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Unmanned Gods of Destruction: How Drone Strikes Kill Civilians And Target Rescuers

Drone strikes violate Pakistan's sovereignty and impede peace efforts in the region.

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Recently the Rehman family went on a some 7,000 mile journey, traveling from their village in Pakistan's North Waziristan region to Washington, DC., so as to recount the harrowing events that took place last October, which were thoroughly documented by a report released by Amnesty International last week. Rafiq Rehman, an elementary school teacher, addressed a small audience during a congressional briefing, describing in vivid detail how his mother, 67-year-old midwife Momina Bibi, was killed and his children, Nabila, 9, and her 13-year-old brother, Zubair, were injured by a US drone strike.

This “historic” briefing, wherein for the first time Congress heard victims of US drone strikes speak not only for themselves but also on behalf of the dead, drew five congresspersons — a meagre five elected officials chose to face the victims of US militarism and listen as their heart-wrenching tragedy unfolded once more.

Those in attendance, including Alan Grayson, who hosted the briefing, Jan Schakowsky, Rick Nolan, John Conyer and Rush Holt all argued that the drone strikes did not amount to war crimes. Alan Grayson, despite having called drone strikes “ dead wrong ”, contended that war crimes were not committed because there was a lack of intent to kill civilians.

This contention ignores signature strikes as well as secondary strikes, the latter of which often target first responders, the civilian rescuers attempting to provide medical assistance to those injured by drone strikes. Drone strikes are a flagrant breach of international law, as they violate Pakistan's sovereignty, have not met legal obligations to ensure transparency and accountability and have allowed civilians to become objects of attack. The justifications offered by the Obama administration include jus ad bellum , citing imminent threats against the United States, yet not even an atoms-worth of evidence has been provided to support this contention. The ' Authorization for Use of Military Force' (AUMF), passed by Congress in 2001, and which has been renewed each year since, has been used by the Obama administration as a legal justification for the use of drone strikes as it provides a cover for use of military force. Despite the text of the AUMF focusing on the use of force against “organizations, or persons [The President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons...” the Obama administration has used this document as a pretext for the extrajudicial assassination program.

The drone strikes also impede efforts to implement stable negotiations and peace efforts in the region, as Rafiq Rehman noted during the briefing:

“...there are better ways to go about it than these drones, perhaps through discussions and negotiations with whoever they are targeting.”

The killing of Momina Bibi, for which the Rehman family has never received a formal explanation or apology from the Obama administration, has never been investigated nor publicly acknowleged. Does the Obama administration even know her name, or the names of the countless other victims of the US drone war?

Nabila Rehman described the agonizing incident to a room that was almost bare — her voice filling every corner with what it usually lacks: the weighty sound of dignity:

It was the day before Eid, and my grandmother had asked me to come help her outside as we were collecting okra, the vegetables, and then I saw from the sky a drone, and I heard the dum-dumnoise. Everything was dark, and I couldn’t see anything, but I heard a scream. I don’t know if it was my grandmother, but I couldn’t see her. I was very scared, and all I could think of doing was just run. I kept running, but I felt something in my hand. And I looked at my hand. There was blood. I tried to bandage my hand, but the blood kept coming. The blood wouldn’t stop.”

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