Surprise: US Drones Kill Civilians, Provoke Hatred (Woods)

Chris Woods writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

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.

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.’
Living With Drones: Stanford & New York University Law Schools

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.

A second anonymised man told researchers of an attack on the home of his in-laws: ‘Other people came to check what had happened, they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.’

People now avoid assisting victims of drone strikes, researchers were told. One ‘leading humanitarian organization’ said that it insists on a six-hour mandatory delay before its workers are allowed to assist, meaning it is ‘only the locals, the poor, [who] will pick up the bodies of loved ones.’

When seven of Faheem Qureshi’s family and friends died in Obama’s first ever drone strike, he believes he only survived because he was able to walk out of the smoking rubble of the house unaided.

‘Usually, when a drone strikes and people die, nobody comes near the bodies for half an hour because they fear another missile will strike,’ Qureshi told researchers.

Funeral practices have also changed in the tribal areas because of fears of CIA attack, according to a number of witnesses. Firoz Ali Khan told researchers:

Not many people go to funerals because funerals have been struck by drones. Many people are scared. They don’t go to funerals because of their fear.’

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Professor Christof Heyns, recently described the deliberate targeting of civilian rescuers as ‘a war crime.’

Bureau drones data is ‘most reliable available’
As part of their study the legal teams at New York and Stanford universities examined the work of the three main bodies which monitor CIA drone strikes – the Bureau, the Long War Journal (LWJ) and the New America Foundation (NAF).

Noting that all three databases are susceptible to bias because of reporting restrictions in the tribal areas, the report nevertheless concluded that one source was far more dependable. Both LWJ and NAF are heavily criticised for their poor sourcing of strikes, and for their insistence on defining those killed as ‘militants’, even when their source materials often say no such thing.

In contrast the Bureau’s Pakistan data is praised as ‘the most reliable available source.’

Click here for more on the report’s data coverage

The report notes that TBIJ ‘maintains a much more dynamic database than either New America Foundation or The Long War Journal, updating its strike information frequently to reflect new information as it comes to light.’

And it notes that the Bureau links to 344 unique sources for the first 27 strikes of 2012. In contrast NAF links to 107.

‘No response’
The joint report by two of the US’s biggest university law schools came after legal campaigning group Reprieve suggested a study into the impact of drones on civilians. It also assisted in putting researchers in touch with some of those affected in Pakistan – although Reprieve has had no editorial input, according to the report.

Professor Sarah Knuckey of NYU’s Global Justice Clinic co-authored the study with Professor James Cavallaro at Stanford. The pair visited Pakistan twice with a team of young lawyers, interviewing more than 130 people in connection with the CIA’s bombing programme.

Knuckey, who has previously investigated killings by the Taliban in Afghanistan, told the Bureau she had been surprised at the high levels of civilian trauma described by health professionals in the tribal areas. Incidence levels more closely resembled those found in higher intensity conflicts, she said.

Asked what she thought the study would achieve, Knuckey said that she hoped that those responsible in the US for covert drone strikes ‘look at this and say there are extremely well documented and serious concerns, both about the impact of our policies on Pakistani civilians, and also on the US’s own interests, and we need to consider this very seriously.’

The Obama administration has so far not engaged with the authors. A July 18 request for a meeting with the US National Security Council has yet to be answered.

Follow Chris Woods on Twitter.

Mirrored from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Responses | Print |

14 Responses

  1. If this behavior doesn’t confirm the USA as the ‘Antichrist’ I don’t know what would.
    Thank you for your part in trying to establish sanity in the world, Juan.

  2. Anyone who studies America’s true history realizes we have always been a lie. We were a lie from the very beginning. I consider the vast majority of the American public to be fanatics. As a young man, I was one to the core. After a stint in the military, during Vietnam, I realized we were a lie and spent yrs wandering in the hinterlands as I adjusted to the fact. As an old man, the acceptance is complete and peace has, finally, arrived. I have the utmost sympathy for those who continue to believe the propaganda and, especially, those who send their sons/daughters off to to “their duty”. And even more sympathy for those who are the recipients of our brutality. All I have to bear is alienation and isolation, they have to bear the terror and loss of loved ones.

  3. There have been a number of studies conducted by psychologists or psychiatric researchers with respect to the adverse impact upon residents of Gaza area, including Jewish cities and towns such as Sderot where there was a history of rocket attacks.

    Of 229 adolescents surveyed in Gaza, almost 95% suffered from severe anxiety; high levels of depression and other mental or emotional disorders were also measured as being present.

    In the Jewish town of Sderot, which is the target of Qassam missile strikes by Hamas, it was reported that 87% of youths ages 12-14 have post-traumatic stress disorder. Other areas of Israeli towns near Gaza had lesser but still very significant levels of psychological dysfunction, especialy among the youthful segment of their respective populations.

    Attacks on rescuers were also very common in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Hamas would often have a secondary explosive device detonate five minutes after a suicide bomber attack at the scene of the initial blast. The Israel Defense Forces was often accused at firing on ambulance workers. One remembers the Muhammad Al-Dura case where many Israelis disputed whether the shooting of the youth and his father were genuine or staged; there was never any dispute that an ambulance driver trying to rescue the pair was killed by the IDF. Reports of rescue workers being shot at by the IDF were made during their Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

    There is no doubt these military actions are wreaking havoc on the mental and emotional health of children who are forced to inhabit these areas of strife. I fear that the long-term effects upon these young persons may never be measurable and the societal impact will likely be enormous.

  4. Amazing, isn’t it, how humans become everything they claim to hate in the people they define as their enemies? Mimesis is fascinating.

    Maybe Bill or somebody can tell the rest of us US-ers what exactly is being accomplished by Hellfiring the hell out of tribespeople in No Man’s Land, or Lands, actually? (Maybe the Answer is on one of the 4×7 cards that are bigger than my 3x5s.) I guess the virtue of being the Dying Empire, being sucked dry (like empires long since dead) by an enormous huge military that can spend billions on its own dictionary and NASCAR sponsorships and a gynormous PR apparatus, is that “our guys” get to define what our guys do as “tactical missions under doctrine,” and what “they” do as “terrorism.” These same people tell us that a “terrorist victory” is achieved by inducing fear in a population. How’s the song go? “One of these things is JUST like the other”?

    Any proof that that droning noise, which since the planes do make noise in flight and of course a Hellfire warhead makes a pretty good bang, and wounded people tend to scream and moan, is any more effective at endearing the democracy we are supposed to be the apotheosis of, to the people we are told we need to win the hearts and minds of, than maybe playing the bagpipes at them, real loud, and making them scrape their fingernails across a billion blackboards?

    But then it’s not all about oil, as most everybody knows, but it’s sure as hell not about spreading the blessings of democracy and freedom, those other comfortable and meaningless noises that delude so many of us into supporting dead-end geopolitical foolishness of all sorts, to Wogland, now is it?

    At least we can comfort ourselves that our Droners have made a few people in far-off places very, very afraid. And killed a bunch of them, especially what they call “bugsplat,” for just what reasons again?

    • Study the Phoenix Program tactics in Vietnam and what the CIA is doing now in Pakistan and Afghanistan and it is almost a carbon-copy blueprint.

      America took the “black ops” guys in the CIA and Special Forces who ran Operation Mongoose in Miami and failed to overthrow Castro and sent them to Vietnam – guys like Ted Shackley, who was chief of station in Saigon. They lost in Vietnam and they got sent to Latin America to set up the Operation Condor intelligence network in the South American panhandle in the 1970s that used systematic torture and killing against political opponents.

      Ted Shackley eventually became the CIA’s deputy director for operations during the Carter administration – despite commanding some of the biggest disasters in the history of U.S. intelligence.

      The tactics being employed are the same – just a different locale.

      • I and others have noted the Phoenix Program here a number of times, as an example of what Eugene, above, is writing about.

        There’s a huge gulf between what is professed, and what is perpetrated, and all the pretense in the world will not totally obscure the fundamental imperial “manifest destiny” nature of US behavior on the world stage. Promoting Freedom and Democracy? Most people in the US know the words, but are immune to the concepts.

        The Phoenix Program was active while I was “serving my country” in Vietnam. Here’s a little snippet to describe way it usually worked, a far cry from the selling pitch that our CIA and its excrescences were “promoting the growth of democracy” by mostly random murder:

        The problem was, how do you find the people on the blacklist? It’s not like you had their address and telephone number. The normal procedure would be to go into a village and just grab someone and say, ‘Where’s Nguyen so-and-so?’ Half the time the people were so afraid they would not say anything. Then a Phoenix team would take the informant, put a sandbag over his head, poke out two holes so he could see, put commo wire around his neck like a long leash, and walk him through the village and say, ‘When we go by Nguyen’s house scratch your head.’ Then that night Phoenix would come back, knock on the door, and say, ‘April Fool, motherfucker.’ Whoever answered the door would get wasted. As far as they were concerned whoever answered was a Communist, including family members. Sometimes they’d come back to camp with ears to prove that they killed people.

        link to

        The Wiki article also contains this:

        There was eventually a series of U.S. Congressional hearings. In 1971, in the final day of hearing on “U.S. Assistance Programs in Vietnam”, a former serviceman named K. Barton Osborn, described the Phoenix Program as a “sterile depersonalized murder program.” Consequently, the military command in Vietnam issued a directive that reiterated that it had based the anti-VCI campaign on South Vietnamese law, that the program was in compliance with the laws of land warfare, and that U.S. personnel had the responsibility to report breaches of the law…

        Abuses were common.[6][14][15] In many instances, rival Vietnamese would report their enemies as “VC” in order to get U.S. troops to kill them.[16] In many cases, Phung Hoang chiefs were incompetent bureaucrats who used their positions to enrich themselves. Phoenix tried to address this problem by establishing monthly neutralization quotas, but these often led to fabrications or, worse, false arrests. In some cases, district officials accepted bribes from the NLF to release certain suspects.[5]

        After Phoenix Program abuses began receiving negative publicity, the program was officially shut down. However, another program of a similar nature, code-named “F-6”, was initiated as Phoenix was phased out.

        Remember the Somali warlord Hellfired by “somebody” who apparently was fingered by a competing warlord seeking to both curry favor with the real “Occupy” and eliminate a rival. GOOOOAAAAALLL!

        Of course, the Experienced Players would claim that these were “very effective programs.” In what possible sense, I would ask? Bill, you got the glib, pedantic, stilted-prose answer?

        One thing most US-ers don’t get, unless they’ve been there, is that this kind of terrorism can be a whole lot of fun. “Call of Duty” gives many just a taste of how alive one feels when on the way to killing other people. Ambushes are exciting to set and trigger, knowing that there’s no way out of the killing zone for your fellow humans. I wonder about what Obama knows and feels. It’s an ugly thing to be the Boss of the World, to have to try to keep the ordinary taxpaying wage slaves just this side of the level of misery that would let a tiny triggering episode, like a self-immolation by one of the least of them, set the whole house on fire. That, and knowledge that Businessmen are not above conspiring with “Christian” generals to pull off a coup. link to Couldn’t happen here. Couldn’t happen in Rome, or England, or Germany, or France, or Burma/Myanmar, or… Keep the generals and senior spy guys happy, or else, Mr. Commander=in-Chief, serves-at-their-pleasure President.

        There’s often a cost to one’s psyche in giving in to one’s true humanity, as a few of the Dronists who actually pickle off the Hellfires have discovered, despite the careful indoctrination that tries to persuade them that they are doing God’s work and the “legal cover” and anonymity they have. There never is any accountability or consequence under the “laws of war” (sic) or any other. Without accountability and consequences, you have Shackley, retained and relocated for his “expertise,” squared,, cubed, to the nth power.

        What’s happening is nothing new. That it sustains itself through changes of administration and even national identities (this ain’t purely some US phenomenon, of course — Mossad, KGB, ISI, MI-n, you name it).

  5. One reason to not vote for the war criminal Obama. What kind of sick person kills rescuers, funeral-goers, women and children just because he can?

    • You hit the nail on the head. Obama knows exactly what droning brings, and knows that he alone has the power control or stop it – no fight with congress required.

      This is Obama’s violence pure and simple. Though he may be, he can’t claim as an excuse to be intimidated by the Pentagon and CIA.

      Probably his reluctance to bring to justice any prior commiter of war crimes was based on his own intention to sustain the “kinetics” status quot.

      But since Romney is portraying himself as a nastier and more aggressive kinetics advocate (Iran yes, yes ,yes), and Ron Paul is not in the race, I will end up voting for Obama – with evils being the operative word in “lesser than the two……..”

      Diverging, if I may, to the “blasphemy vs free speech” debate, didn’t we pay Mubarak and his military billions of dollars a year to suppress free speech and political speech in Egypt for 30 some years? And didn’t Hillary Clinton say that the Mubaraks “were just like family” to the Clintons? I may be missing something.

  6. Are there accumulative numbers for how many people in Pakistan have been killed by the Obama administrations drone strikes?

    U.S. “war crimes” so when will the U.S. ever be held accountable?

  7. Since Pakistan officically condemns the drones and other US activities inside its borders, I’m curious why it does not shoot down the damn things (like Iran and the Afghan Taliban have)with its expensive military weapons. The fact they go on suggests the public position of its corrupt government is a “wink and a nod.”

    • That wouldn’t be a surprise, given that most of the people being Hellfired and “bugsplatted” are in those unruly border areas that apparently don’t pay either taxes or attention to the “central government.” The only good FATA, it seems, is a dead FATA, unless of course they got opium…

      But of course that’s only one level of complexity, there’s millions more that “our” Security Specialists apparently sort of perceive but are too tunnel-visioned on other parts of the Game to really pay attention or care…

  8. Many people who valued the wide variety of choice in commodities available from top US retailers were appalled at the descriptions of working conditions in the sweatshops where the goods were made, stating that to wear the T-shirts, training shoes, and designer garments was no longer possible as it had come at too high an unjust social cost. Likewise, people who value their safety and security under a balanced regimen of the rule of law may also feel disgusted by the fact that their safety and security has come at such a cost to innocent civilians slain while coming to the rescue of their murdered or injured loved ones in “double-tap” strikes. Despite assurances the attacks are “surgical”, the “Living Under Drones” researchers found barely 2 per cent of their victims are known militants and that the idea that the strikes make the world a safer place for the US is “ambiguous at best.” link to

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