Drone Wars – An Empire Strikes

The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.

The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a ‘targeted, focused effort’ that ‘has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.’

Speaking publicly for the first time on the controversial CIA drone strikes, Obama claimed last week they are used strictly to target terrorists, rejecting what he called ‘this perception we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly’.

‘Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’, he told a questioner at an on-line forum. ‘This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists trying to go in and harm Americans’.But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.

Although the drone attacks were started under the Bush administration in 2004, they have been stepped up enormously under Obama.

There have been 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan by Obama’s administration – averaging one every four days. Because the attacks are carried out by the CIA, no information is given on the numbers killed.

Administration officials insist that these covert attacks are legal. John Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, argues that the US has the right to unilaterally strike terrorists anywhere in the world, not just what he called ‘hot battlefields’.

‘Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al- Qaeda, the United States takes the legal position that, in accordance with international law, we have the authority to take action against al-Qaeda and its associated forces,’ he told a conference at Harvard Law School last year. ‘The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to”hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.’

But some international law specialists fiercely disagree, arguing that the strikes amount to little more than state-sanctioned extra-judicial executions and questioning how the US government would react if another state such as China or Russia started taking such action against those they declare as enemies.

By Chris Woods and Christina Lamb

The Bureau Investigates
4th February 2012