Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations
After the September 11 tragedy, the Muslim countries which joined the Bush’s fake global war on terror became the target of the US state terrorism which still continues in one way or the other.
The US-led troops, supported by CIA have carried out indiscriminate mass round-ups in catching up suspected Muslim men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq, including some Arab countries without evidence. Israeli secret agency Mossad has helped the CIA officials in arresting the Muslim men, having beard and ladies, wearing scarves. Besides Guantanamo Bay and Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, CIA torture cells were present in several Islamic countries and were set up even in ships where US secret agencies and military personnel employed various methods of torture on the militants and suspected persons like physical violence and even murder.
In this regard, in March, 2013, an investigative report by the British Guardian/BBC pointed out that acting under the direction of the top US officials; the CIA utilized a global network of secret prisons, foreign intelligence agents and torture centers in various Islamic countries including Belgium etc. where torture was conducted directly by American intelligence operatives.
The report which also mentioned Bagram and Guantanamo, links US high officials to atrocities carried out in Iraq—unleashed a deadly sectarian militia which terrorized the Sunni community and germinated a civil war, and claimed tens of thousands of lives.
But, under the pretext of American so-called counterinsurgency programme, and while implementing the anti-Muslim policy of his predecessor, the US President Barack Obama has broken all the record of human rights by extrajudicial killings of the innocent people through CIA-operated drone attacks in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen etc. in general and Pakistan in particular, while, the United States claims to be protector of human rights not only inside the country, but also all over the world.
On March 11, 2014, Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, who conducted an investigation into targeted killings, and examined legality of drone strikes, presented his report on drone strikes to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). His report examined 37 drone strikes as sample—the US, UK and Israel have launched in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza, which resulted into civilian casualties. Emmerson told the HRC, “These strikes require a legal duty on the relevant states to provide…a justification for the use of deadly force…to disclose the results of their own fact finding inquiries, why no such inquiries have taken place.”
Emmerson also referred to an interactive website, produced by Forensic Architecture teem which marked the location of 30 drone strikes which helped in his final report.
In this context, Professor Eyal Weizman, the Principal Investigator of the Forensic Architecture project said, “Studying buildings hit by drones reveal much of consequences of a strike. The work we do is essential because states undertaking drone strikes, such as the US and Israel, attempt to hide actions and even deny them outright.”
In another report, issued by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights (OHCHR) on September 14, 2015 pointed out that since 2002 between 156 and 365 civilians including children have been killed in drone attacks in Yemen.”
In this connection, some classified US intelligence documents, obtained by The Intercept-an anonymous whistleblower, published on October 15, 2015 as the Drone Papers shed light on the secretive drone programme which has become a staple of United States counterterrorism policy since the attacks of September11, 2001. The papers indicated, “Drone strikes have often been based on thin intelligence, kill a large number of unintended people and refer to people inadvertently killed by strikes as “enemies killed in action” (EKIA), even when their identities were unknown.”
As regards these revelations about drone strikes, civil liberty groups strongly condemned the US Administration for a lack of accountability and transparency in national security decisions. Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is involved in several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits about the legal basis and the targets of America’s drone program said, “These eye-opening disclosures make a mockery of U.S. government claims that its lethal force operations are based on reliable intelligence and limited to lawful targets.”
Naureen Shah, the director of the security with human rights program at Amnesty International USA, stated, “These documents raise serious concerns about whether the USA has systematically violated international law, including by classifying unidentified people as ‘combatants’ to justify their killing.”
It is notable that in 2013, first time, a US Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of the predator attacks, openly admitted that 4,700 people have been killed by the raids of America’s secretive drone war. The number exceeds some independent estimates of the death toll.
According to the research of London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “Between June 2004 and September 2012, these unmanned aerial vehicles killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians including 176 children.” In this respect, in a report, The Guardian disclosed on August 11, 2011, “The CIA claims that there has been not one non-combatant killed in the past year…it is a bleak view: more people killed than previously thought.”
Nevertheless, details collected by the Pakistani journalists show that civilian casualties through unmanned aircraft are higher as indicated by the US officials—more than 5000 innocent civilians and only 22 Al-Qaeda commanders have been killed by these aerial attacks.
While justifying these air strikes by the spy planes, counterterrorism advisor to Obama, John Brennan who had faced a Senate confirmation hearing for his nominee as CIA director is the main player, advising Obama on which strike, he should approve.
Especially, during his first presidential campaign, Obama had pledged to reverse excesses of the Bush era in relation to terrorism. He also promised to reformulate a counterterrorism policy in accordance with the legal and moral values of the US. Contrarily to his assertions, Obama followed the Bush’s approach of counterterrorism in its worst form by expanding and accelerating the predator strikes.
Notably, The New York Time on May 26, 2011, in an article which was written with assistance of several counterterrorism advisers of the administration revealed, “President Obama has become personally involved in the process” and “has normalised extrajudicial killings from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorising murder on a weekly basis.”
It is of particular attention that American constitution explicitly grants the right to declare war to the Congress so as to restrain the president from chasing enemies around the world, based solely on his authority as commander-in-chief by waging a secret war. But, instead of capturing militants alive and to avoid giving the right of due process of law to them in a court, President Obama has openly acted upon a ruthless policy of targeting killings by supervising the CIA-controlled drone warfare.
Besides, a report of the New America Foundation had disclosed that President Obama has “authorised 193 drone strikes in Pakistan, more than four times the number of attacks that President Bush authorised during his two terms.” The report explained, “When the US drones attack Pakistan’s tribal areas, it is not just the 10, or 50 innocent civilians they kill, these killings provide reason to the youngsters for joining terrorist groups waging war against US and of course Pakistan…while killing 10 militants, the US has murdered more than 1400 Pakistanis, not involved in any terrorist activities. Could it not imply that it gave birth to another 1400 militants?”
Based on research, a report, “Living Under Drones,” prepared by experts from Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law had revealed that the US campaign of drone “strikes in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt is terrorising civilians 24 hours a day and breeding bitter anti-American sentiment…have killed thousands of people…even stopping their children going to school for fear of being targeted.” The report urged Washington to rethink its drone strategy, arguing it was counterproductive and undermined international law.
Citing unnamed US officials, The Washington Post reported on January 21, 2013, “The Obama administration is completing a counterterrorism manual that will establish clear rules for targeted-killing operations…the guidebook would contain a major exemption for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan to continue striking Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.”
The then Defense Minister Leon Panetta had defended these attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas under the pretext of North Waziristan-based Haqqani militants whom they blamed for several assaults on American and NATO bases in Afghanistan. On the other hand, US-led coalition forces had failed in stopping incursions of heavily-armed insurgents in Pakistan from Afghanistan’s side, who killed more than 100 personnel of the Pakistan’s security forces in 2011, 2012 and 2013, while targeting the infrastructure of the tribal areas. In fact, US wanted to make Pakistan’s North Waziristan areas, a scapegoat of NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan by continuing illegal mass murder of the innocent people through CIA-operated drones.
It is mentionable that Pakistan’s then Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam who visited America in August, 2012, emphatically told the then CIA Director David Petraeus that predator strikes which are violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty must be stopped. He pointed out that these strikes are proving counterproductive, giving a greater incentive to the fundamentalist and extremist elements in Pakistan, and are increasing anti-US sentiment among the people.
However, setting aside the parliament resolution, rallies and processions of Pakistan’s political and religious parties, while ignoring the Pak-US rapprochement, and without bothering for any internal backlash, these aerial attacks have kept on going on the tribal regions.
In fact, America’s such a duplicity contained a number of covert designs. The continued wave of strikes by the pilotless aircraft has thwarted the offer of militants and Pakistani government for peace talks. And the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accelerated subversive activities in the country. These aerial attacks provoked the tribal people against Pakistan’s security forces by increasing recruitment of insurgents. Another aim was to create a rift between Pakistan’s armed forces on one side and the political and religious parties on the other. Besides, Pakistan is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World. Hence, US, India and Israel are determined to destabilise it. Drone campaign is also part of this game.
It is noteworthy that Pakistan’s armed forces have successfully achieved their objectives in the ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb which started on Jun 15, 2014 against the militants in North Waziristan Agency and Khyber Agency, and fight now is moving into last few pockets close to Afghan border. What the US-led NATO forces could not do in the last 14 years in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s armed forces did within 14 months, while, geographically, the North Waziristan is the largest Agency and has the same topography like Afghanistan. Even, the US and other NATO countries have praised the capabilities of Pak Army in defeating the terrorists. But, the US did not stop drone attacks which have shown American double game with Islamabad.
Nonetheless, in one of the major drone attacks, more than 40 civilians and policemen were killed on March 18, 2011 in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.
On the one side, US top officials have repeatedly stated that America needs Pakistan’s help not only for peace process with the Afghan Taliban, but also for stability in Afghanistan in the post-withdrawal scenario of NATO troops, but on the other, CIA-operated unmanned planes on Pak tribal regions have been undermining international efforts of stability both in Afghanistan and Pakistan including peace dialogue with the Afghan militants.
US ex-presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have opposed Obama’s faulty drone strategy. Even, Secretary of State John Kerry has also criticised unabated use of unilateral drones in Pakistan, saying, “US engagement with the world is not just about drones.”
Apart from widespread criticism from some US allies and human rights groups which have remarked that these aerial attacks are illegal and unethical, and violation of the targeted countries’ sovereignty, the United Nations Charter, universal declaration of human rights and international law, the US warrior President Obama remains obstinate to continue extrajudicial killings through CIA-operated drones.