Exposed: The Harrowing Impact of America's Deadly Drone War in Pakistan
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President Barack Obama’s big speech on U.S. counter-terror policy last month promised that drone strikes were “legal,” “heavily constrained” and only carried out if there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” But the use of the most deadly type of drone attacks calls that rhetoric into question. Known as “signature strikes,” these drone attacks are launched on groups of people who fit the “signature” of militants and terrorists but whose identities are not always known--and they constitute the bulk of strikes carried out in Pakistan, leading to civilian casualties.
Now, a new campaign launched by Brave New Foundation’s War Costs project is looking to expose the impact of “signature strikes” on civilian populations living under the threat of drones. The group has started a petition drive aimed at Congress to demand an end to those types of strikes. Brave New Foundation is partnering with a number of peace and justice groups on the campaign, including Just Foreign Policy, United National Antiwar Coalition, United for Peace and Justice and more.
“Tell Congress to move now to end these signature strikes, save innocent lives, protect America from the blowback of killing innocent civilians, and restore the rule of law,” the petition states. The campaign comes at a moment when some members of Congress are exploring ways to put limits on the Obama administration's use of drone strikes. The administration recently allowed a small number of Congressional officials to look at White House legal memos on drone attacks, though they haven't been released to the public. The Obama administration recently affirmed in a brief that the public has no right to see the Justice Department opinions laying out the legal basis for the drone war.
“Signature strikes,” contrasted with “personality strikes”--strikes that only target individual persons whose identities are known--have wreaked havoc in the Pakistani tribal areas, where America’s Central Intelligence Agency-run drone war continues. An article by McClatchy Newspaper’s Jonathan Landay revealed that “drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been ‘exceedingly rare.’” The drone war in Pakistan has taken the lives of hundreds of civilians, though the exact number of civilians killed is unknown. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based media organization, estimates that 411-884 Pakistani civilians have died as a result of drone attacks, while the New America Foundation puts the numbers at 258-307. At least 178 children in Pakistan and Yemen have been killed by U.S. drones, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The Brave New Foundation campaign on “signature strikes” is also paired with a eye-opening video (watch it below) produced by Robert Greenwald, the organization’s founder. (Greenwald sits on the board of the Independent Media Institute, AlterNet’s parent organization.) The video is the result of Greenwald’s first-hand investigation into the impact of America’s drone war on Pakistan.
“In the fall of last year I traveled to Pakistan. Reports of civilian drone casualties were beginning to permeate though American news outlets, prompting myself, and Brave New Foundation, to launch a full-length documentary investigation into the claims coming out of the tribal regions,” he explained in a blog post tied to his campaign.
At the heart of the video is Greenwald’s investigation into a “signature strike” carried out on March 17, 2011 in Datta Khel, an area in the Pakistani tribal region, where America’s drone war is centered. Greenwald interviewed a number of witnesses to the strike--a crucial follow-up to previous reports of mass civilian casualties caused by this specific strike.