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article imageOp-Ed: Four different reports examine and criticize US drone strikes

By Ken Hanly     Oct 22, 2013 in World
As President Sharif visits Washington and promises to express Pakistani concerns about drone strikes to President Obama, four different reports discuss drone attacks.
On October 17 the UN Special Raporteur on human rights and countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, issued his interim report into drone strikes and targeted killings. He accused the US of downplaying the number of civilians killed in these operations. He also faulted the US for refusing to release its own figures on casualties. Two UN reports are to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday.
As well as the UN reports both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued reports today (Oct. 22) on drone attacks. Both groups demand that the US launch an impartial investigation into its use of drone warfare and also that the US publicly disclose any evidence it has of civilian casualties. Both reports also say that those responsible for civilian deaths should be held to account and the US authorities should be more transparent about the program. However, I believe the US considers this information to be part of a psychological warfare operation to convince the public to support the program and is unlikely to release any information except in a form to advance the aims of that program. The present press campaign critical of the drone operations is causing difficulties for the successful manipulation of public opinion.
Letta Taylor, senior counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch(HRW) told Al Jazeera: "As evidence emerges of civilian casualties in these strikes, it’s time for the US to stop covering its ears and starting taking action to ensure the programme is legal,"
All four reports demand that the US should provide a full legal rationale for targeted killings. The Amnesty International Report focuses on attacks in Pakistan and the HRW report on Yemen but as Polly Truscott of Amnesty International remarks the drone attacks: "raise the same questions about human rights violations all over the world. Both organisations are calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases that we have documented in our reports and other potentially unlawful deaths,"
The US has several times given general defenses of the drone strikes. For example, Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, noted that President Obama had explained the US rational for drone strikes in a May 23 speech:
"The president spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the US takes action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces. As the president emphasised, the use of lethal force, including from remotely piloted aircraft, commands the highest level of attention and care.
Of particular note, before we take any counterterrorism strike, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set."
A more recent response to the reports by White House spokesperson Jay Carney said: "We are reviewing these reports carefully. To the extent these reports claim that the US has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree. The administration has repeatedly emphasised the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counter-terrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law."
Yet the Amnesty 74 page report titled "Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan," conflicts with the official version of the attacks. In all it found that nine of the strikes could amount to war crimes. In some cases there were double taps in which rescuers who had gone to the aid of victims had also been attacked: In July 2012, 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in multiple strikes on a village close to the Afghan border. The report indicates that the victims of the strike were not involved in fighting and did not pose a threat.
The HRW 97 page report on Yemen examined six targeted killings in detail. In all they killed 82 people of whom at least 57 were civilians. The group said that none of the six met the guidelines set out in Obama's May speech. That is hardly an impressive record. One strike targeting an alleged Al Qaeda leader struck a passenger van instead killing 12 innocent civilians.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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