Amnesty: US drone strikes in Pakistan may be war crimes

Posted Oct 22, 2013 by Brett Wilkins
Two of the world's leading human rights groups have released scathing reports detailing how US drone strikes are killing innocent civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.
File photo: A weaponised drone.
File photo: A weaponised drone.
U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Ridgeway
Amnesty International has issued a report, "Will I Be Next? US Drone Strikes in Pakistan," in which it calls US unmanned aerial drone strikes in Pakistan "unlawful" and asserted that American officials responsible for the covert CIA drone program may be war criminals. The report details the case of 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a drone-fired missile while picking vegetables outside her home in the village of Ghundi Kala, North Waziristan last October. Five of Bibi's grandchildren who were with her at the time of the US strike were also injured. As locals attempted to come to Bibi's rescue, a second missile injured them.
The report also states that 18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed by a pair of drone strikes as they finished up a hard day's work in their village of Zowi Sigdi last July. The first missile killed at least eight civilians, while the follow-up strike killed first responders.
"Everyone in the hut was cut to pieces," one terrified local told Amnesty.
Such 'double-tap' drone strikes have reportedly targeted first responders and funerals on numerous occasions, prompting Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, to warn the US that "if civilian rescuers are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime."
"Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions," the rights group said of the Zowi Sigdi strike, calling for those responsible to be put on trial.
While Amnesty conceded that some US drone strikes may be lawful, "it is impossible to reach any firm assessment without a full disclosure of the facts surrounding individual attacks and their legal basis."
"As with other controversial drone strikes, the US has refused to acknowledge or explain what happened," Amnesty said. "People who are clearly no imminent threat to the US, who are not fighting against the US, are being killed. The US has to come clean publicly with the justifications for these killings."
In a separate report titled "Between a Drone and al-Qaeda: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen," Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed six air strikes which killed innocent civilians. Two of the attacks "killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war" and other strikes "may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths."
The HRW report counts 82 people killed in the six US strikes in Yemen, 57 of them civilians. Among the victims were 12 civilians riding in a van and a farmer whose mother, father and 10-year-old sister were killed.
"Their bodies were charred like coal, I could not recognize their faces," the farmer said.
HRW also detailed a 2009 US cruise missile strike on the village of al-Majalah that killed more than 40 civilians, most of them women and children.
Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri said that "people were fearful of the US the way they're fearful of the Taliban," echoing a report released last year by the UK-based rights group Reprieve which found that US drone strikes terrorize Pakistanis and breed anti-Americanism. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 74 percent of Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy, in large part due to drones.
While Pakistanis and Yemenis seethe at what many of them see as indiscriminate killing of their people by US aggression that violates their national sovereignty, the Obama administration, which dramatically increased the number of drone strikes from what had occurred under George W. Bush, claimed last year that "drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties."
According to the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 376 US drone strikes in Pakistan have claimed between 407-926 civilian lives, including as many as 200 children, while as many as 58 Yemeni civilians have been killed in at least 54 US drone strikes.
The US is at war with neither Pakistan nor Yemen.
President Obama also argues that drones are an invaluable tool in the ongoing war against terrorism, allowing the US to target and kill militants without putting American boots on the ground. The administration has rejected accusations that drone strikes are unlawful and may amount to war crimes; it has also embraced a highly controversial method of classifying victims of air strikes in which all military-aged men killed in a strike are counted as militants, whether they are or not, in a bid to artificially lower the civilian death toll.