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U.N. Asks U.S. To Justify Latest “Cruel, Inhuman” Drone Attack That Killed 15 Yemen Civilians In A Wedding | Zero Hedge
The US justification: the 15 civilians were mistaken for an Al Qaeda convoy (good thing this was not in Syria, where such an Al Qaeda convoy would have received US arms and funding), and in keeping with the US “superpower” walkthrough, the missiles were launched first, and questions would be asked later if ever. And while this happens daily around the globe (remember: they hate America for its freedoms, not because it rains hellfire on civilians without reason), this time the United Nations human rights watch actually had the temerity of calling out the US on its latest act of mass murder.
Reuters has the full story:
United Nations human rights experts told the United States and Yemen on Thursday to saywhether they were complicit in drone attacks that mistakenly killed civilians in wedding processions this month.
The independent experts questioned the legitimacy of drone attacks under international law and said the governments should reveal what targeting procedures were used.
Local security officials said on December 12 that 15 people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy. The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.
Stressing the need for accountability and payment to victims’ families, the U.N. statement issued in Geneva said that two attacks, on two separate wedding processions, killed 16 and wounded at least 10 people.
“If armed drones are to be used, states must adhere to international humanitarian law, and should disclose the legal basis for their operational responsibility and criteria for targeting,” said Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Poor Yemen, unclear that others’ sovereignty does not matter to the US, voiced a feeble protest: “Yemen cannot consent to violations of the right to life of people in its territory,” he added.” Good luck with non-consenting.
However, it was the UN that surprised onlookers with one of the harshest condemnations of what is essentially unaccountable murder by an American remote-control plane, controlled from thousands of miles away:
Juan Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture, voiced concern about the legitimacy of the airstrikes. Each state was obliged to undertake due investigation into the reported incidents, including their effect on civilians, he said.
“A deadly attack on illegitimate targets amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if, as in this case, it results in serious physical or mental pain and suffering for the innocent victims,” Mendez said.
Wait, so cruel, inhuman and degra…. oh look, another all time high for the S&P! Quick BTFATH, and ignore all this irrelevant “stuff.”
U.S. Military Changes Drone Rules to Make Targeting of Civilians Easier | A Lightning War for Liberty
The drone issue is just another topic in which President Barrack Obama has proven himself to be a world-class liar and master of deception. Despite his claims that drone strikes do little damage to civilian populations, in July we discovered that “of the 746 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan from 2006-2009, an incredible 20% were civilians and 94 (13% of the total) were children.”
I suppose that number just isn’t good enough, because The Pentagon has decided to change the rules of engagement when it comes to drone strikes, now making iteasier to target civilians. From The Washington Times:
The Pentagon has loosened its guidelines on avoiding civilian casualties during drone strikes, modifying instructions from requiring military personnel to “ensure” civilians are not targeted to encouraging service members to “avoid targeting” civilians.
Hey cops, how about you “try to avoid” beating the shit out of people and violating their constitutional rights for no reason. Yeah, because that’ll work.
In addition, instructions now tell commanders that collateral damage “must not be excessive” in relation to mission goals, according to Public Intelligence, a nonprofit research group that analyzed the military’s directives on drone strikes.
Administration officials say the strikes are legal because the U.S. is at war with al Qaeda and its associates. They also insist there is a wide gap between the government’s civilian casualty count and those of human rights groups.
Right, we are at “war with al Qaeda,” when it is convenient to be at war with them. When it is convenient to be allies with al Qaeda, we will do that too.
Despite Mr. Obama’s pledge for more transparency on drone strikes, the administration “continues to answer legitimate questions and criticisms by saying, ‘We can’t really talk about this,’” said Naureen Shah, advocacy adviser at Amnesty International.
Can’t. Make. This. Stuff. Up.
Full article here.
Washington-based New America Foundation says 185 civilians killed in US drone attacks since 2008 [AP]
|The Pakistani government has been criticised for lowering civilian casualty numbers of US drone strikes, contradicting its past calculations and estimates by independent organisations.
The defence ministry said on Wednesday that only 67 of 2,227 people killed during the 317 attacks since 2008 were civilians, insisting there have been no civilian casualties since 2011.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, has estimated that drones have killed at least 300 civilians in Pakistan since 2008, while the Washington-based New America Foundation puts the figure at 185.
The US rarely speaks publicly about the CIA-run drone programme in Pakistan, because it is classified. But some American officials have insisted that the strikes have killed very few civilians and that estimates from the Pakistani government and independent organisations are exaggerated.
Ben Emmerson, a UN expert investigating drone strikes, said earlier this month that the Pakistani foreign ministry told him that at least 400 civilians had been killed by the attacks in the country since they started in 2004.
“If the true figures for civilian deaths are significantly lower, then it is important that this should now be made clear, and the apparent discrepancy explained,” Emmerson said in an email to the Associated Press news agency.
The attacks, which mainly target suspected rebels near the northwestern border with Afghanistan, are widely unpopular in Pakistan, because they are violating the country’s sovereignty and killing civilians.
The Pakistani government regularly criticises the drone programme in public, even though it is known to have secretly supported at least some of the strikes in the past.
Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, pressed US President Barack Obama to end the attacks in a visit to the White House last week, but the US considers the attacks vital to its battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and gave no indication it was willing to abandon them.
- US drone strikes condemned in rights reports – Americas – Al Jazeera English (olduvaiblog.wordpress.com)
- Pakistan: 3 percent of drone deaths were civilians (sfgate.com)
- US drone strikes have killed 67 civilians since 2008, says Pakistan’s military (theguardian.com)
A MOTHERBOARD PREMIERE: A NEW DOCUMENTARY BY MADIHA TAHIR
The drone war is obscure by design. Operated by armchair pilots from clandestine bases across the American west, the Predators and Reapers fly over Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas at invisible heights, where they are on orders from the CIA to kill “high value” targets with laser-guided “surgical” precision thousands of feet below. But because of where the Hellfire missiles land, and because the program is operated in secret, verifying their precision and their lasting effects isn’t easy.
For years, US officials have downplayed the number of civilian deaths in particular, even as a chorus of independent reports have offered their own grim estimates. The latest, according to new research by the United Nations and Amnesty International: 58 civilians killed in Yemen, and up to nine hundred in Pakistan. In a speech in May, President Obama finally broke his silence on drones, acknowledging that civilians had been killed—he didn’t say how many—and promising more transparency for the program. “Those deaths,” added the President, “will haunt us for as long as we live.”
For journalist Madiha Tahir, the numbers are important, but they’re not the whole story. Her documentary “Wounds of Waziristan,” which premieres above, features interviews with the people who live in the southern part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, bordering Afghanistan, under the eyes of the drones, and in the wake of their destruction. The film switches up the typical calculus that drives the drone debate at home. Tahir, who grew up between Pakistan and the U.S., points out that drone strikes aren’t just about the numbers of casualties, or the kinds of ethical arguments that arise around “just war” concepts like proportionality. The effects of the drone war have as much to do with the way those casualties rip apart communities and haunt the living, in distant places that exist on the fringes of law and order.
“Because drones are at a certain remove, there is a sense of uncertainty, a sense that you can’t control this,” Tahir says, describing the attitude among the people who live in Waziristan. Already haunted by the legacy of British colonialism and the laws it left behind, this part of the Tribal Areas is now ruled with a brutal fist by the Pakistani military and various insurgent groups. But the buzz of the drones, sometimes seven or eight overhead a day, signals another kind of indeterminate power. “Whether its true or not, people feel that with militants there is some degree of control. You can negotiate. There is some cause and effect. But there is no cause and effect with drones. It’s an acute kind of trauma that is not limited to the actual attack.”
For the operators of the drone program, who have launched more than 300 missile attacks in Pakistan since 2008, the semi-governed Tribal Areas are subject to their own kind of war-on-terror calculus. As the New York Times reported last year, the American government has been counting all military-age males in a strike zone as “militants,” which leads to skewed figures about who exactly has been killed. The Obama administration has executed “signature strikes,” drone attacks based on a so-called “pattern of life” analysis in which simply suspicious behavior is enough to qualify for an attack. And in a so-called “double tap” maneuver, a second attack follows an initial strike, killing those who have come to recover bodies from the scene.
“When an attack happens, the media claims to know how many militants were killed,” says Noor Behram, a journalist in the Tribal Areas who has been photographing the casualties of drone strikes for years. “Actually, you only find body parts on the scene, so people can’t tell how many have died.”
In one interview, Tahir speaks with a man from South Waziristan named Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike. “What is the definition of terrorism?” he asks her, and she returns the question to him. His tired eyes light up.
“I think there is no bigger terrorist than Obama or Bush,” he says. “Those who have weaponry like drones, who drop bombs on us while we are in our own homes, there are no greater terrorists than them.”
Despite the secrecy, independent reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, combined with a set of leaked cables detailing secret dealings between Islamabad and Washington and published in the Washington Post, have shed new light on the still-secret program. On October 29, a family injured in a strike that Amnesty International mentioned in its report is scheduled to testify before Congress (though their lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, who also appears in the film, has been denied a visa.)
In a separate report last week to the UN, which is due to be discussed before the General Assembly in New York on Friday, the special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson called for the US to declassify the program, which he said may be in violation of international laws—a claim that many officials and rights groups have echoed.
“By hiding behind arguments of secrecy and exploiting the difficulty in confirming details of specific strikes due to the lawlessness, remoteness and insecurity of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas,” Emmerson writes, “the USA is contributing to the litany of violations and abuses endured by a population that has been both neglected and assaulted by their own state and victimized by al-Qa’ida, the Taliban and other armed groups.”
Reports like these are an important start to making the drone debate more public, Tahir says, and pressuring the administration to change course. But there are deeper wounds to consider too, ones that are harder to calculate. “There need to be ways we can talk about drones beyond the legal discourse,” she says. “What are the ways we can think about what it means to experience life under drones, and about exactly what it means to be, as the President said, ‘haunted’ by the loss of life.”
For more, see the film’s website, Madiha’s website, and find her on Twitter.
- Amnesty: US must investigate alleged civilian drone casualties in Pakistan, compensate victims (foxnews.com)
- No explicit, implicit consent for drone strikes: Pakistan (rediff.com)
- Rights groups probe US drone strikes (bbc.co.uk)
- Life Under Drones in Pakistan (counterpunch.org)
- Six killed in US drone strike in North Waziristan (dawn.com)
There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.” However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.
(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)
We don’t need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let’s stop for a minute and consider. The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it’s not a case where they could have been captured, it’s not “disproportionate,” it’s not too “collateral,” it’s not too “indiscriminate,” etc., — the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it. We’re not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let’s be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it’s done properly, and it’s giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but that’s stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.
What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning? Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be “proportionate” and “necessary”? If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can’t always tell which is which, won’t drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?
For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don’t we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill? Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.
It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?
It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.
We’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.
- Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Blast U.S. Drone Strikes (world.time.com)
- US defends drone strikes despite Amnesty report (abc.net.au)
Rights groups have demanded that the US launch an impartial investigation into its use of drone warfare and that the country publicly disclose any evidence of civilian casualties.
In independent reports published on Tuesday, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said that the US must hold to account those responsible for civilian deaths and be more transparent about its drone programme.
“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,” Letta Taylor, senior counterterrorism researcher at HRW told Al Jazeera.
Two recently published UN reports are to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday. Taylor said that the release of the four reports in a brief period “underscores the mounting questions about the legality” of drones.
All four reports demand that the US should provide a full legal rationale for targeted killings.
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, said that while its report focuses on Pakistan, and HRW’s on Yemen, the drones programme “raises the same questions about human rights violations all over the world”.
“Both organisations are calling on the US Congress to fully investigate the cases the we have documented in our reports and other potentially unlawful deaths,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that the group hoped that the US would act immediately on their recommendations.
HRW said that the Yemeni government, which is engaged in a conflict with al-Qaeda, had been “almost as silent” as the US on the death toll caused by air raids.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said that President Barack Obama had outlined 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.”
She said the US was aware that this report had been released and were reviewing it carefully.
Through personal testimonies from eye-witnesses and relatives of drone-strike victims in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, Amnesty International’s 74-page report titled Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan reviewed 45 known drone strikes in the region between January 2012 and August this year.
It found that nine of the strikes could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions – some of which were unjustified and some of which were cases of “rescuer” or follow-up attacks on residents who had gone to the scene after an initial strike.
|The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognize the faces
Ahmad al-Sabooli, Yemeni Farmer,
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 London-based rights group added that such strikes were caused locals to live in fear, and set “a dangerous precedent that other states may seek to exploit to avoid responsibility for their own unlawful killings”.
HRW’s 97-page report, Between a Drone and al-Qaeda’: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen, examined six US targeted killings in the country – one from 2009, and the rest between 2012 and 2013.
The strikes killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians.
None met US policy guidelines for targeted killings set out in US President Barack Obama’s speech in May, said the New York-based rights group.
“Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths,” said HRW.
A witness quoted in the report described the aftermath of one strike targeting an alleged al-Qaeda leader, but instead struck a passenger van killing 12 civilians.
“The bodies were charred like coal – I could not recognise the faces,” Ahmad al-Sabooli, a 23 year-old Yemeni farmer, said.
International law prohibits arbitrary killings and limits intentional lethal force to exceptional situations wherein in an armed conflict, only combatants and those participating in hostilities may be targeted.
Intentional lethal force is lawful only when there is, with certainty, an imminent threat to life.
- Rights groups probe US drone strikes (bbc.co.uk)
- 2 human rights groups question legality of U.S. drone strikes (mcclatchydc.com)
- US Accused of Unlawful Killings in Pakistan Drone Strikes (voanews.com)
- Another drone strike in South Waziristan, 7 killed (thehindu.com)
- Investigation to record victims of US drone attacks in Pakistan (thistleanddrone.wordpress.com)
- Drone studies mushrooming in the US (dronefocus.com)
- Obama’s Speech Welcomed in Pakistan,… – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
- President Obama defends U.S. drone strikes in evolving counterterrorism policy (oregonlive.com)
- Obama: Not ‘Constitutional For The Government To Target Or Kill Any US Citizen’ With A Drone Without Due Process (washington.cbslocal.com)
- What’s a drone? How is US drone policy changing? (ktvb.com)