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Latest US Drone Attack in Pakistan Another Possible War Crime

MQ-9 Reaper Drone (Flickr Photo by Charles McCain)

Triple drone attacks in Pakistan reportedly killed more than twelve people who were suspected of being “militants” or terror suspects. Nine were killed in an initial attack on a “militant compound” in Miranshah in North Waziristan. Three more were killed in a second attack while people were trying to “recover dead bodies.” A third strike killed at least one more, according to the Agence France Presse news agency.

The attacks come just as Pakistan and the US are set to meet in Tokyo, and one of the attacks bears the hallmark of a Central Intelligence Agency tactic that Christof Heyns, a UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, recently condemned. The second drone strike appears to have been against “rescuers,” who were showing up to help those injured in the “initial” drone attack. This, according to Heyns, is a “war crime.”

The Pakistan-based provides a detailed account of the attacks (though the media organizations reports only a double attack occurred):

According to sources, six missiles hit the fortress-like residence of tribesman Muhammad in Zoi Nari locality of tehsil Dattakhel at around 8:45pm.

Local people rushed to the site of the attack and started rescue work while drones continued to hover over the area. They retrieved 17 bodies and two injured persons from the rubble of the house.

At about 10:30pm, the drones fired another two missiles on the compound, some 35km from the agency’s headquarters of Miramshah, when tribesmen were still carrying out rescue work. Three people died and two others were injured in the attack.

Local tribesmen feared the number of the people killed or injured might go up because they had to stop work due to the hovering drones. They said most of the bodies retrieved were mutilated beyond recognition.

In February, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), published analysis showing how the CIA utilizes this tactic. The investigation TBIJ conducted found “at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.” Over 20 of those killed were attacked in “deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

The executions of people who show up in the aftermath of initial attacks to rescue dead bodies undermine the Obama administration’s claims that drone strikes are extremely precise. How can the administration, which makes premeditated decisions by committee on who to kill and not kill, know who is going to show up to clean up in the aftermath? No member of the administration knows. Most likely, the people who are victims of secondary strikes are seen as justifiable targets because of President Barack Obama’s criteria that all military-age males in a strike target area are “militants.”

Outside of the war crime that appears to have been committed in this instance, there’s the issue over casualty numbers. The majority of Pakistani news outlets are reporting twenty-one were killed. The Pakistan-based Dawn Media Group reports twenty were killed. reported twenty killed. The Guardian‘s latest report on the strikes puts the number of people killed at nineteen. The New York Times‘ report puts the figure at fifteen. Initial reports suggested twelve had died. The AFP‘s report indicates, when the deaths from all three strikes are added up, that thirteen people died. This means eight deaths are disputed.

The Times report includes some details on who exactly was being targeted. The compound is believed to have been owned by Rahimullah, a Taliban commander. He “was not present at the time of the strike.” He “is thought to be a close aide of a local warlord, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who controls a vast part of North Waziristan.” Rahimullah is said to help “recruit militants to take part in offensives against Western troops across the border in Afghanistan, according to local residents.” All killed in the drone attacks were allegedly “loyalists” of Bahadur. (That, of course, assumes all who came to clean up in the aftermath were only “loyalists.”)

The people killed may all be “loyalists,” but that does not necessarily excuse the strikes, which are a continuation of a US covert drone war that primarily consists of what Congressman Dennis Kucinich appropriately calls “vigilantism conducted by robots.”

Kucinich was recently interviewed by TBIJ. In the interview, he explains:

…[W]hat has happened is that in this post 9/11 world is that the declarations of war have basically vanished, replaced by an administration’s assertion of the power to declare a global war. And that has been buttressed, that was under the Bush administration, now under the Obama administration it is the derogation to the executive of the power to strike at any nation at any time for any reason…

The administration is consciously using the proliferation and revolution in robotic technology as a cover for illegal wars of aggression abroad. Like Kucinich says, it is nothing but an “Orwellian exercise of semantics” to say America is not at war in Pakistan (or Yemen or Somalia). Particularly on Pakistan, which has expressed a wholesale rejection to the US drone war, he adds:

…[I]f a nation, which at one time asked for our help, resents our help, then any action that takes place effectively loses the protection of the request for cooperation. And then it becomes a clearly outlined act of aggression. And so if it is as Pakistan says it is, and if in fact Pakistan has made this request and asked us to stop and we continue this bombing, then we are at war with Pakistan. I have raised this question more than a year ago on a war powers resolution on a war over Pakistan. And this was when we were just starting to step up the attacks…

And so, the criticism of US operations in Pakistan can be broken down into four parts: (1) war crimes are likely being committed (2) who exactly is being killed and how many people are exactly being killed is unknown (3) how many strikes are killing these people is sometimes disputed and (4) the Afghanistan War has crept into Pakistan but the Obama administration and Congress do not believe a declaration of war is necessary to justify operations. They crudely profess to be following the “laws of war” while carrying out routine drone attacks that are part of operations, flouting the rule of law by lacking proper authorization from Congress to wage war.

The proverbial icing on the cake is that people like CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen are helping the Obama administration propagandize the US covert drone war. According to Bergen, “zero” people other than “militants” have been killed in 2012 so far. It may be true, as TBIJ even affirms, that the number of civilians dying in drone strikes in Pakistan is lower than previous years, but there is absolutely no way that the people being killed have all been “militants.” TBIJ’s analysis shows at least three to twenty-four civilians were killed from January to June of this year.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."