Drone strikes in Pakistan "counterproductive"

A new report by U.S. academics upends narrative of drones as precise or safe

By Natasha Lennard

Published September 25, 2012 3:35PM (EDT)

 (Wikimedia/ U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Ridgeway)
(Wikimedia/ U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Ridgeway)

A new report from U.S. academics delivers a harsh blow to the "dominant narrative" of U.S. drone warfare in Pakistan. Drone attacks are "counterproductive," lead to large numbers of civilian deaths and create an environment of constant fear, states the report, countering the prevailing idea that drones offer precision and mitigate civilian risk. The report suggests too that the drone program has not made the United States any safer.

"Living Under Drones," compiled by researchers and lawyers at the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law, is based on the testimonies of over 130 Pakistanis, including well over half of whom have survived a drone strike or lost relatives in an attack.

Although the report has not yet been publicly released, a handful of news outlets were given access to advanced copies and have published short extracts. Firedoglake's Kevin Gosztola posted a number of short, striking passages including accounts of Pakistanis in the regularly targeted Waziristan region afraid to search for casualties or bodies after a strike, since attacks in "quick succession" are commonplace. A passage is also posted illustrating how civilian communities are nervous to attend funerals or regular mosque services, in fear of "being targeted." Gosztola posts the following passage:

As Firoz Ali Khan, a shopkeeper whose father-in-law’s home was struck, graphically described, “These missiles are very powerful. They destroy human beings... There is nobody left and small pieces left behind. Pieces. Whatever is left is just little pieces of bodies and cloth.” A doctor who has treated drone victims described how “[s]kin is burned so that you can’t tell cattle from human.” When another interviewee came upon the site of the strike that killed his father, “[t]he entire place looked as if it was burned completely, so much so that even [the victims’] own clothes had burnt. All the stones in the vicinity had become black.” Ahmed Jan, who lost his foot in the March 17 jirga strike, discussed the challenges rescuers face in identifying bodies: “People were trying to find the body parts. We find the body parts of some people, but sometimes we do not find anything.”

"Living Under Drones," citing statistics from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, estimates that drone strikes have killed between 474 and 884 civilians since 2004, including 176 children.

Watch a video introducing "Living Under Drones":

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Drones Human Rights Middle East Pakistan War