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Wounds of Waziristan

A new documentary by Madiha Tahir

By Alex Pasternack

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 political vacuum of the Tribal Areas have encouraged a special 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.” …

For more, see the film’s websiteMadiha’s website, and find her on Twitter.

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, Video, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At least 1 in 5 drone strike victims a confirmed civilian – leaked Pakistani records

RT | July 22, 2013

Leaked internal data produced by Pakistani officials documenting drone strikes on the ground reveal a high civilian death toll, countering US claims that the targeted assassination campaign results in “exceedingly rare” fatalities.

A 12-page report, titled ‘Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)’ describes 75 CIA drone attacks between 2006 and 2009, with death tolls compiled by officials in the turbulent border regions for internal use by the government. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a UK news website – says it obtained three identical copies of the classified document from various sources in Pakistan.

The numbers show a death toll of 746 people, 147 of whom were confirmed as civilians. Of those civilian deaths, 94 are children. Statistically, it means at least one in five victims of US precision strikes was a civilian, and more than 12 per cent were minors.

“There was no benefit in officials ‘cooking the books’ here, since this document was clearly never intended to be seen outside the civilian administration,” said Rauf Khan Khattak, who recently served as Pakistan’s interim finance minister.

The US President and the CIA do not have to disclose details of what is officially considered a classified program to Senate or to the public, so official American estimates have never been released. CIA Director John Brennan, considered to be the architect of the drone program, has said that “we only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances,” and that collateral deaths themselves are “exceedingly rare.” And an internal incomplete official report leaked earlier this year – covering a later period – showed that the CIA thought that only one out of every 482 people it killed was a civilian.

But the Pakistani numbers tally much closer with those provided by outside sources. The bipartisan New American Foundation estimates that at least 12 per cent of drone strike victims are definitely civilians, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism itself claims the number could be as high as 25 per cent.

Rauf Khan Khattak, a long-time opponent of foreign drone strikes, believes the newest figures could be the most reliable obtained so far.

“What you end up with in these reports is reasonably accurate, because it comes from on-the-ground sources cultivated over many years. And the political agent is only interested in properly understanding what actually happened,” he told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

But others have urged for these documents to be taken into consideration only when measured against other sources. For example, following Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, only three civilian death incidents are recorded through the year up until late October, when the data ends – even though media reports from the same time indicate that civilians and children had died in attacks included in the FATA document.

“Tribal documents might present a broad picture. But any accuracy is dependent on what data the military chooses to release to or withhold from the political agents. In the last eight years, for example, no precise casualty figures have ever been submitted to Pakistan’s parliament,” said former FATA official and minister Rustan Shah Mohmand.

Independent sources estimate that around 2,500 and perhaps more than 3,500 people have been killed in UAV strikes on Pakistan since 2004. Obama has ramped up the program significantly since coming into office.

The difficulty in establishing the precise number of civilians among those is also compounded by the identity of the supposed militants and the CIA’s own targeting protocols , known as ‘signature strikes’.

Militants may simply be a villager engaged in an insurgency, and will have little to separate himself from a civilian, and vice versa. There is also little incentive for relatives to inform the authorities that any UAV strike victim is a militant, and much of the data is compiled on hearsay and local knowledge.

In turn, the US has tacitly admitted that it picks the majority of its targets based on a pattern of behavior – suspicious movements, contact with established targets, attendance of training centers, and other indirect indicators. Drones sometimes target follow-up events that occur as a result of its previous strikes, such as funerals of past drone targets. The earlier leaked documents showed that out of the 482 people killed, only six were known al-Qaeda commanders.

But even when taking all these variables into consideration and interpreting them in the most favorable light possible to the US, it is hard to agree with Obama’s recent assertion that the CIA has a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” before each drone attack.

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘US commits extrajudicial killings’

Press TV – January 31, 2012

US President Barack Obama has confirmed that the United States has used non-UN-sanctioned CIA assassination drones to strike targets in the northwestern tribal belt of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.

In reply to questions about the use of terror drones by his administration in a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube on Monday, the US president said, “a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA” — Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

“For the most part, they’ve been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we’re very careful in terms of how it’s been applied,” Obama said.

This is the first time Washington has acknowledged using the remotely piloted aircraft to strike targets within Pakistan.

Press TV has conducted an interview with Liaghat Ali Khan, professor of Washington University, to further talk about the issue. What follows is the text of the interview:

Press TV: Does it make a difference at this point in time now the US president Barack Obama has admitted using drones in Pakistan? Is it going to make a difference in the strategy that the Americans have been using?

Khan: Thank you very much for letting me speak on this issue.

I think this is a great event in international law that the head of the state of the United States openly admits that the United States engages in extrajudicial killing of persons in a foreign country.

Extrajudicial killings are prohibited under international law because the person who is killing is the judge, is the jury and is the executioner.

So this is a great event in this matter that now legal circles can validly ask the United States that what is its bases and what is its legal medium to which it decides to use drone attacks to kill people.

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment