Jack Serle writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Pitch Interactive have visualised every CIA drone strike and every casualty in Pakistan.
A new interactive graphic, which uses the Bureau’s drone data, has brought a fresh perspective to the CIA’s nine-year drone campaign in Pakistan.
A team of developers has pulled together every known drone strike and casualty from data provided by the Bureau and New America Foundation. This data has been represented in an interactive timeline which allows the viewer to see how the campaign builds over time, as well as the number of people killed.
Pitch Interactive, a California-based commercial web-development studio, has produced the interactive as part of a pro-bono programme.
The project, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, aims to capture the scale and human cost of the drone war in Pakistan through its visual representation of the CIA’s covert Pakistan drone war from the first event in 2004 to the latest strike.
Wesley Grubbs, who leads the team at Pitch Interactive, told the Bureau that the team set out ‘to cause people to pause for a moment and say “Wow I’ve never seen this in that light before”.’
The visualisation uses an average of the casualty data collected by the Bureau’s Covert Drone War project, combined with data collected by New America Foundation which tallies the number of high value targets reported killed in the strikes.
The CIA drone campaign in Pakistan has received much attention in recent months. The debate intensified after last month’s Senate confirmation hearing for new CIA director John Brennan, a leading architect of President Obama’s drone strategy.
Earlier this month Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, added to the debate after stating that Pakistan did not support the drone strikes. His statement was made following a visit to the country as part of a UN investigation into the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes. Emmerson also said CIA drones had killed 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians, according to Pakistan authorities.
But despite the public debate that has played-out over recent months, Grubbs believes the full scope and consequences of the drone war are still obscured. ’We feel that drone strikes are a very hot topic right now but we feel people are being misled,’ he said.
Alice K. Ross writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.
In evidence to Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians. This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.
The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.
The US drone campaign in Pakistan… involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
Ben Emmerson QC
The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.
The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.
Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.
In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ’The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.
The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.
‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.
Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’
Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.
Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’
A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.
‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.
The Guardian reports that Ben Emmerson, the UN’s special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, says that the Pakistani government has given no tacit consent to US drone strikes according to a search of government records. Therefore, he concludes, the strikes are likely illegal in international law.
US drone strikes according to Pakistan government statistics:
Number of US drone strikes on Pakistan’s tribal belt since 2004: 330
Congressional authorizations for attack on Pakistan: 0
Number of people killed by the strikes: 2,200
Average number of people killed per strike: 6.6
Number of people wounded by the strikes: 600
Average number of people wounded per strike: 1.8
Number of known non-combatant civilians killed: 400
Further number of suspected non-combatant civilians killed: 200
Average number of innocent civilians likely killed by each strike: 1.8
Percentage of those killed that are likely innocent civilians: 27
The headlines this week were full of stories from the Muslim world about Muslims attacking the Muslim religious Right, whether the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Jama’at-i Islami in Bangladesh. The rise of the religious Right in politics is producing a backlash throughout the region. Part of the backlash comes from secularists of Muslim heritage. But a significant part of it comes from believing Muslims, who oppose the sectarian and authoritarian approach of the religious Right parties, or who are uncomfortable with some of their stances toward longstanding Muslim religious practices, such as spiritual visits to the shrines of Muslim saints (a practice condemned by Wahhabism, Salafism, Talibanism, and other religious-right currents).
Nationalism plays a role in Muslim “anti-Islamism,” since many on the religious Right in the Muslim world have pan-Muslim concerns.
Thus, the Jama’at-i Islami in Bangladesh opposed the 1971 secession of that country from Pakistan. In that bloody struggle, Pakistani troops committed atrocities and some Jama’at leaders were accused of aiding them. A vital youth movement of critics of the Jama’at has been demonstrating for months demanding trials for those accused. The sentencing this week of leading Jama’at figure Delwar Hossein Seyedee for his role in 1971 atrocities satisfied the critics of the Muslim religious Right in that country, but provoked Jama’at riots that left dozens dead.
In Egypt in the past few months we have seen Muslim crowds attack and sometimes burn provincial headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not clear who exactly is behind these acts, but that they are of Muslim heritage is certain.
The Jama’at-i Islami in Pakistan still suffers reputationally for having allied with coup-maker Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1970s and 1980s, and Tahir al-Qadri’s Sufi-based Mizan ul-Qur’an is attempting to supplant it. (He has reinvented himself as a relative liberal, condemning violence and terrorism of the al-Qaeda/ Taliban sort, while the Jama’at, though not itself for the most part violent, has been reluctant forthrightly to condemn these tendencies). Many Pakistanis vote for parties opposed to the religious Right. The Urdu-speakers of Karachi support the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is secular-minded. Most Pakistani Pushtuns voted for the National Awami Party, a party of Pushtun sub-nationalism that opposes the Taliban and the religious Right.
I don’t like the term “Islamism,” which was promoted by French scholars in preference to the American “Muslim fundamentalism,” since they thought the latter too Protestant in inspiration (it has no exact counterpart in French, where “integrisme” is sometimes used by analogy from ultramontane, hard line Catholicism). I think “Muslim fundamentalism” is better because, as the Chicago University project on fundamentalisms showed, it allows us to see the phenomenon in the context of similar movements in other religions. Moreover, I think the term is confusing because it is too close to “Islam” per se, and I don’t agree with figures such as Gilles Keppel who see the “Islamists” as unusually “pious,” implying that they are the real Muslims. Secular-minded Muslims who are nevertheless believers, and Sufi mystics, are also “pious,” and I don’t think social scientists should be deciding who is a better Muslim.
“Political Islam” has been proposed as an alternative, but if it implies the fundamentalist groups, it is also inadequate. In Egypt the Wasat [Center] Party and now Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Fotouh’s Strong Egypt are a form of relatively liberal political Islam to the left of Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Sufis are entering politics (many in Egypt supported Wasat).
That is why I suggest the usage, “Muslim religious Right” for righting, fundamentalist religion in politics. It seems to me to fit the major such movements, such as the Jama’at-i Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood, and it allows us to put religious politics in the Muslim world on a spectrum– from secular, to religious but liberal or progressive, to traditionalist (Sufis), to, well, the religious Right. We see the same spectrum in the US, with secular (many Unitarians), religious but liberal (the National Council of Churches), traditionalist (many Catholics, Lutherans) to the religious Right (2/3s of evangelicals, many Pentecostalists, etc.). In the US, the groups on the left of the spectrum vote for the Democratic Party on the whole, whereas those on the right tend to vote for the Republican Party. In Egypt, the groups on the left support the National Salvation Front coalition, whereas those on the right support the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) or Nur (Salafi).
Secularism, forms of ethnic nationalism, tribalism, and the religious Left and Center all serve as countervailing forces to the religious Right parties in the Muslim world, the politics of which is becoming more polarized along these lines. But the resulting struggles look familiar if compared to those in the most religious of the industrialized democracies, the United States.
The Drones Team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism writes:
The Bureau is launching an ambitious new investigation, which will seek to identify as many as possible of those killed in US covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.
The Bureau is raising some of the money for this project through a crowd-funding appeal.
As part of our ongoing monitoring and reporting of CIA and Pentagon drone strikes, the Bureau has already recorded the names of hundreds of people killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
At the end of January 2013, the Bureau was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle- or senior-ranking militants.
A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children.
But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.
‘At the moment we know the names of fewer than 20% of those killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At least 2,000 deaths still remain publicly anonymous,’ said Chris Woods, who leads the Bureau’s covert drone war team.
‘Our aim will be to identify by name many hundreds more of those killed. A significant number of those identities will be known by local communities, by US and Pakistani officials, and by militant groups. We hope to convince them to share that information.’
The project has already secured substantial funding from a UK foundation – but it still needs more funds.
Today the US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, a crowd-funding organisation aimed at raising money for public interest journalism, announced it is backing the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. The Bureau’s new investigation will be one of four recipients of Freedom of the Press Foundation’s latest campaign.
Crowd-funding is an established way of supporting journalism in the US and it is increasingly being used in the UK as a way of funding projects, which established organisations ignore or will not fund.
Using the reach of the web, many people (the crowd) are able to give small amounts of money to back a cause or project in which they believe.
‘In the face of official secrecy, having the full facts about who is killed is essential for an informed debate about the effectiveness and ethics of the drone campaign,’ said Christopher Hird, managing editor of the Bureau. ‘And it is exciting to be able to give all of our supporters worldwide the chance to be part of our first venture in this democratic form of funding.’
A challenging task
Government officials, media organisations and even militant groups are often quick to identify senior militants such as Yahya al-Libi and Ilyas Kashmiri when they are killed.
Yet little is said of the hundreds more alleged militants and civilians among at least 2,629 deaths in Pakistan drone strikes.
Both the US and Pakistani governments are likely to keep detailed records. A recent case at the Peshawar High Court heard that officials in the tribal agencies had prepared a confidential report which ‘included details of each and every drone attack and the number, names and ages of the people killed’.
Anonymous US intelligence officials have also revealed details of CIA video surveillance on particular strikes. And the ‘Terror Tuesday’ process – in which hundreds of named alleged militants have been selected by US agencies for targeted killing – has been widely reported.
Photographs and other documents also occasionally surface. When a civilian family was killed in the first drone strike of Barack Obama’s presidency, local officials issued formal paperwork (see right) that was later obtained by the campaign group Center for Civilians in Conflict.
ID cards, family photographs and eyewitness testimony of attacks can all provide useful corroborating evidence. The graves of militants killed in drone strikes can also name them as ‘martyrs’ and give details of the strikes in which they died.
Drawing on information from a wide array of sources, the Bureau’s team will seek to build a detailed understanding of those killed.
Focus on Pakistan
While the Bureau will seek to extend the project to Yemen and Somalia in the near future, the initial focus will be on the nation where most US covert drone strikes have taken place.
Researchers based in Pakistan and the UK will seek to build up biographical information for all of those killed, whether civilian or militant – their name, age, gender, tribe, and village, for example. Where possible, photographs, witness statements and official documentation will also be published.
The team will seek assistance from the Pakistan and US governments in identifying those killed. And researchers will also call on Taliban factions and other militant groups to release information on the many hundreds of fighters killed in more than 360 US drone strikes since 2004.
Malala Yousafzai has released two videos in the past few days, one before her surgery to put a plate in her skull, and after she came out of the successful operation. She announced that she has created a foundation to promote the education of girls. She also spoke of her ordeal and said that she was willing to be shot all over again for her cause.
In the pre-operation video, she said,
“Today you can see that I am alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone and … I am getting better day by day. It’s just because of the prayers of people. Because all people – men, women, children – all of them have prayed for me.
“And because of these prayers God has given me this new life … and this is a second life. And I want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated.”
Malala was shot in the forehead last October by a young member of the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley after she stood up publicly for women’s education there. Although there is no discouragement in mainstream Islam for the education of women, the weird Taliban ideology, born in the maelstrom of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and its aftermath, is highly misogynistic. The early Muslim community transmitted what it believed were sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, one of which says, “Seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim, man or woman.”
The Pakistani Taliban had taken over Swat, formerly a green, beautiful tourist attraction, in 2008. In spring of 2009, under pressure from the incoming Obama administration, the Pakistani military cleared the Taliban from the valley and garrisoned it. But some young men there still have Taliban ideas and loyalties. Many supporters of the Taliban are desperately poor, having lost farm land to big landlords.
Pakistan has 5 million children who should be in school but aren’t, the second highest in the world. Two-thirds of those unschooled childred are women (i.e. 3 million). 1 in every 12 school-aged children in the world who are not in school are Pakistani.
Pakistan has made some progress in basic literacy. Among young women from their teenaged years through their late 20s, some 61% are literate. Some 79% of young men in that age cohort are literate. Older women are much less literate.
Despite Pakistan’s progress in attacking illiteracy, the country is not doing enough to educate its children, and in rural areas there is resistance to girls’ education past a certain age, for fear it will make it difficult for her to find a husband. There is also a pervasive fear that if young women are not married off young, they might lose their virginity to a classmate. Solution? No schooling, no classmate. Given Pakistan’s rapid population growth and enormous youth bulge, the government needs vastly to expand the resources it devotes to education, both of girls and boys.
The United Nations also launched a major investigation into the legality and casualties of drone strikes by the United States, Britain and Israel.
January 2013 actions
Total CIA strikes in January: 6
Total killed in strikes in January: 27-54, of whom 0-2 were reportedly civilians . . .
The CIA began 2013 with six drone strikes in nine days – more in any single month since August 2012.
With double the strikes hitting Pakistan this month compared with January last year, 2013 could see renewed intensity in the CIA drone programme.
The month’s first strike killed powerful Taliban commander Maulvi (or Mullah) Nazir, ‘perhaps the most prized feather in [the] cap’ of the drone programme to date, according to one commentator. Nazir co-ordinated attacks on Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and had long been a target of the CIA.
However his group refrained from terrorist attacks within Pakistan, earning the label ’good’ Taliban. Brigadier Asad Munir, a retired commander of the ISI, told the Bureau his death could cause serious problems for Islamabad. He said peace with Nazir was essential since Pakistan’s army cannot simultaneously fight both Nazir’s militants and the TTP – the so-called ‘bad’ Taliban behind numerous lethal attacks in Pakistani cities.
Despite this, Pakistan’s response to the strikes in January was muted – notably so, according to Associated Press, as loud protestations had followed almost every strike in 2012.
This could indicate that relations between the allies have improved from their 2012 nadir. The CIA may also have tried to mollify Islamabad by killing senior TTP commander Wali Muhammad Mahsud and announcing that Maulana Fazlullah, commander of the Swat Taliban,is now high on its kill list. The Swat Taliban shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and launches attacks on Pakistan from its bases in Afghanistan. Islamabad has repeatedly called on Nato and Afghan forces to crack down on the group.
Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 8 Total reported killed in US operations: 0-38 Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-7 Children reported killed in US strikes . . . 0-2
* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range in the total strikes and total drone strikes we have recorded reflects this.