Are US Drone Strikes in Pakistan War Crimes? Only 12% of those Killed are Known Militants

October 25th, 2014 No comments

By Rozina Ali

Drone Strikes: The numbers don’t lie, except
when they do

By: Rozina Ali

At a time when President Barack Obama has likened his new military strategy in Iraq and Syria to his drone programs in Yemen and Pakistan, disturbing new information has surfaced that damn drone strikes as indiscriminate in their effect on non-combatants and probably constituting war crimes.

After a lull in drone strikes in Pakistan—marking what
some thought was the beginning of the end of attacks in Pakistan—the United
States has amped up attacks this month. Regarding one attack on October 7th,
Reuters
reported “at least 8 suspected militants” were killed; the
New York Times and Washington Post
republished Associated Press reports,
which quoted an “official” saying “at least 10 militants” were killed.
According to the scenario framed through media reports, U.S. counter-terrorism
operations in Pakistan are successful. But this is a distorted perception.

A comprehensive investigation by The
Bureau of Investigative Journalism
found that only 12% of those
killed in Pakistan by drones over the past ten years were militants. Al Qaeda
members—the original intended targets of the drone
program—constituted only 4% of those killed. Civilians aren’t just
collateral damage, they are the overwhelming victims of drone strikes. It’s a major
challenge to a government who repeatedly insisted that drone strikes occur with
“surgical
precision”
. Now that the U.S. is repeating the program in the Middle
East and Somalia, we need to be able to understand just how effective drone
strikes are, not just in eradicating terrorism, but simply killing terrorists.

What makes TBIJ’s estimates unique is that it went through
the laborious process of identifying the dead through open-source reports and
leaked Pakistani government reports. This isn’t possible for media who have to
report events immediately. Out of 2,379 victims, TBIJ has identified 704 so
far. Of those, they found that only 295 were militants and 84 were Al-Qaeda
fighters. These numbers are staggering. If we take the total as the base, then
effectively, nearly nine in ten people that U.S. drones have killed in Pakistan
were not part of a militant group.

Compare TBIJ’s findings to numbers from New
America Foundation
, another reputable organization that has been
diligently tracking drone strike victims. NAF offers estimates of victims killed
in ranges. For example, they calculate the total to be 2,169-3,539.
Calculations based on the higher number in each range find that militants made
up nearly 82% of those killed—significantly higher than TBIJ’s 12%. Even
if we compare this to the ratio of militants (295) to just identified victims
(704) in TBIJ’s database, militants still make up only 40% of victims, half as
many as those suggested by NAF.

Why such a huge difference? NAF’s estimates are based solely
on media reports, which often have to rely on U.S. officials for information.
Journalists have little access to Waziristan and the CIA offers limited
information about attacks and their victims. But such limited information is dangerous:
the U.S. is using media to distort the perception of the effectiveness of drone
strikes, to make them appear as a viable alternative to “boots on the ground”
to battling terrorists. The discrepancy between TBIJ and NAF’s numbers
underscore just how big a blind spot the U.S. drone program is in media and
public knowledge.

It’s not difficult to ascertain how we might be killing so
many civilians. A 2012 New York Times
report
revealed that under his drone program, President Obama’s “kill list”
effectively considers men of military age as legitimate targets. So, the U.S.
can theoretically be hitting targets with “near precision”, if those targets
are simply young men.

We also know that the U.S. government will consider victims
civilians if there is “explicit intelligence posthumously proving them
innocent.” But there is little incentive to prove their innocence. U.S. doesn’t
have boots on the ground in Pakistan. Waziristan is a remote area with a strong
presence of militants, and unsecure for reporters. The Pakistani government has
a vested interest in keeping U.S. operations in Waziristan going, but it
doesn’t like admitting its complicity in drone strikes. When there is no one
looking, it’s easy to cover up the aftermath.

Drone strikes are becoming the new modus operendi
in the next stage of warfare. The U.S. launched drone strikes last month in
Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS. The repercussions are apparent: one strike killed
nearly
12 civilians
in Syria. But according to Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, determining if victims are “civilian” or
“combatant” is a moot point: “We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw
up a dossier here to prove that these are the bad dudes.”

We just have to take the government’s word that those killed
are “bad dudes”.

Rozina Ali is Senior Editor at Cairo Review of Global Affairs and was formerly Deputy Editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: Half of US Drone Strike Victims may be Non-Combatants

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Tunisia Votes for Parliament Sunday

October 25th, 2014 No comments

On Sunday, Tunisia will go to the pollsto elect its second legislative body since the Revolution and its first inder the new constitution.That alone deserves attention. Though technically, Libya has already held two Parliamentary elections since Arab Spring, the second resulted in two governments,  one of which is on a ship in Tobruk. This election ,ay be imperfect, but it offers hope,

The Al-Nahda (Ennahda) Islamist party held a plurality in the previous government but yielded power for new elections. As was not the case in 2011, the secularist sides that have dominated much of Tunisia’s post-independence history are better organized to compete with Ennahda, which has lost some support to more radical groups (and Tunisia is reportedly the largest dource of foreign fighters to ISIS). But the country is not as polarized as Egypt.

The downside (or perhaps hidden strength) for the secularists re the growing perception that many of the candidtates are retreads from the ancien regime, survivors of the dominant RCD Party of the Ben Ali era and other establishment elements.

Another issue widely noted is that although the new constitution sharply curtailed the powers of the president and strengthened those of the parliament and Prime Minister, many Tunisians, long acquainted with an all-powerful Presidency, are paying more attention to the November vote for President than for this month’s Parliamentary vote.

A few readings may help follow the results:

  • The International Republican Institute’s Democracy Speaks blog has also run an extensive series of posts on the Tunisian vote, including profiles of the major parties. (Use the search function on the site to find them all.) (The rival National Democratic Institute doesn’t seem to be as current.)
  • Finally here’s   a public service announcement against vote buying. The video (called “Tunisian’s can’t be bought” is in Tunisian colloquial and says, as translated by Tunis Live (my Tunsi dialect is rusty but the translation sounds on target):“Who buys your vote and pays you a dinar, tomorrow will take your livelihood with two million dinars. Who buys your vote is a thief, a cheater, a traitor. He doesn’t care about you, about Tunisia, about the children’s dreams. He doesn’t care about the blood of martyrs. He will take your vote and leave you behind,”


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US Negotiator: All the Components of an Enrichment Deal with Iran are on the Table

October 25th, 2014 No comments

By Golnaz Esfandiari

The top U.S. negotiator in nuclear talks with Iran says Washington will not allow Tehran to obtain nuclear arms.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman warned that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons could lead to an arms race in the region and create further instability and danger.

Sherman said the United States prefers to achieve its goal through diplomatic means.

But she added that “Iran will not, shall not, obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Sherman also acknowledged that the negotiations are controversial, with some — she did not specify who — hoping for success while others for failure.

Sherman spoke ahead of the November 24 deadline for Iran and six major world powers to reach a lasting agreement to the crisis over Iran’s sensitive nuclear work.

She said the U.S. administration has consulted regularly with members of the U.S. Congress and allies, including Israel and the Persian Gulf States, to allay their fear regarding a potential deal.

Sherman called on Iran’s leaders to make the right choice.

“If Iran truly wants to resolve its differences with the international community — and facilitate the lifting of economic sanctions — it will have no better chance than between now and November 24,” Sherman said.

She said now is the time to finish the job.

However, she added that she didn’t know if a deal would be reached by the target date.

“I can tell you that all the components of a plan that should be acceptable to both sides are on the table,” she said.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes and denies it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Sherman also said that on the margins of the nuclear talks with Iran, she and other U.S. officials had raised concern over the status of U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran.

She said former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Pastor Saeed Abedini, and “Washington Post” reporter Jason Rezaian should be allowed to return to their families.

Mirrored from RFE/RL

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole

Democracy Now!: “Former Weapons Inspector in Iraq Raises Skepticism over Claims Iran Is Hiding Nuclear Weapons Tests”

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State of emergency imposed in Sinai

October 25th, 2014 No comments

Egypt declares a three-month state of emergency in parts of the Sinai Peninsula after two attacks there killed at least 31 soldiers.
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What, if Anything, is the US Strategy in Syria? Is There One?

October 25th, 2014 No comments

This report notes the US is moving ahead with the idea of creating a new Syrian resistance movement from the ground up to fight ISIS. This has been discussed for  couple of weeks now, and the decisioin seems to have been to address the problem of a fragmented, factionalized opposition by creating yet another faction. We’re being warned it will take 18 months or more.

Meanwhile, in case no one noticed, just as we were stepping up air strikes in Syria, so was the Asad regime, reportedly striking 210 targets in just 36 hours, suggesting a sortie rate many would have thought the Syrian Air Force incapable of achieving. That probably includes barrel-bombs dropped from helicopters. But of course, many of the targets are Free Syrian Army targets, not ISIS, and it may be that while the world is preoccupied with ISIS, the Asad regime is doing its best to crush the rest of its opponents before the US can arm and train them (though we seem intent on creating a new force).

And the regime continues to portray itself as a de facto ally against ISIS: after those recent reports that ISIS had three operable combat aircraft, and the US said it was unaware of them, the regime announced that it had destroyed two of the ISIS aircraft in a raid. As I had noted last month, the Syrian regime has already been claiming that it is on the side of the anti-ISIS coalition and hinting at coordination.

I don’t think the US is cooperating with Asad,  though I know serious analysts like Graham Fuller have urged it to do so; I tend to agree with other analysts such as Ambassador Robert Ford and Michael Young, that anything that strengthens Asad will backfire.

The problem is, I’m unclear what exactly the overall strategy is. It’s not unusual to see US Middle Eastern strategy driven by myths, misconceptions, and a blindness to historicl experience of the countries involved. See Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq again (and now again). Despite Colin Powell’s famous “Pottery Barn Rule”: ‘If you break it, you’ve bought it’ (which Poetry Barn denied is its policy), we have a large responsibility for breaking Iraq. It was always a fragile construct, but from 1919 or so until now, a period a little short of a century, it somehow held together as a country. No more. Mideast policies have tended to be reactive, knee-jerk responses to unforeseen (though often foreseeable crises. In Syria we are fighting ISIS and claim to be opposed to Asad, but instead of strengthening the FSA we are talking about creating a new faction of our own, which prompted the estimable Rami Khouri to characterize it as “New hare-brained American ideas in the Mideast.” 

http://www.arabnewsblog.net/wp-content/plugins/wp-o-matic/cache/12800bfc08_81z-2B9u8sVwL--SL1500-.jpgForgive one of my rare uses of NSFW language in suggesting that the patch at right may prove to be an appropriate characterization of too much recent and current policy in the region. Once again.
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General Suleimani Not So Shadowy Anymore

October 24th, 2014 No comments

At Al-Monitor, Arash Kamani notes in “All Eyes on Soleimani,” the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander of the al-Quds Force for overseas operations, Gen. Qasim Suleimani, was the darling of the Iranian media during a recent return to Tehran. Earlier his exploits against ISIS in Iraq had similarly received star treatment in the media. As Kamani Western media may have to find a new adjective to replace “shadowy” for Suleimani, now that he’s a media superstar.

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Don’t Blame CNN for the Ebola Panic

October 24th, 2014 No comments

If you crunch
the data, the mainstream media has actually been pretty levelheaded.
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Surprise! That Russian Submarine in Stockholm Got Away From the Swedish Navy

October 24th, 2014 No comments
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Poll: 2 of 3 Americans say IS threat is important

October 24th, 2014 No comments

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2014 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with more than 20 foreign defense ministers on the ongoing operations against the Islamic State group, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the threat posed by the Islamic State militants is a very important issue, and fewer than half approve of the way President Barack Obama is handling the danger posed by them, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Forty-six percent of the Americans surveyed say the U.S. military response in Iraq and Syria has not gone far enough and a majority think America’s partners need to up their game in the fight. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)WASHINGTON (AP) — Sixty-five percent of Americans now say the threat from the Islamic State group is very or even extremely important, and nearly half think the U.S. military response in Iraq and Syria has not gone far enough, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Most want to see America's partners step up their contribution to the fight,

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Putin accuses US of undermining global stability

October 24th, 2014 No comments

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. The United States is destabilizing the global world order by trying to enforce its will, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Friday, warning that the world will face new wars if Washington fails to respect the interests of other countries. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin of Russia said Friday that the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place because of U.S. attempts to enforce its will on other countries and that his nation will not comply.

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