Terrorism by Drone: How U.S. Bombing Makes Pakistani Civilians Endure a Living Hell
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The near constant presence of CIA drones ‘terrorises’ much of the civilian population of Pakistan’s tribal areas according to a new report.
Men, women and children are subjected to almost constant trauma – including fear of attack, severe anxiety, powerlessness, insomnia and high levels of stress – says a nine month investigation into CIA drone strikes in Pakistan by two top US university law schools. More than 130 ‘victims, witnesses and experts’ were interviewed in Pakistan for the study.
A number of those eyewitnesses corroborated the Bureau’s own recent findings – that rescuers have been deliberately targeted by the CIA in the tribal areas.
The new study heavily challenges US government claims that few civilians have died in CIA drone strikes, saying that there is ‘significant evidence’ to the contrary.
As the report notes in its executive summary: ‘In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.’
Impact on civilians
The joint report, Living Under Drones, is by Stanford University’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, and New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic. The 165-page study looks at key aspects of the CIA’s drone programme – its legal basis, how strikes are reported, their strategic implications – and how civilians are affected.
Psychiatrists and doctors report a deeply stressed population in parts of the tribal areas. In their ninth year of bombing, US drones now fly almost constantly over towns such as Mir Ali and Miranshah.
One psychiatrist told researchers that many of his patients experience ‘anticipatory anxiety,’ a constant fear that they might come under attack. The report goes on to note that:
Interviewees described emotional breakdowns, running indoors or hiding when drones appear above, fainting, nightmares and other intrusive thoughts, hyper startled reactions to loud noises, outbursts of anger or irritability, and loss of appetite and other physical symptoms. Interviewees also reported suffering from insomnia and other sleep disturbances, which medical health professionals in Pakistan stated were prevalent.’
Pakistani MP Akhunzada Chitan reported that when he visits Waziristan to see his family, people ‘often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming’ because of the drones.
The Stanford/ NYU report also examines in detail three Obama administration drone strikes. Multiple eye-witness reports of civilian deaths are accompanied by ‘corroborating evidence from other independent investigations, media accounts, and submissions to the United Nations, and courts in the UK and Pakistan.’
In total, more than 50 civilians are likely to have died in these three strikes alone, the report concludes. Anonymous US officials were still claiming recently that civilian deaths have only been in ‘single digits’ during Obama’s entire four years in office.
Attacks on rescuers corroborated
The NYU/ Stanford report also independently corroborates a major Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times, which found that multiple CIA strikes between 2009 and summer 2011 had deliberately targeted rescuers and funeral-goers. Citing a number of eyewitness accounts, the study notes:
Secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.’
Hayatullah Ayoub Khan was driving in North Waziristan when the car ahead of him was damaged in a drone strike. The report says that as Khan approached on foot to see if he could help ‘someone inside yelled that he should leave immediately because another missile would likely strike.’ As he returned to his car, a second missile killed whoever had been inside.