAF “Year of the Drone” web page is still telling readers that 92 “militants” were killed during the first four years of the drone war and that the number of “others” – meaning civilians – killed was just nine. Bergen’s accounting thus ignores the highly credible evidence of a mass slaughter of innocents and gives the CIA high marks for its discrimination.
In response to the data in this story, Bergen declined to comment on the discrepancy between the NAF figures on casualties in the 24 drone strikes and the data obtained from primary sources in Pakistan. Bergen wrote in an email: “The notion that we have some ‘political’ bias to either underplay or overplay the civilian causality rate of drones [sic] strikes is plain wrong. We simply track reliable press accounts of the strikes and publish all of our data in a transparent way precisely so that anyone, including yourself, can critique our findings and where we make errors we update our site accordingly.”
He did not acknowledge, however, that egregious errors had been committed in regard to the worst single drone strike on record and in the accounting for casualties over the entire 2004-2007 period.
Bergen asserted last month that civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan had been reduced for the first time to “at or close to zero” – a claim made more famously by White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan in August 2011, who toldThe New York Times that, for more than a year, the United States “has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Making Civilian Casualties Vanish
The history of the CIA’s drone-strike program also undermines the credibility of the Obama administration’s claims, as well as Bergen’s methodology. It suggests that the CIA and White House have been forced to resort to a blatant deception in order to continue to claim that civilian casualties are few and far between.
From 2004 through 2007, tight restrictions had been placed on the CIA drone war in Pakistan, according to the account in David Sanger’s book, The Inheritance. The CIA was required to target al-Qaeda figures only on the basis of specific intelligence about their role and their whereabouts, and to give assurances that there would be no civilian casualties in the strike. But those restrictions were clearly violated repeatedly by the CIA during those years, as the drone campaign continued to kill mostly civilians. Figures from press accounts of the first 12 strikes over the 2004-2007 period indicate that drone strikes killed a total of 143-151 civilians, including the 83 young students killed in the single strike on the madrassa, and about 40 “militants” at most.
The only way the CIA could escape from this embarrassing situation was to get President George Bush to rescind the restrictions that the agency had systematically violated. In 2008, CIA Director Michael Hayden received permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a “pattern of life” associated with al-Qaeda or other groups, according to Sanger’s account. The strictures on civilian casualties were also removed.
Even the figures from the NAF web site show that the estimated 134 to 165 “militants” killed in drone strikes in 2008 represented less than half the estimated total of 274 to 314 deaths it counts for that year. Those statistics indicate that the majority of the victims were noncombatant civilians.
After the first strike during the Obama administration on January 23, 2009 (See Addendum below), Obama quickly learned from the CIA that, contrary to press reports, the strike had killed a number of innocent civilians, as The New York Times reported last May. As a result, the administration adopted the rule that Obama was to be informed if the agency did not have “near certainty” that a proposed strike would not cause any civilian deaths. Obama wanted to decide personally on any strike in which civilian casualties were a possibility, according to the Times.
But instead of curbing the number of strikes sharply as might have been expected, that decision resulted in the adoption by the White House of a policy of counting any military-age male killed in the strike as a combatant or “militant,” in the absence of “posthumous” intelligence proving their innocence, as several administration officials told the Times.
That policy, apparently adopted after a lengthy debate within the administration, explains why the NAF tally of drone strike deaths in 2009 shows that “militants” represented an estimated 70 percent of the dead. In 2010, the NAF estimate of the percentage of “militants” or “suspected militants” in the total killed in drone strikes in the NAF tally jumped dramatically to 96 percent, evidently reflecting the application of the new definition of “militant” for an entire year for the first time.
The NAF figures for 2011 were almost identical, with 93-96 percent of the casualties recorded as “militants.” The new policy enabled Brennan to claim in June 2011 that there had not been a “single collateral death” from drone strikes in Pakistan for more than a year, although he said two months later the government had not “found credible evidence of collateral deaths.”
The data from victims’ families and from local sources on attacks on rescuers and mourners show, however, that a large proportion of those “militants” were actually civilian noncombatants.
The Data: Victims’ Families vs. New America Foundation on 11 Drone Strikes
October 9, 2008: The strike on a compound is recorded by NAF as having killed six “militants” and three civilians. Press reports had said three of the dead were “Arabs” and identified the owner of the house as “Faisal Mohammed Sultan,” who was said to have been a “tribesman sympathetic to the militants’ cause.” But the sole survivor of the attack told the lawyer Akbar that the actual owner of the house was a different person altogether, who also had a “Sultan” in his name, and that the four people killed were all from the same family that had resided in that house.
January 23, 2009: The very first drone strike carried out by the CIA in the Obama administration was reported by news media to have killed seven “militants,” but NAF correctly shows the attack as having killed eight to ten “other” people, but no “militants.” The 13-year-old boy who was the only survivor of the attack told Akbar that seven people had been killed, three of whom were his uncles, one his cousin and three neighbors.
February 14, 2009: NAF records 25 “militants” killed and no civilians in the strike on that date. But the father of one of the victims told the interviewer for the lawyer that his eight-year-old son had been one of the dead, without challenging the claims of other deaths in an adjoining house.
September 7, 2009: NAF records three to five “militants” killed in the strike and five to seven civilians, but the survivor of the blast, a 15-year-old boy who lost both legs, reported that the only three people killed were two cousins and an uncle who had been in a wheelchair for ten years.
November 20, 2009: NAF records only eight “militants” killed, but the families of three victims said only three people were killed: a tenth-grade student who was the nephew of the homeowner and two of his friends.
December 31, 2009: NAF records two to five “militants” killed. But according to the owner of the house, the only three people killed were the owner’s brother, a secondary school teacher at a local public school; the owner’s son, who was working at the local public school for girls, and a mason who was working on construction of the village mosque, and was staying with his family.
January 8, 2010: NAF records three to five “militants” killed in the strike, but the family of one of those killed, a government schoolteacher, said that he was killed along with three others standing next to a shop near a car that was the target of the attack.
June 10, 2010: NAF shows two to three “militants” killed in the strike, but the family of the owner of the house who was killed in the attack said the other three people killed were his neighbors.
November 26, 2010: NAF says three to four “militants” were killed in the strike, but the families of the victims say the three young men killed by the strike were Sanaulaah Jan, a 17-year-old pre-engineering student at the government Degree College and two of his friends from the same college.
March 17, 2011: NAF records 11-12 “militants” killed in the strike, which was initially reported by Pakistani and foreign news media to have been an attack on a big gathering of the Haqqani network, along with 13-24 civilians. But interviews with 20 separate families of the victims of that strike revealed that the 50 people killed, included 20 accredited tribal leaders from different sub-tribes in the province and another 30 tribal elders, that it was guarded by local government militiamen, and that the subject of the meeting was ownership of chromite mines in the province. The relatives confirmed earlier reports that the subject of the meeting was ownership of chromite mines in the province.
June 15, 2011: NAF records three to eight “militants” killed in a strike on a car, but relatives informed Akbar that the four victims of the blast were an employee of the Water Resources Power Authority, a local pharmacist and one of his employees, and a student at Miranshah College.
- Print Media Report on 22 Aug: US must hand over drone strikes footage or face UN inquiry: UN special rapporteur on HR
Pak FO Press Release on 23 Aug
Office of the Spokesman
US Embassy conveyed protests against drone strikes
The US Embassy was today démarched on recent drone strikes in North Waziristan. A senior US diplomat was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and informed that the drone strikes were unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. It was emphatically stated that such attacks were unacceptable.
23 August 2012
PTI Conducts March to SWA Against Drones
Marching To Waziristan
By Judy Bello
07 October, 2012
Pakistanis and American citizens hold banners and chant slogans against drone attacks in Pakistani tribal belt, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
First thing in the morning I’ll board the bus heading for South Waziristan. Thirty five westerners will be heading for Dehr Ismail Khan and on to the border town of Kotkai, including Clive Stafford Smith of the London based organization Reprieve, who started our defending prisoners in Guantanamo, and is now focused on mounting lawsuits for the survivors of drone attacks and the families of those who did not survive and other members of Reprieve; including about 30 members of the colorful American antiwar group, CodePink and their intrepid leader, Medea Benjamin, who organized this mission; including representatives of the Christian Peacekeepers, Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars and the United National Antiwar Coalition in the United States and many others.
Our hosts for this mission are Shahzad Akhbar and the three lovely Maryams (all lawyers) on his staff at the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a sister organization to Reprieve, conveniently based in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan which happens to be located in the north of the country, not for from the rural home of the Pakhtuns. Besides hosting us, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights invites the injured parties to come to Islamabad and tell their stories, then prepares lawsuits to bring before the high court of Pakistan for them against the Pakistani government and American authorities in Pakistan. It was the Foundation for Fundamental Rights that sued the American CIA chief in Pakistan some time last year, thereby causing him to make a quick exit from the country.
Our sponsor or the Delegation is Imran Khan, leader of PTI, the Pakistan Tehreekh-e-Inshaf party, a rightist, leftist, populist party that has a surprising number of women and young people among it’s supporters. Khan has adopted the anti Drone campaign, and supports ending American military presence in Pakistan and ending American abuses of Pakistani sovereignty as a prelude to true friendship between our countries. Earlier this evening we went to a rally with PTI Youth. We gathered with them in a large ‘Super Market’, which is something like a cross between a traditional bazaar and a modern mall, and marched through the streets chanting and singing. We were shouting “Stop! Stop! Drone Attacks! and singing “We are Maaaarching to Waziristan; Marching to Waziristan”. Then, “Bandkro! Bandkro! Drone Humlah Bandkro!” and “Jarub, Jarub Waziristan. Jarub!”  Nice symmetry in the messages, I thought.
I opened the newspaper when I got home and saw a little back page article saying that the Taliban had denied ever giving permission to Khan for a march into their territory. It’s a push pull. Yesterday, he gave a big press conference and we got lots of coverage. Today a little nip of a backlash. When I first arrived, PTI had a press conference for us to talk about our intention to go to Waziristan with Imran, and the next day there was a front page article stating that the Taliban were determined to block us. Shahzad said the information was a week old. Khan’s stance is that we are free people and have a right to travel where we will. Furthermore, the tribesmen whose land we will travel through have invited us and will treat us as guests.
Wow! We will be guests of of the Mehsud tribe. I think a couple of generations of their leadership have been primary targets of Drone strikes. Yesterday Richard Hoagland, the Charges d’ Affairs of the US Consulate in Islamabad, came to call at our hotel. He was preceded by a contingent of Pakistani military men bearing weapons, who checked the place out and stationed guards at strategic points before he arrived. He gave a little talk, inviting us to avail ourselves of embassy services, and then had his security liaison say a (surprisingly) few words about the dangers of going into the Tribal Areas. Then we had some Q&A. I felt that we asked some good questions, but got little in the way of answers. Others were satisfied with tidbits and hints.
This afternoon, some members of the victims of Drone strikes families came to meet with us, along with one of their tribal leaders Malik Jalal Khan, who spoke for them, and a translator and Noor Behram, the photographer who has taken most of the photos we have of the victims and post attack wreckage in the villages of North Waziristan in Pakistan. Noor says that he has photographed the bodies of 100 children, and has seen more. Whenever he hears of an attack he goes to the location immediately, but even so he sometimes arrives too late and the child has already been buried. Sometimes there is nothing left to photograph.
Malik Jalal Khan is a handsome man with a big turban, a big beard and a twinkle in his eye. He’s a guy whose cellphone rings during the meeting and his business has precedence. According to Jalal Khan, women killed in the strikes are often not reported as missing or dead. Women are part of the private space and their lives and deaths are not appropriate subjects for public discourse. It’s a cultural context that seems very alien to us, but it is their way of life. He said that in many cases, the missiles strike while the women are working in a kitchen, just off the main room where men may be meeting and drinking their tea. He seems to find this detail particularly disturbing; women murdered while doing housework; women killed while caring for their families. Is that worse then women killed while sleeping; women killed while having a conversation among themselves?
I always remind people that the compounds we hear about in the news, the compounds that are the most likely targets of drone strikes are actually people’s homes. Shahzad explains to us that these homes which are compounds, house extended families with as many as 50 or 60 people. It told him it appears to me that the strikes are in a very small area. The translator, at this point, became very agitated, and after a lively discussion in Pashto, he asserted that the strike were not confined to a small area, but rather they are everywhere. Shahzad followed up by pointing out that one person’s small area may not seem so small to another.
In any case, the vision is that the drone strikes are everywhere in their world, and anyone who reads a newspaper anywhere in the world knows that they occur pretty regularly 1 or 2 a week, or perhaps every other week. Someone asked if the strikes caused people to leave the region. Jalal Khan said that some do leave, and others just retreat into the mountains when they are feeling unsafe, then return to their lands. He said that he himself does this at times. When asked how the constant threat affects their lives, he said that their culture is being undermined because people no longer congregate in large numbers for public functions, weddings, funerals. Children don’t go to school. Jirgas are threatened so leaders don’t meet in large groups.
When asked whether he supports terrorists, Jalal Khan said that they don’t go to fight in Afghanistan because the border is no longer open the way it was before the war on terror. He said they lived open and dignified lives then, before they became the target of our wars. But now they can’t even visit their relatives in towns a few miles away on the other side of the Afghan border. People have become isolated, anxious and depressed. According to Shahzad, there are increasing numbers of people taking Zantac and other anti-anxiety drugs to get through the day.
Yesterday we met with Acting Ambassador Richard Hoagland, Charge d’Affairs at the American Embassy in Islamabad. Ambassador Hoagland came to our hotel to welcome us to Pakistan, and to warn us of the dangers of pushing the boundaries there. Here are some samples of the following Q&A with Ambassador Hoagland.
CodePink: Can you provide an estimate of civilian casualties?
A Hoagland: Since July 2008, “in the two figures”.
A Hoagland: Can’t answer. There are hardly any, if any at all.
The Ambassador first gives an estimate of civilian casualties due to drones that may be up to 100, a number considerably less than the number that emerged from actual research in the region, and through the work of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. He then dismisses even that figure as ‘hardly any, if any at all’. Since we have seen the photos of 100 dead children and heard the stories of family members of other victims, this response seems not only inaccurate, but calloused.
CodePink: Is there compensation for drone victims in Pakistan?
A Hoagland: it has to be set up, but it’s not impossible.
CodePink: Is the Pakistani government at highest level complicit in drone strikes?
A Hoagland: I can’t answer that, ask the Pakistani Government.
The latter is an open question discussed at great length on the street in both Pakistan and the US. My take is that the drone strikes were far less prevalent during the Musharraf period when the ISI was directly involved in selecting targets. Since the Obama administration began, the Pakistani military has been excluded from decision making and any official complicity is superficial. Given the massive rejection of the strikes within large segments of the civilian population of Pakistan, recent public protests against the drone strikes by their government would appear to be sincere, if inexcusably weak.
CodePink: What can we do to stop the drone attacks?
A Hoagland: Maybe bring the issue of drones to the International criminal courts.
Shahzad Akhbar: Unfortunately it’s the Pakistani Government that has to do that.
Shahzad Akhbar: What does Pakistan have to do to get the US to pay attention to how bad the drone program is?
A Hoagland: Address the issue through legal mechanisms.
CodePink: How does the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty affect diplomacy?
A Hoagland: The government of Pakistan has lodged official protests against US Drone Program.
CodePink: Is it true the US ambassador signs off on every drone strike.
A Hoagland: Can’t comment
It’s tough to sort this out, but it looks like it is the Pakistani Government’s responsibility to file a complaint, and they have done so. However, no one is interested. And drone victims are only the tip of the iceberg in this context. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Pakistani nationals have been detained by or at the request of US officials during the War on Terror. There are men sold to the Americans or picked up by accident along the border, who have been incarcerated without charges at Bagram for as many as 10 years. We met their relatives last night. Apparently they have a process, but the process doesn’t necessarily lead to any resolution of their status. Worse, they have been deliberately silenced. If they talk about the details of their treatment during incarceration, or how they came to be there, they are threatened and punished.
And then there are the men in Guantanamo, and those in Pakistani prisons. I met with the relatives of some of the latter a couple of days ago. And there are the ones like Aafia Siddiqui who somehow ended up with more than a life sentence in the US. An American citizen with a PhD in cognitive neurology and 3 small children, Aafia was snatched from the streets of Islamabad and spent 5 years in Bagram before being extradited to the US. We’ll never know why this bright, passionate woman was picked up in the first place because, by the time she was accused of an actual crime she had already been in detention under the worst of conditions for 5 years.
And it would be worth remembering that just as Aafia Siddiqui is an American Citizen, Pakistan is an American ally. Aafia Siddiqui’s family has been threatened for speaking out just as the families of the Bagram detainees have. And it appears that the government of Pakistan dare not defy the US hegemon either. This is how we treat our friends and those who freely choose to join our society. Jalal Khan said, “Once we were Mujahedin. Now we are Terrorists.”
CodePink: Will there be Drone strikes during march?,
Hoagland: “I can assure you with 100% certainty; the march will not be targeted.
Well, that’s a relief. Too bad all the citizens of Waziristan won’t be under our umbrella.
Today, a busload of CodePinkers went to visit the American Embassy in Islamabad. They were denied entry. But tomorrow we are going to Waziristan, to stand under a pristine sky that has been darkened by drones, with a people whose lives have been dismissed in the name of our freedom. Pakistanis are saying, if we will go, then they have to go. We all have to go to Waziristan or none of us can be free.
 My sincere apologies to Urdu speakers for abusing your language
 Based on CodePink Twitters during the meeting, along with some clarifications.
Judy Bello is an active member of Fellowship of Reconciliation, The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, and the United National Antiwar Coalition. She was on the street protesting the Vietnam War in Washington D.C. in 1969, and has been protesting the U.S. wars in the greater Middle East since 2001. She spent a month in Northern Iraq in 2009 and participated in two Fellowship of Reconciliation peace delegations to Iran. Her blog is “Towards a Global Perspective”.