Pakistan: Imran Khan’s march brings global attention to CIA drone strikes (Ross)

Alice K. Ross writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

US peace activists joined politicians, lawyers and the world’s press on Sunday as they attempted to march into Pakistan’s tribal region in protest at the CIA’s drone campaign.

The two-day march, organised by Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-presidential hopeful who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, set out from Islamabad on Saturday aiming to hold a rally in Kotkai, a town in the Waziristan border region that has seen most drone strikes. Access to Waziristan is tightly controlled and usually impossible for foreigners.

The real goal was to provoke discussion of the drone issue, and that goal was reached long before we got to Dera Ismail Khan’


- Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve

Tens of thousands of locals defied threats from the Taliban to join a convoy of vehicles that stretched 15km, according to Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve. The convoy, accompanied by journalists from around the world, paused overnight in Dera Ismail Khan – where locals welcomed visitors with barbecues, according to attendees.

The convoy left for Waziristan on Sunday morning despite warnings that the authorities would prevent it from entering the region.

‘We had been told we were going to be stopped by the authorities – but we were such a massive group that there was no way they could stop us: we went through a series of roadblocks,’ Stafford Smith told the Bureau. He described how the authorities blocked off roads using shipping containers – only for marchers to heave them out of the way.

Imran Khan (Photo: Katie Falkenberg/23rdStudios)

But the obstacles slowed the convoy and, having fallen behind schedule, it turned back before reaching Waziristan, and Khan held the rally outside the town of Tank attended by tens of thousands – Stafford Smith explains the rally was initially to be held in a stadium, but had to move outside to fit everyone in.

To many, it was no great surprise that the convoy did not make it to Waziristan.

‘We didn’t think we would get all the way to Kotkai – we were delighted to get as far as we did,’ said Medea Benjamin, of US peace activist group Code Pink. She added that members of her group were startled even to be granted visas for Pakistan.

‘I thought it was highly unlikely that we would even get to Dera Ismail Khan… We got further than everyone said we were going to get,’ said Stafford-Smith. ‘Nothing would have stopped us from getting into Waziristan apart from the delays imposed on us by the government.’

Despite not reaching Waziristan, Imran Khan and the attendees the Bureau spoke to insisted the march had been a success.

‘For us it was a tremendous success, because we got a chance to interact with local people and show them there are Americans who are against Obama’s policies,’ said Benjamin. ‘What we perceived was tremendous warmth and excitement that Americans had come so far [to show solidarity].’

‘The real goal was to provoke discussion of the drone issue, and that goal was reached on Saturday, long before we got to Dera Ismail Khan: there was a great deal of international and Pakistani coverage that was by far the most important goal,’ said Stafford Smith.

‘The aim was to highlight the issue and develop [the] international narrative,’ said human rights lawyer Shahzad Akhbar, who has launched legal cases on behalf of drone victims. ‘That aim has been achieved – and at the same time, there was a show of solidarity to the drone families and tribal population that’s living under drones.’

‘No deliberate strikes’
During the trip to Pakistan, peace activists also met with the acting US ambassador Richard Hoagland at the embassy in Islamabad to present a protest letter signed by 3,000 people – including author Alice Walker and film directors Oliver Stone and Danny Glover. Citing data by the Bureau indicating that at least 474 civilians have died in CIA drone strikes, the letter called for ‘an immediate moratorium’ on the attacks.

Photo: Katie Falkenberg/23rdStudios

During the meeting activists claim Hoagland became the first US official to comment publicly on the US tactic of targeting rescuers. According to Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy, when challenged on why the US carries out such strikes, ‘Hoagland said that there are never any deliberate strikes against civilian rescuers and that he has never in recent times seen any deliberate strike on rescuers.’

A spokesman for the US embassy said the meeting was private and declined to comment on the ambassador’s reported remarks. ‘Ambassador Hoagland did meet with Code Pink [and other activists] and received the petition. The right to free expression is enshrined in the Constitution and they are entitled to their views,’ he added. ‘The US has publicly addressed the legality of drone strikes, most recently in comments by John Brennan, and I would refer you to them.’

There’s a direct relationship between what we heard on the ground and what’s reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Stanford University’s study’


- Medea Benjamin, Code Pink

In May, Brennan made a speech insisting drone strikes were legal, ethical and necessary, adding the US puts a ‘premium’ on protecting ‘innocent civilians’.

Medea Benjamin said many issues reported by the Bureau – including strikes targeting rescuers and significant civilian casualties – were echoed in what locals told her.

‘There’s a direct relationship between what we heard on the ground and what’s reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Stanford University’s study – whether it’s talking about the high number of civilians killed, the targeting of rescuers or the terrorising of the local population,’ she said.

‘We also got a first-hand sense of how counterproductive the drones are by hearing of the desire for revenge from people who have lost loved ones.’

Yesterday, Imran Khan announced plans to hold another anti-drone demonstration at the United Nations building in New York – hours after drones fired four missiles into a house near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, reportedly killing up to six alleged militants.

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Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

23 Responses

  1. I think the Americans turned to drone warfare because the American general public was getting tired of hearing of the losses of Americans. Drone strikes are easy & done by remote control. Not too much in the way of people are necessary & they get to kill lots & lots of innocent people. However, these innocent people are not seen an innoncent people or even for that matter as people. They aren’t reported as such & the drone strikes go on.

    Drone strikes provide lots of work, they need to be built, sold, shipped, drone operators, etc. It works for the Americans & that is all their generals care about.

    Given the number of innocents killed in the course of the drone strikes I would suggest some one file some murder charges against the American government & the drone operators. They charge soliders with killing “innocent” people on the ground, why not others?

    Perhaps some slick american lawyer would like to file civil suits for wrongful death when innocent people are murdered by these drone strikes. I think a few wins & we’d see the end of drone strikes.

    • I think the Americans turned to drone warfare because the American general public was getting tired of hearing of the losses of Americans.

      The drone strikes have been carried out in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Was there some period when there were large American ground forces in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, taking heavy losses?

      they get to kill lots & lots of innocent people.

      There have been vastly fewer innocent people killed in drone strikes than in ordinary military operations in Afghanistan. Why is it that people who purport to be so concerned about civilian casualties are so focused on a much smaller cause of such deaths? Perhaps the answer is that 70% of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan are the fault of the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other anti-government forces, and that’s just not the story these people want to tell.

      Given the number of innocents killed in the course of the drone strikes I would suggest some one file some murder charges against the American government & the drone operators. They charge soliders with killing “innocent” people on the ground, why not others?

      Because the accidental killing of civilians in military operations targeting actual combatants is not murder, and is not legally prosecutable under any national or international law. The soldiers who have been charged with murder were deliberately killing civilians for sport, not accidently hitting the wrong people.

      • Confabulation and false equivalence: You really maintain that the recent popularity of drone and other kinds of “remote contro warfare” by our “security forces” are unrelated to the casualties and financial costs of war, US Imperial Style, complete with the usual enormous theft, fraud and waste? (What can “we”, you know, “win” there, anyway?) That the whole idea of the drone program was not to do mini-decapitation and terrorizing populations into not supporting their “militants?” Kind of like the Phoenix Program? Not to mention to kill Bad Wogs, because “we” ran out of room at Guantanamo? Not to mention that drone strikes are, by policy, conducted to support US big-war operations in Afghanistan.

        And you have but one answer for why US forces are at war in Somalia and Yemen and so many other places: that AUMF way back when. Not all guys with turbans and AKs are “terrorists,” anyway, and it’s patently clear that the dronists don’t do the greatest job of discriminating. Forget, of course, the fundamental questions about whether the whole freakin’ exercise is anything more than an expensive folly that fails to achieve even the moving-target missions that are decreed to be so vitally important to the other moving target: “US interests.”

        As to civilian casualties, you sure seem to have little in the way of concern about them, whoever is the killer: “Why is it that people who purport to be so concerned about civilian casualties are so focused on a much smaller cause of such deaths?” you say. What is the game? Making everyone in Central Asia say “Uncle”?

        And so convenient that you find it perfectly “legal” to “accidentally” kill “innocent civilians” in hostilities occasioned by actions like the invasion, under a pale whitewash of “legality,” of Afghanistan, a place that with or without a deadline for withdrawal will eventually give the US the same bye-bye it gave the Soviets. As to not being prosecutable anywhere in the world, you want to be so absolute about that?

  2. Medea Benjamin says, ‘we got a sense of how counterproductive drones are by hearing of the desire for revenge from people who lost loved ones’. But of those who lost loved ones, what percentage really want revenge? Of those who want revenge, only a fraction will act on that desire. Of those who try to take revenge, few will have the skills of the high-value targets that are supposedly being taken out. So drones may be ‘productive’ in a war. They may , however, be immoral. When the drone operators know there is a good chance some good guys will be killed alongside their targets, they’re just putting a low value on the lives of some innocents. They wouldn’t target a bad guy if they knew there were CIA agents sitting next to him. But some unimportant Pakistanis…well, some lives are more important than others.
    There are kids who were killed by drones because they were too close to someone thought to be a bad guy. They are every bit as dead as kids who are deliberately targeted by the Taliban. And Mr. Obama is responsible for their deaths.

    • There are also children – a much larger number of them – who are alive because al Qaeda has been degraded so much that their ability to wantonly, deliberately slaughter innocent civilians is a small fraction of what it used to be.

      And Mr. Obama is responsible for their lives.

      • Well, whatever Obama did to degrade al Queda, he has been unable to do in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties are the highest they’ve been since the invasion. 77% of the casualties in 2011 where caused by the Taliban and other anti-government forces. Obama put a lot of resources into Afghanistan, and things have not gone well.

  3. ‘We also got a first-hand sense of how counterproductive the drones are by hearing of the desire for revenge from people who have lost loved ones.’

    This is a bogus argument. Virtually none of the terrorists who have carried out attacks against the United States come from countries against whom the United States has waged war. The 9/11 hijackers, for instance, were from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Yemen. The attack was organized by a Kuwaiti, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, under the orders of a Saudi, Osama bin Laden. These are all countries that are American allies, and we have never gone to war against them.

    If the theory that terrorist is caused by people seeking revenge for people killed in wars was true, al Qaeda would consist of Iraqis, Afghans, and Iranians – three nationalities that are completely, or almost completely, absent from al Qaeda’s ranks, but who come from countries that have seen American military force used against them.

    The original concept of “blowback” focused on the danger produced by support for oppressive, undemocratic governments, not military action, and the evidence seems to indicate that this theory was correct.

    • Medea Benjamin is arguing a different point than what you wrote, coming at it from the view “on the ground,” from the perspective of the communities *receiving* the impact of drone technology. If you are saying “Blowback” is only relevant in the case of NOT taking action on supporters of “oppressive, undemocratic governments,” well ‘blowback’ really has wider implications than being allowed for in the comment above, which is kinda selective in its application of what blowback is.

      Is there no cause and reaction in the case of military or drone campaigns? Are people on the ground being supportive of receiving drone attacks? It might seem that way to us, tucked in the West ensconced in our easy chairs unawares because our media is too afraid to visit these communities, so news is cut off. But things fester, sometimes take time to boil over, and hopefully you dont have to run a war in a neighboring country needing the support of the other country where you are conducting strikes. In case you havent noticed, things suck relationship-wise at the state-to-state level between the Pakistanis and us. In addition, there is now an Al-qaeda in Iraq — there wasn’t before we invaded, Iran is enjoying an enhanced strategic position, and Afghanistan is a security black hole. Things are not going swimmingly well

      • Kyzal,

        There is no evidence for the “cause and effect” you, and Benjamin, postulate. In fact, the evidence is strongly in the other direction. Not only is there no correlation between the countries the US goes to war with and the countries that terrorists come from; there is a strong negative correlation. On the other hand, there is a strong positive correlation between the non-democratic Muslim countries that are US allies and the countries anti-American terrorists come from.

        You say “It takes time for things to fester.” Well, we invaded Iraq over twenty years ago, a decade before 9/11, and imposed sanctions throughout that decade. Where are the Iraqi terrorists? We invaded Afghanistan over a decade ago now. Where are the Afghan terrorist attacks? The time has been there, and the evidence is in.

        Now, on the question of state-to-state relations (not the issue Benjamin brought up), there is a stronger case..

      • In addition, there is now an Al-qaeda in Iraq — there wasn’t before we invaded, Iran is enjoying an enhanced strategic position, and Afghanistan is a security black hole. Things are not going swimmingly well

        Why are you talking about Iraq, in response to a comment about drone strikes against targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia?

    • Hey, Joe: You’re the one tossing out the red herring that the “theory” of terrorism is revenge for US killing of their village mates or nationals. There’s a subset of every population, like the PashTaliban in the FATA, like Tim McVeigh and that Norwegian guy, and other folks whose lives are impacted by “policies” and imagery and the idiot human need for “an enemy,” who will pick up an AK or an RPG-29 or dig a hole to fill with “re-purposed” US-made artillery rounds or bombs, or just that fertilizer-and-diesel-fuel stuff. These folks are largely interchangeable, whatever the surficial “reasons” for their resort to that so-soul-satisfying violence may be. (And even some fraction of good ol’ US GIs are not above killing “wogs” for fun, or of course out of REVENGE for some other wog or wogs having killed or wounded some of their Band of Brothers.)

      YOU are the one who needs to drive all discourse into a simplistic disputation, consistent with how you believe the world works or ought to. Even the military here now mostly eschews the word “terrorist,” recognizing that repetition coupled with patent inconsistency with reality over time takes the power out of the “enemy demonization” term and forces the leadership into ever more idiotic and ineffectual doctrines and tactics. Not even redefining the mission can give a “rational” face to the “giant hammer” approach to all the different reasons that humans do “terrorism,” including faceless Hellfire launches into groups of other humans. (It used to be, in a lot of places like Northern Ireland and South Africa and such, that a gathering of more than 3 people was presumed to be revolution-plotting and insurrection.)

      All you guys got is serial apologetics for What We Do, in all its complexity, from Coca-colonialism to “regime change” to supporting dictators for “administrative convenience,” et effing cetera, to now setting up “bases” or “areas” or whatever cover words are au courant all over the planet at enormous expense to do exactly WHAT, again?

      There’s no freakin’ way to use military force or fear to establish US hegemony, any more than the much more brutal and efficient Soviet and Israeli and other entities’ resort to those “tools of statecraft” have been in achieving “security” or even assuring longevity of their political forms. Just a question: how would you and Mr. Bill, our other resident apologist for How Things Are Done, react to say a Canadian drone, circling overhead, launching an ‘Eh?fire’ missile into your daughter’s wedding reception? Maybe not make an instant “terrorist” of you, but maybe predispose you, as one tiny little member of a target class, to add whatever little you can do in local politics, your little militia group, or if you have bigger ambitions and involvement, into setting policy in support of larger groups who can reach out and touch folks in Ottawa or Alberta with the tools of asymmetric battle?

      Too complex for sound bites, of course. And the momentum, and the flow of huge amounts of money and power, as you full well know, is in the direction of your preference and belief structure. Too bad for the rest of us soft targets and bugsplats…

      (3×5 check: yep, got ‘em all in.)

      And RBTL: What do you consider Joe’s “good point” to be, again?

      • JT,

        Hey, Joe: You’re the one tossing out the red herring that the “theory” of terrorism is revenge for US killing of their village mates or nationals.

        Would it really be too much to ask you to read the story before telling me I’m creating a red herring?

        Benjamin: ‘We also got a first-hand sense of how counterproductive the drones are by hearing of the desire for revenge from people who have lost loved ones.’

        Seriously: try to get your facts right, instead of always, always, always leading with your emotions. It’s a good way to avoid stupid mistakes.

      • YOU are the one who needs to drive all discourse into a simplistic disputation, consistent with how you believe the world works or ought to.

        Says the guy who worked “Killing wogs for fun” into his comment.

        You are a parody. People are going to start thinking I’m paying you to make me look good.

  4. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that there are only two possible ways that the war comes to a close:
    — Either the sensible, rational, well-informed high government officials in the State and Defense Departments and the NSC negotiate a settlement with the leaders of the opposition; or
    — the powerless, ignorant, naive “activists,” with their vain protests, like Stafford-Smith and Code Pink, get the American Public to demand the war be ended.

    If I had to bet, I’d bet on Stafford-Smith.

    • There is another scenario — our treasury is further drained, our economic crisis and we wind up in recession for decades like the British after WWI

    • Maybe that’s because there are damn few “sensible, rational, well-informed high government officials in the State and Defense Departments and the NSC.”

      And of course as with Vietnam, with Reagan’s Lebanon involvement, with Iraq, and a bunch of other imperial adventures, there clearly are other ways that “the war,” or whatever it might be called, comes to a close. As in, exhaustion, bankruptcy, a new crusade flogged by the neocons to distract from the current inevitable failure of the latest one, “declaring victory,” cutting-and-running like the Soviets, stuff like that.

    • Brian,

      The sensible, rational, well-informed high government officials in the White House have already established that the war in Afghanistan is going to end, and provided a timeline.

      And they did this back in 2009, when the war in Afghanistan was still popular, and the powerless, ignorant, naive “activists” like Medea Benajamin have managed to alter that policy by exactly zero.

  5. This is a real whitewash of Imran Khan, known to Pakistani liberals as “Taliban Khan.” See this from Jan Burke in the Observer, link to guardian.co.uk

    “Khan’s party has been keeping some strange company recently, sharing a platform, for example, with the Difa-e-Pakistan or Pakistan Defence Council. This is a coalition of extremist groups which wants to end any Pakistani alliance with the USA and includes people who not only explicitly support the Afghan Taliban but who are associated with terrorist and sectarian violence. At one recent rally of the council in Islamabad, I met members of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni group which has murdered thousands of Shias, while around me hundreds chanted: “Death to America.” Lashkar-e-Toiba, the organisation responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai in India in which 166 died, is also part of the coalition. Mian Mohammed Aslam, the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a mass Islamist party similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Islamic world and dedicated to a similarly hardline, conservative programme, spoke warmly of “close relations” with Khan, even going as far as raising the prospect of an electoral pact with Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf in the coming elections…”

    Also see link to opendemocracy.net

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