"Nadia, 10 years-old, was at school when her house was hit by a drone, killing her father and mother: “My relatives rushed to the spot and tried to recover the dead bodies trapped under the debris but we couldn’t identify them as they were completely burned.” Nadia is an only child and has moved in with her aunt in a nearby town. She says she has “no source of income with my parents gone… my aunt looks after me now and I help her in the house…but I want admission into school. I want an education. Please ask the government to provide me with a monthly stipend so I can get an education.”A new report by US academics at New York and Stanford Universities (with the British NGO Reprieve) into the use of covert targeted drones to kill supposed terrorists in Pakistan's tribal heartlands is a searing indictment of the Obama administration's campaign of targeted killing. The report is titled Living Under Drones: Death Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone practices in Pakistan.
The report is part of growing outrage about the consequences of targeted drone killings by the US. Another report titled The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered questions has been released by the Center for Civilians in Conflict and Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic.
The use of targeted drone killings is now a major part of US counter-terrorism strategy. The Obama administration shifted focus from the Bush administration policy of targeting high profile terrorist leaders to a reliance on analyzing patterns of life on the ground to select targets to killing. Targets for killing are now selected each week at White House meetings attended by the President. Another Obama practice is the “double tap,” where a second strike is used to kill rescuers or mourners who respond to the initial strike.
The report shows that targeted drone killings or signature strikes which target individuals on the basis of patterns of behavior identified by US intelligence kill large number of civilians, including women and children. The report concludes that between 2562 and 3325 people have been killed by covert drones in Pakistan over an 8 year period, including 176 children.
Based on interviews with eyewitnesses and people familiar with the region, the report concludes that the drones have (1) killed a lot of civilians, including children, (2) killed very few identifiable leaders of the Taliban or Al Qaeda and (3) made a lot of new enemies for the United States.
The Report makes it very clear that the use of targeted drone killings is creating the very extremism and anti-Americanism the policy is supposed to combat. More and more Pakistanis now see the US as their enemy as a result.
The Report disputes the Obama administration claims that strikes are surgically precise with minimal collateral impact and few civilian deaths.
The extract below is from an article in the UK Guardian on the report:
The study by Stanford and New York universities' law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of "signature strikes" in which groups are selected merely through remote "pattern of life" analysis.
Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, it says, in case US ground operators guiding drones misinterpret them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants.
The report was commissioned by and written with the help of the London-based Reprieve organisation, which is supporting action in the British courts by Noor Khan, a Pakistani whose father was killed by a US drone strike in March 2011. His legal challenge alleges the UK is complicit in US drone strikes because GCHQ, the eavesdropping agency, shares intelligence with the CIA on targets for drone strikes.
"US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning," the American law schools report says.
"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 at 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."
The study goes on to say: "Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best … The number of 'high-level' militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2% [of deaths]. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks … One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy."
"US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents," the report says, questioning whether Pakistan has given consent for the attacks.
"The US government's failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killings policies, to provide details about its targeted killing programme, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy.
"US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments. As drone manufacturers and officials successfully reduce export control barriers, and as more countries develop lethal drone technologies, these risks increase."