Why I Interrupted Obama's Counterterrorism Adviser: Because the U.S. Keeps Killing Innocents Abroad
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Brennan’s speech came the day after another U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, one that killed three alleged militants. After the strike, the Pakistani government voiced its strongest and most public condemnation yet, accusing the United States of violating Pakistani sovereignty, calling the campaign “a total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations.” Earlier in April the Pakistani Parliament unanimously condemned drone strikes and established a new set of guidelines for rebuilding the country’s frayed relationship with the United States, which included the immediate cessation of all drone strikes in Pakistani territory.
The attacks in Pakistan, carried out by the CIA, started in 2004. Since then, there have been over 300 strikes. The areas where the strikes take place have been sealed off by the Pakistani security forces, so it has been difficult to get accurate reports about deaths and damages. John Brennan has denied that innocents have even been killed. Speaking in June 2011 about the preceding year, he said “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Mr. Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.”
This is just not true. The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism is the group that keeps the best count of casualties from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. According to its figures, since 2004, U.S. has killed between about 2,500-3,000 people in Pakistan. Of those, between 479 and 811 were civilians, 174 of them children.
Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has been representing drone victims and who started the group Foundation for Fundamental Rights, disputes even these figures and claims that the vast majority of those killed are ordinary civilians. “I have a problem with this word ‘militant.’ Most of the victims who are labeled militants might be Taliban sympathizers but they are not involved in any criminal or terrorist acts, and certainly not against the United States,” he claimed. He said the Americans often assumes that if someone wears a turban, has a beard and carries a weapon, he is a combatant. “That is a description of all the men in that region of Pakistan. It is part of their culture.” Shahzad believes that only those people who the Americans label “high-value targets”, which would be less than 200, should be considered militants; all others should be considered civilian victims.
While President Obama is gearing up for an election campaign and using his drone-strike killing spree to as a sign of his tough stance on national security, people from across the United States and around the world are organizing to rein in the drones.
Gathering in Washington DC on April 28-29, they came up with a new campaign to educate the American public about civilian deaths in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere as a result of the use of drones for illegal killing and to pressure members of Congress, President Obama, federal agencies, and state and local governments to restrict the use of drones for illegal killing and surveillance. The tactics include court challenges, delegations to the affected regions, direct action at U.S. bases from where the drones are operated, student campaigns to divest from companies involved in the production of killer drones and outreach to faith-based communities.