In a remarkable ruling (pdf), the Peshawar High Court has ruled that US drone strikes carried out within Pakistan are illegal, that they are war crimes and that they must be stopped immediately. The court also directed Pakistan’s military to intervene should drones enter Pakistan air space.
As described by Alice Ross at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this ruling comes in a case brought by the son of one of the tribal elders killed in the March 17, 2011 drone strike that killed as many as 40 innocent elders gathered to discuss mineral rights:
The judgment applies to a lengthy case against the CIA brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights on behalf of Noor Khan, a tribesman whose father was among dozens of civilians killed in a drone strike on a gathering of tribal elders on March 17 2011. Last year, Noor Khan also attempted to bring legal action against the UK government for providing information that could lead to deaths in drone strikes, in a case backed by legal charity Reprieve. The attempt was refused but he is appealing.
Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who argued the Peshawar case, said: ‘It is a landmark judgment: drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This ruling will also prove to be a test for the new government as if drones continue and government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.’
The Independent described the case and ruling further:
In what activists said was an historic decision, the Peshawar High Court issued the verdict against the strikes by CIA-operated spy planes in response to four petitions that contended the attacks killed civilians and caused “collateral damage”.
Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the petitions, ruled the drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter on human rights. The court said the strikes must be declared a war crime as they killed innocent people.
“The government of Pakistan must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future,” the court said, according to the Press Trust of India. It asked Pakistan’s foreign ministry to table a resolution against the American attacks in the UN.
“If the US vetoes the resolution, then the country should think about breaking diplomatic ties with the US,” the judgment said.
For more background on the Peshawar High Court itself, this web page describes its jurisdiction and also has links to its history and other relevant information.
The ruling itself runs 22 pages. It begins by reciting the facts and requests provided by the petitioners to the court (emphasis added): Continue reading
In a sane world, John Brennan would be on his best behavior while his nomination to lead the CIA is pending approval in the Senate. Sadly, the world we inhabit has become so insane that Brennan’s “best behavior” appears to be a return to drone strikes that come with alarming frequency and include so many missiles fired at each target that it seems likely Brennan has returned to the war crime of attacking first responders who are attempting to rescue survivors at the attack site.
I had noted last May that at least some US drone strikes appeared to have underpinnings that were as political as they were strategic, and my belief in that premise was strengthened as Brennan and the CIA escalated attacks to near daily at the time when US-Pakistan relations had reached a low point during negotiations to re-open NATO supply routes through Pakistan. Although some of the attacks I have described as political seem to have been very poorly targeted, especially the attack that killed 42 people gathered for a jirga just after the release of Raymond Davis, I was encouraged as the attacks slowed and appeared to be targeted on stronger underlying intelligence last fall and this winter.
However, it appears that the pace of attacks is picking up once again, both in frequency and in the number of people killed in each attack. Bill Roggio noted in Long War Journal that the attack on Sunday was already the fourth attack of January in only its sixth day. That attack left 17 dead, although it appears that three separate compounds were targeted in the attack. Today, we have yet another strike, bringing the total to five in eight days. Today’s attack, at least according to the Express Tribune, came in two separate waves, and raises the question of whether the US is once again targeting first responders who are trying to rescue survivors:
US operated armed drones fired missiles in Mir Ali and Essukhel area of North Waziristan in two sorties early on Tuesday morning killing at least eight people, Express News reported.
According to Express News, the CIA-operated drones first fired at least eight missiles at a compound in Haiderkhel area of Miranshah killing five people. Four people were also injured in the attack.
Locals are sifting through the rubble to recover the bodies of the dead and rescue the injured.
In a second attack in as many hours, drone attacks killed at least three people.
Although the Express Tribune article could be read in a way to believe that the two sorties might not have hit the same compound, an article by Reuters and two different AP articles in the New York Times and Washington Post all make it clear that today’s attack concentrated on a single compound. Going back to the information in the Express Tribune article, then, we see eight missiles fired in the first volley. We have no information on how much time passed between missiles or if first responders had time to get to the scene and begin rescue operations. However, the second sortie, described as within two hours, seems quite likely to have been carried out despite the presence of “Locals” described by the Express Tribune as “sifting through the rubble to recover the bodies of the dead and rescue the injured”.
Such is the moral rectitude of the man who has been nominated to be the Director of the CIA. He has once again knowingly targeted first responders who were attempting to rescue survivors from a previous attack.
Update: Long War Journal now reports that today’s strikes were on two different compounds. The primary conclusion about targeting first responders still stands, since it still is being reported that eight missiles were fired at the first compound.
Yesterday evening, I took the ill-advised step of jumping into an already ongoing Twitter discussion with Professor Christine Fair on the topic of drones in Pakistan. My jumping in was ill-advised on two fronts: I had not seen the comments to which Fair was responding, but, more importantly, I can’t come close to the experience, language skills and overall knowledge Fair brings to the issues of South Asia.
My first entry into the discussion was to respond to a statement from Fair in which she said that she supports drones and does not believe their use to be collective punishment. I asked whether the use of drones to attack first responders and mourners in Pakistan qualified as collective punishment and in a follow-up provided a link to the work by Chris Woods and Christina Lamb at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism where they document such attacks. Fair’s response was to point out that Woods and Lamb have not been to FATA and that the Pakistani press is heavily manipulated. She referred me to a piece she wrote for Monkey Cage for elaboration on the points she was making.
It appears that this is the post Fair was asking that I read. Before diving into it, I should point out that it is about a year old and was written primarily in response to earlier work by Woods and Lamb. For fairness, I should also point out that from the context of other tweets later in the evening, Fair was a passenger in a car during our conversation and so would have been working with fewer resources at hand than if at home and using a computer.
With that as prologue, here is Fair’s dissection of the reliance on press reports for analysis of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas (BIJ is The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and NAF is the New America Foundation, where Peter Bergen and others have produced another drone strike database):
Their methodologies and data are fundamental weaknesses, although neither seem aware of this. Both NAF and BIJ claim that they have assembled a database which covers each individual strike in Pakistan in detail. Unfortunately, both efforts fundamentally rely upon Pakistani press reports of drone attacks. Both claim that they use non-Pakistani media reports as well. For example the BIJ explains in their methodology discussion that the “…the most comprehensive information on casualties lies in the thousands of press reports of drone strikes filed by reputable national and international media since 2004. Most reports are filed within a day or two of an attack. Sometimes relevant reports can be filed weeks – even years – after the initial strike. We identify our sources at all times, and provide a direct link to the material where possible.”
While these methodologies at first blush appear robust, they don’t account for a simple fact that non-Pakistani reports are all drawing from the same sources: Pakistani media accunts [sic]. How can they not when journalists, especially foreign journalists, cannot enter Pakistan’s tribal areas? Unfortunately, Pakistani media reports are not likely to be accurate in any measure and subject to manipulation and outright planting of accounts by the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) and the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militant outfits.
The more recent report from Woods and Lamb (in which the first responder accusations are made), however, appears to have taken steps to address at least a portion of the shortcomings Fair has pointed out. Since it is not safe for foreign journalists to enter the tribal areas, Woods and Lamb engaged a group of local researchers to carry out interviews on their behalf: Continue reading
Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized to Pakistan over the November attack on a Pakistan border post in which the US killed 24 Pakistani troops. The apology was delivered on Tuesday and the first supply trucks passed through the Chaman border crossing into Afghanistan on Thursday (who knew Pakistan took July 4th off?). I noted on Thursday that the Express Tribune was reporting that “protection money” would once again be flowing to the Taliban in Afghanistan to secure safe passage for the supply convoys. I asked if we would see an uptick in Taliban attacks on NATO due to the increased cash flow. Sadly, it did not take long for an answer to that question, as the Taliban today has claimed responsibility for an IED attack yesterday that killed six Americans. And just in case you were wondering whether the reopening of the border crossings meant that the US would curtail drone strikes inside Pakistan, the US struck on Friday, just one day after the crossings opened. This was a particularly brutal attack, with missiles striking initially and then in at least two follow-up strikes at the same site. It seems likely that at least some of those targeted in the follow-on strikes may have been rescue personnel.
Here is my question from Thursday on whether the Taliban will be able to step up attacks on NATO due to increased cash flow from protection money:
It will be very interesting to see whether the Afghan Taliban is suddenly able to bring more weapons and IED’s into their attacks on NATO now that they have a renewed source of funding.
The Washington Post describes the IED attack that killed six Americans and the Taliban claiming responsibility:
All six troops killed in a weekend roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan were Americans, NATO confirmed Monday.
The Taliban on Monday claimed responsibility for the deaths of the six U.S. troops — the latest caused by bombs planted by insurgents along roads, paths or mountain tracks.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement the blast struck the U.S. troops in their armored vehicle around 8 p.m. Sunday in Wardak province, just south of Kabul.
But the Taliban were busy, as that was not their only attack:
Also in the east, authorities said gunmen assassinated a chief prosecutor in Ghazni province Monday morning as he drove to work. Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy provincial governor, said Sahar Gul was shot twice — once in the head and once in the chest.
The Taliban routinely target Afghan government officials to weaken support for President Hamid Karzai’s administration.
It appears that despite Pakistan’s continued protests over US drone strikes, the US did not slow drone strikes either just before or just after the agreement that allowed the border crossings to reopen. There was a strike on July 1, just two days before Clinton issued her apology and then the strike on Friday, just one day after the first supply trucks in over six months crossed into Afghanistan.
More details on Friday’s strike come from al Jazeera:
At least 21 people have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan’s North Waziristan days after the South Asian country agreed to reopen the NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
According to official sources, six missiles were fired from a US drone at a compound in Gharlamay village of Datta Khel town near the border with neighbouring Afghanistan.
Security officials identified the dead as “militants”.
The initial strike on a house killed nine. Then three others were killed in a second attack when they drove to the site to recover dead bodies. And a third drone killed another three five minutes later, a senior security official in Peshawar told the AFP news agency.
So not only is the US continuing to send drones into Pakistan when Pakistan’s citizens are demanding a stop to the practice, the worst aspects of those attacks are continuing. Even though it has been pointed out very clearly that it is US policy to send follow-on attacks on sites while rescuers are looking for victims of the attack and the UN has pointed out that this practice constitutes a war crime, the US continues the practice in the most offensive way possible by repeating it only one day after an event that could have been a major step forward in US-Pakistan relations.
Even though earlier in the year he may have been trying to dodge war crime accusations, John Brennan now has become a honey badger. He don’t care about war crimes or demands from Pakistan’s citizens and government.
John Brennan must feel that Pakistan’s morale has only improved marginally, because what was an average of almost one drone strike a day has now fallen to about a half drone strike a day. Three successive days of strikes (with a total death toll of 27) have brought to eight the number of strikes in the two weeks since last-minute negotiations on the reopening of supply routes through Pakistan broke down and Brennan decided to rain terror down on Pakistan once again.
Today’s attack killed 15 in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. In the AFP story carried in Dawn, we have no less than two officials confirming that those killed were “militants” even though their nationalities aren’t known:
“Fifteen militants were killed in a dawn strike on a compound. The bodies of those killed were unable to be identified,” a security official in Miramshah told AFP.
He said there were reports that some foreigners had been killed but these were unable to be confirmed.
A security official in Peshawar confirmed the attack and said 15 militants were killed.
“We have received reports that 15 militants have been killed in a drone strike but at this moment we don’t know about their nationalities,” the official said.
“We are also unclear about the number of the militants who were present in the compound at the time of attack.” The latest attack came amid an uptick in drone strikes.
Coverage of this strike in the Express Tribune is quite interesting. It has near the beginning the usual quote of a local official asserting those killed were militants, but includes an admission that “locals” were among those killed:
A security official said that the compound was targeted in the Esokhel area of Mir Ali and that locals along with foreign militants were killed. “I don’t know how many foreign militants were killed but we are sure that foreigners were among the dead,” said an official of the security force.
But then we get to a tribesman being quoted, and what he has to say is revealing:
According to a tribesman who was an eyewitness, the compound was razed to the ground after the attack. “I didn’t go near the house, as I avoid going near places where drone strikes take place,” he added.
Why would local tribesmen “avoid going near places where drone strikes take place”? Why that’s because the US intentionally targets first responders at drone strikes:
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.