30 April 2012
International law experts, peace activists, journalists and human rights advocates from around the world gathered in Washington, DC over the weekend to inform the American public about US drone policy and the impact it is having on human populations throughout the world.
Peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights hosted the first International Drone Summit as a way to build an organizing strategy against the growing use of drones, call an end to airstrikes that kill innocent civilians, and to prevent the potentially widespread misuse both overseas and in the United States.
"Drone victims are not just figures on a piece of paper, they are real people and that's why it is important to see what happens on the ground when a missile hits a target," said Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar, according to the Pakistani newspaper DAWN. "We have to see what exactly is happening on the ground, what is happening to the people," he told the Washington conference.
During his speech, journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has done in-depth reporting on the US drone program in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, questioned the Obama Administration's policy of assassination. "What is happening to this country right now?" asked Scahill after noting that recent legislation in the US Congress opposing the assassination of US citizens abroad without due process received only six votes in the House of Representatives. "We have become a nation of assassins. We have become a nation that is somehow silent in the face of - or embraces, as polls indicate - the idea that assassination should be one of the centerpieces of US foreign policy. How dangerous is this? It's a throwback to another era - an era that I think many Americans thought was behind them. And the most dangerous part of this is the complicity of ordinary people in it." [Note: See below, Part 4 at the 5:30 mark]
"We have become a nation of assassins. We have become a nation that is somehow silent in the face of - or embraces, as polls indicate - the idea that assassination should be one of the centerpieces of US foreign policy."
Scahill was emphatic in his talk that the drone and assassination programs have received wide bi-partisan support and lamented those in the US who ceased to voice their concern over such policies as soon as President Bush left office. "President Obama has shown us in a very clear way that when it comes to the premiere national security policy of this nation, there is not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans."
Pakistani newspaper DAWN reports today:
Peace Conference Puts Face to Drone Victims
Drone victims are not just figures on a piece of paper, they are real people and that's why it is important to see what happens on the ground when a missile hits a target, argues Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar.
"We have to see what exactly is happening on the ground, what is happening to the people," he told a Washington conference on drones.
"We apologize to the people of Pakistan for the strikes that have killed so many civilians," said Nancy Mancias, a peace activist associated with the US-based, anti-war Code Pink Group.
"The CIA needs to be held accountable for their strikes."
"This is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world." -Jeremy Scahill, journalist
"Those who order a drone strike act at once "as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners," said journalist Jeremy Scahill who recently traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to observe the consequences of the drone war.
"This is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world," he said.
"War on terror is an oxymoron. How can you end terrorism by spreading terror via horrific remote control killing machines," said Dr Amna Buttar, a PPP MPA from Punjab.
"All 190 million people are the victims of this remote-controlled war." [...]
Akbar told an audience of about 300 people from across the United States that it was important to put faces on the drone victims; otherwise people will not understand their plight.
"They feel this imminent threat of being attacked from the sky. And they feel helpless because they have no other place to relocate. Many have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate to other parts of Pakistan," he said. Advocate Akbar showed a photo of a teenager named Saadullah, who was helping his mother in the kitchen when a drone hit their home in Fata in 2009. He woke up in a hospital three days later without his legs.
Sanaullah, a 17-year-old pre-engineering student, burned alive in his car during another strike in 2010.
"We apologize to the people of Pakistan for the strikes that have killed so many civilians," - Nancy Mancias, CodePink
Akbar also showed photos of the Bismillah family: mother, father, a daughter and a son, all killed in a drone strike.
Other speakers noted that US drone strikes in Pakistan had also killed 168 children. They quoted from recent surveys suggesting the number of ordinary people killed could be 40 per cent higher than previously reported. [...]
The "Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control," organized by American human rights groups, noted that there had been a lethal rise in the number of drone strikes under the Obama administration.
President Obama argues that drone strikes are focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists and have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.
Supporters of drone warfare say the drone technology is an accurate and less expensive weapon that minimizes risks to US troops and protects America by killing terrorists.
Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of Reprieve, an organization that helped secure the release of 65 prisoners from notorious Guantanamo Bay, also highlighted this point.
"We can kill people without any risk to ourselves and that's why the politicians like it." -Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve
"We can kill people without any risk to ourselves and that's why the politicians like it," said Smith while addressing the drone conference.
Other panelists noted that US drones had the potential to be equipped with heat sensors, Geographic Positioning Systems, license-plate readers, extremely high resolution cameras, infrared cameras, and facial-recognition software. Coordinated swarms easily could track people's daily movement from home to the office to a political rally to the grocery store.
29 April 2012
Activists, lawyers, human rights advocates, civil liberties defenders and others came together for a major international summit on drone warfare and the issues created by drone use yesterday. The summit was co-organized by CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve. An exceptional lineup of speakers addressed participants detailing salient and significant aspects around the Obama administration’s expansion of the covert drone wars in countries like Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
The day wrapped up with a speech from Jeremy Scahill of The Nation, who has been one of the few journalists to actually travel to these countries where the covert drone war is playing out. Scahill has produced reports on Yemen and Somalia that show how the US is carrying out its “war on terrorism” and using drones to target and kill people.
Scahill opens his speech by saying, “The real death panels that we have in this country were unleashed on our own citizens. Republicans like to talk about death panels having to do with health care. President Obama is the one that is operating secret death panels” that include United States citizens and often include non-US citizens. The vast majority of the victims of this policy around the world are not US citizens.
He strongly condemns the al-Majalah massacre that was authorized by Obama and was a brutal massacre, more brutal than anything that has been done in Yemen in the past decade. The strike was authorized on a Bedouin village because “intelligence” showed it was an al Qaeda training facility at the time. “Cruise missiles and cluster bombs rained down.” The US was not mentioned and did not take credit for the attack. Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a journalist, who is now imprisoned by order of the Obama administration, went and took photos. His photos gave human rights groups evidence that weapons used were not weapons the Yemen government had. And then WikiLeaks released cables that “confirmed” what was suspected—that there was a coverup. General David Petraeus conspired with Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh to prevent anyone from knowing the US was bombing Yemen.
Noting how the Obama administration has approved expanded authority for the CIA to carry out “signature strikes,” which basically is profiling, he explains:
The “signature strikes” are anything but surgical. The idea of the signature strikes is that you can develop a pattern of life and you can study a pattern of life being engaged in by certain people in Yemen and you can determine without knowing their identity or knowing that they’ve had any connection to terrorism whatsoever that they are a terrorist – because of how they act, because of who they associate with. And that once you develop that pattern of life, you then create a very efficient pattern of death for those people, which is to bring in the drones and take them out.
He mentions how Anwar al-Awlaki was not an al-Qaeda leader. Only after he was killed was he the “head of external operations” for al Qaeda. Obama was able to get away with this because of the Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was passed under President George W. Bush and is still in effect. Al-Awlaki was killed by the President of the United States, who served as “judge, jury and executioner.”
Scahill then gives a stirring account of a meeting he had with the mother of Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike that killed al-Awlaki.
She told me about how disturbed he was when he saw the images that came out of Abu Ghraib in the mid-2000s and he started blogging about US policy and eventually he went to Yemen to study Arabic and somehow he got hooked up with Anwar al-Awlaki. But, the reason I am bringing up is this: the FBI began visiting that family in 2007, when Samir Khan was still living in the United States, and they were concerned about his speech. They visited Samir Khan’s mother and father to express concern about his blogging and the things that he was saying. And they were very clear with the Khans. They said he’s engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. And they were sort of incredulous. “Well, then why are you here?” Well, we’re just concerned about your son.
And then they got in touch with them multiple other times when Samir was in Yemen. And each time the FBI came to the Khans, they told them that they have no evidence that he had done anything criminal and that he was engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. The next time they heard from the United States government was the State Department calling them to tell them that Samir had been killed in Yemen. When they asked who killed them, they said we can’t talk about that.
The critical nature of this anecdote from Scahill cannot be overstated. Tarek Mehanna, who refused to become an FBI informant, was charged and convicted of “terrorism” for venting his frustrations with US policies. The FBI has spied on Muslims looking for “suspicious” speech. They have manipulated impoverished and sometimes mentally unstable Muslims and pushed those who have engaged in aggressive rhetoric against the US to take that rhetoric to the next level and engage in “plots” against the US.
The FBI has also targeted
activists like Hatem Abuddayeh, who engages in Palestinian solidarity
activism. Abuddayeh is one of twenty-three activists in the Midwest to
have his home raided by the FBI. He was given a subpoena to appear before
a federal grand jury. He also has had his bank account frozen by the
Treasury Department. This is presumably all because of the “First
Amendment-protected activities,” which the FBI has “concern” about.