A new Amnesty International report on drone use in Pakistan captures the physical and psychological damage caused by drone strikes. Friedersdorf hightlights troubling findings from it, such as this one:
“When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them,” an unidentified man reported. “Because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed, women, men, and children. … Twenty-four hours, a person is in stress and there is pain in his head.” A journalists who photographs drone strike craters agreed that children are perpetually terrorized. “If you bang a door,” Noor Behram said, “they’ll scream and drop like something bad is going to happen.”
Ben Richmond also reads through the report:
Far from solely blaming the United States, the report also points what its authors perceive as failures on the part of Pakistan—for leaving this region of its jurisdiction under-developed, and creating a vacuum to be filled by armed groups who “have been responsible for unlawful killings and other abuses constituting war crimes and other crimes under international law in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
Pakistan has a poor record for bringing these perpetrators to justice without resorting to the death penalty, and the country’s neglect of the region has also failed to ensure that its residents enjoy key human rights protections.
But also Pakistan has a duty to independently and impartially investigate all drone strikes in its own country and “ensure access to justice and reparation for victims of violations,” just as the United States is obliged to investigate drone strikes and hold those responsible for innocent lives lost accountable.
The findings paint a portrait of a drone strike program starkly different than the one spelled out during remarks by President Obama in May of this year. “America does not take strikes to punish individuals—we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” the president said, adding that terrorists would only be considered a viable target for a drone strike if capture was not feasible.
Contrary to this declaration, however, the report alleges that Obama has continued to approve drone strikes in which a target’s “imminent threat” is not defined, or the option of capture not fully exhausted. On top of potentially unlawful strikes, [report author Letta] Tayler writes, the U.S. has neither offered consolation to the families of civilians killed, as promised by former CIA Director John Brennan, nor so much as acknowledged their role in the death of innocent Yemenis.
America’s failure to acknowledge these wrongful deaths is demonizing it, Tayler concludes. “It’s gotten to the point where many Yemenis fear the U.S. more than they fear al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” she said. “When the U.S. government is considered more of a demon that one of the most notorious groups in the world…Obama has a major image problem.”
Keating puts both reports in context:
The reports come at a time when the administration is signaling its intention to shift away from the use of drones toward other counterterrorism tactics. However, as the report argues, President Obama’s few statements on the topic indicate that he favors a policy shift away from drones rather than legal guidelines on when and how they can be used.