Civilian deaths mount as U.S. drones strike Pakistan

“Three killed in U.S. drone strike in NW Pakistan.” “Pakistan: 7 killed in car bombing in northwest.” “Pakistan: Drone strike kills 5 suspected militants.”

A small sampling of media headlines from the last month points to a problem raised repeatedly by international, peace and human rights organizations, which also became an issue this week at the UN: U.S. use of unmanned drone aircraft against “suspected militants” in Pakistan.

“No country and no people have suffered more in the epic struggle against terrorism than Pakistan,” President Asif Ali Zardari told the United Nations General Assembly Sept. 25. “Drone strikes and civilian casualties on our territory add to the complexity of our battle for hearts and minds through this epic struggle.”

Zardari’s remarks came as a newly-released report, Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan, contended that far more civilians, including children, have been killed in drone strikes than Washington has acknowledged.

The report, by Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law, says as many as a quarter of those killed in strikes in the last eight years were civilians, while only an estimated two2 percent of fatalities involved “high-level” militants.

“Drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning,” the report says. “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 behavior.”

In the last eight years, the report says, between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, among them between 474 and 881 civilians including some 176 children.

“Real threats to U.S. security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas” and must be addressed, the authors say, but in view of the drones’ harm to Pakistani civilians and to U.S. interests, the strikes “must be carefully re-evaluated.”

The region in question, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, lies along Afghanistan’s southeast border. That border, the so-called Durand Line, created in the late 19th century by the British colonial administration in India and the then-emir of Afghanistan, has never been recognized by the Pashtun peoples it divided, and is continually crossed by both civilians and armed insurgents. The area has one of the world’s highest poverty rates.

Living Under Drones analyzes the nature of unmanned drones and their use in targeted killings following Sept. 11, 2001, and discusses legal implications and strategic considerations. It also offers gripping and dramatic accounts of the devastation wrought by the strikes on civilian communities, and their effects on the way Pakistani people view the United States.

The report calls on the Obama administration to “fundamentally” re-evaluate its drone strike policies, make public the legal basis and criteria for the attacks, ensure independent investigations of drone strike deaths, compensate civilians harmed by the strikes, and refrain from using lethal force against civilians.

It also calls on the media to stop “the common practice” of calling all people killed in drone strikes, “militants.”

The drone strikes head the agenda of a 40-member delegation organized by Code Pink and including members of Veterans for Peace, that will visit Pakistan from Sept. 28 to Oct. 10. There they will meet with drone victims’ families, elected officials, tribal elders and residents of South Waziristan, part of the Tribal Areas.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act is calling on the U.S. government to make public the legal basis for the CIA’s use of predator drones in targeted killings in other countries. The suit was heard by a three-judge appeals court panel last week.

Photo: A Pakistani man reacts after learning of the death of his brother in a bus explosion on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, June 8. Mohammad Sajjad/AP



Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.