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It's Official Dogma in political Washington right now that you can't touch the Pakistan drone strike policy. "Wasting bad guys for free" is too popular, the story says; besides, Democrats have to have some military killing of foreigners that they're for, to give them political cover for the military killing of foreigners that they're against. Most Democrats want to get U.S. troops the hell out of Afghanistan (outside of Official Washington, most Republicans agree.) But, the story goes, these Democrats have to have an "alternative," and the "alternative" is drone strikes.

As a political matter, this story is true as far as it goes: it's true because people believe it to be true. But in order for this political story to continue to work, drone strikes have to continue to be a black box, about which you can claim "success," regardless of whether it is true. If people have to confront the actual reality of the Pakistan drone strike policy - the reality in which its impact is mostly about killing and terrorizing civilians and alienating Pakistani public opinion from the United States as opposed to the fairy tale in which it is all about wasting top-level "bad guys" - the political story will fall apart. A policy that does more harm than good isn't an alternative to anything.

Recall that in 2006-8 there was very little Democratic opposition to the war in Afghanistan. It was the "good war" and the "right war," unlike Iraq, which was the "bad war" and the "wrong war." If you pressed Democrats on why they were cheerleaders for the war in Afghanistan while they slammed the war in Iraq, some would say what amounted to: "well, we have to be for some war."

Today the situation is totally reversed on Afghanistan: Democrats overwhelmingly want to get out. What changed? Did the war change? Was the war in Afghanistan from 2009-12 fundamentally different from the war in Afghanistan from 2006-8? Or was it more that the perception of the war in Afghanistan changed, as the drawdown of troops in Iraq and the escalation of troops in Afghanistan brought the Afghan war under greater public scrutiny, so that it couldn't be a black box anymore, about which you could claim "success," regardless of whether it was true?

Now there is a new level of effort in the United States to open the black box of the drone strike policy and reveal to Americans the injustice that has been hidden inside the box. A report this week has given an unprecedented amount of mainstream media attention to impact on civilians of the drone strike policy. Next week I will join 34 other Americans in visiting Pakistan, meeting with the families of victims of US drone strikes, participating in a peace march against the drone strikes, and delivering a petition to US and Pakistani officials from Americans, calling for the drone strike policy to end.

Here are the facts that will cause the Pakistan drone strike policy to fall:

US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed and harmed too many civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported 474 to 884 civilian deaths caused by US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, including 176 children. Moreover, as a recent study from researchers at NYU and Stanford law schools notes, "US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury," as civilians live in a state of constant fear, since drones could strike at any time. Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, because US drone operators might strike them.   

US drone strikes in Pakistan aren't making America safer. The Stanford/NYU study notes, "Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best ... The number of 'high-level' militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low - estimated at just 2%. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks."

US drone strikes in Pakistan have helped turn the Pakistani public against the United States. Three quarters of Pakistanis now consider the United States to be an enemy. Only 13% of Pakistanis think relations with the U.S. have improved in recent years; four-in-ten believe that US economic and military aid is having a negative impact on Pakistan, while only about one-in-ten think the impact is positive. Only 17% back U.S. drone strikes, even if they are conducted in conjunction with the Pakistani government.

US drone strikes in Pakistan violate international law. Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has said that US drone strikes in Pakistan threaten fifty years of international law, and that some drone strikes may constitute war crimes. A recent Congressional Research Service report noted that the US claims that drone strikes in Pakistan are in "self-defense" run afoul of international law which limits self-defense against prospective threats to ones which are "imminent." And international law experts say that attacks on civilian rescuers are clearly illegal, regardless of whether they take place in a legal conflict or not.

US drone strikes in Pakistan violate U.S. law. The Administration claims the drone strikes in Pakistan were authorized by the 2001 authorization of military force after the 9/11 attacks. The 2001 AUMF authorized attacks on those who carried out the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them. Judge Katherine Forrest has held that the 2001 AUMF did not cover mere "supporters" of such groups, and she questioned whether it covered "associated forces." Under this ruling "signature strikes" and "secondary strikes" would be illegal under U.S. law.

US drone strikes in Pakistan undermine democracy. US officials claim that the Pakistani government has secretly approved the strikes by not opposing them in private. But in public, Pakistani officials vigorously oppose the strikes. The Pakistani parliament has unanimously demanded that the drone strikes stop. Meanwhile, the US government refused to give the US public, Congress, or US media basic information about the drone strike policy, claiming the policy is "secret" even as US officials publicly boast of the policy's claimed successes.  This lack of transparency undermines Americans' ability to democratically control US foreign policyin the public interest.

Sign our petition to end the drone strike policy in Pakistan, and we will hand-deliver it to U.S. and Pakistani officials in Pakistan.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Originally posted to Robert Naiman on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 12:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by Adalah — A Just Middle East.


The drone strike policy in Pakistan should be subject to greater public and Congressional scrutiny

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14%5 votes

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, not having a dog in this fight.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, gfv6800

    I still am 50/50 on drone strikes.

    In the past you used to send in sniper teams to get the bad guys but that is very difficult in the regions of Pakistan that the Tali/AQ are holed up in.  The drones do solve that problem

    There is terrible blowback however whenever some innocent is killed and the Tali/AQ have learned to surround themselves with innocents to be sure they die along with the target; much like Hamas and Palestinian radical groups do in Gaza and the WB.

    Seems like a case of damned if you do/damned if you don't.  At this point though, I don't think it makes a tinkers damn what the US does in the region; drones or no drones, the US is despised in the Arab/Pakistani world, beyond any hope of recovery.  30 years of neglect, bombing, assassinations and drone strikes have completely burned any bridges but military ones.

    Tax and Spend I can understand. I can even understand Borrow and Spend. But Borrow and give Billionaires tax cuts? That I have a problem with.

    by LiberalCanuck on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 12:09:51 PM PDT

    •  So lets have another 30 more years of (15+ / 0-)

      neglect, bombings, assassinations and drone strikes?

      They hate us because we kill them so let's just keep killing them?  That's not foreign policy, there's a name for it though and it's been used before to continue horrific nightmares against other humans.

      It makes a difference to each and every person who actually gives a damn.  

      "Love One Another" ~ George Harrison

      by Damnit Janet on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 12:26:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  re: 50/50 on drone strikes (13+ / 0-)

      I think it would be great if people who feel ambivalent about the drone strikes would start thinking about what restrictions on drone strikes they would support.

      For example:

      - no drone strikes on civilian rescuers (certainly a war crime.)

      - no drone strikes on weddings or funerals

      - no "signature" strikes on unknown people, just because they fit an "intelligence profile"

      - no "secondary""double tap""follow up" strikes

      It seems to me that it likely follows from being 50/50 that there are some drone strikes that you don't support. Let's open up the black box.

    •  The Washington Post reports that (12+ / 0-)

      in Yemen for instance, drone strikes are creating more militants:

      But as in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where U.S. drone strikes have significantly weakened al-Qaeda’s capabilities, an unintended consequence of the attacks has been a marked radicalization of the local population.

      The evidence of radicalization emerged in more than 20 interviews with tribal leaders, victims’ relatives, human rights activists and officials from four provinces in southern Yemen where U.S. strikes have targeted suspected militants. They described a strong shift in sentiment toward militants affiliated with the transnational network’s most active wing, al-Qaeda in the -Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

      “Every time the American attacks increase, they increase the rage of the Yemeni people, especially in al-Qaeda-controlled areas,” said Mohammed al-Ahmadi, legal coordinator for Karama, a local human rights group. “The drones are killing al-Qaeda leaders, but they are also turning them into heroes.”
    •  Can you explain how you are *possibly* (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Robert Naiman, poco, Damnit Janet

      without "a dog in this fight"?

      Canadian troops left Afghanistan when?  Canada exited NATO when, exactly?

      Canada is one of the nations most impacted by blowback against the US.  We're far too linked, economically and through mutual defense treaties galore, for that not to be the case.

      "How dare you call someone a warmonger just because he's paid to sell war?"

      by JesseCW on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 06:20:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you (11+ / 0-)

    I wish you peace, strength and safety.

    "Love One Another" ~ George Harrison

    by Damnit Janet on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 12:12:48 PM PDT

    •  While drone attacks were thought to be (11+ / 0-)

      better than having ground troops in Pakistan in the war against terrorism, it is time that this type of covert air warfare, with its inability to avoid a good deal of civilian deaths and injuries, come to an end at once.

      The drone attacks have created a tremendous amount of ill will in Pakistan towards United States for a very long time. I speak on this question with first hand knowledge...

      It is time for the progressive community to get off the fence on this issue and let the White House know how terribly troubled we are that these inhumane acts of war continues unabated.

      "The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. It was a small part of the pantomime." Wallace Stevens

      by mobiusein on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 12:34:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Drone Strikes violate legal rules (12+ / 0-)

    As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared:

    Likewise, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently declared that U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan violate the international law principles of proportionality and distinction. Proportionality means that an attack cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage sought. Distinction requires that the attack be directed only at a legitimate military target.

    The United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICCPR states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” The Covenant also guarantees those accused of a crime the right to be presumed innocent and to a fair trial by an impartial tribunal. Targeted killings abrogate these rights.

    Thank you for standing up for human rights.
  •  Drones are Terrorism. (9+ / 0-)

    The surest way to stop this terrorism is to instead send in clinics, help them build schools and universities.  Help them feed their people.

    It's so much more cheaper to help people than it is to kill them.  

    Instead of a few drones, help them build a modern hospital.

    If you feed a child, you have a chance of being his friend in the future.  If you bomb his school, kill all his family and torch his place of worship, it's safe to say you have endangered your own children's future by helping create yet another "terrorist".  

    I can't stand Bush and Republicans but not one of them ever bombed my house or murdered my child.  Imagine what "diplomacy" these drones are dropping...

    Again, thank you for your service to Peace and Goodwill.  

    I may be considered a dreamer when it comes to Peace but for me it's better than turning a blind eye to the death and destruction due to drones and our foreign "plans".

    "Love One Another" ~ George Harrison

    by Damnit Janet on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 12:35:13 PM PDT

    •  We're so on the same page. (4+ / 0-)

      I've read so much today that was overwhelming.

      It's so much more cheaper to help people than it is to kill them.
      This is a no brainer.  Of course the MIC wouldn't like this, but we'd be a hell of a lot safer in the U.S. and other countries if we'd help people, not kill some of them.  Help them with infrastructure, water, electricity, roads, growing food in their region, teaching them what they need to know in order to sustain themselves and live long lives.   FSM.
    •  The surest way to reduce terrorism is to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Damnit Janet

      stop using it as our primary foreign policy tool.

      "How dare you call someone a warmonger just because he's paid to sell war?"

      by JesseCW on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 06:22:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am reliably and emphatically informed (10+ / 0-)

    I am reliably and emphatically informed that now is not the acceptable time to talk about random killing by remote control. There is, apparently, an election to be won, and it's just not done right now to criticize our government, its policies or its actions, because that would lend aid and comfort to those who would supplant our present leaders.

    I'm not precisely sure just when the Goldilocks Moment will come, when it's "ju-u-u-u-st right" to offer a negative opinion on drone strikes, but it is evidently and decidedly not now. Of course, after the general election, we will all be too busy basking in the afterglow of a smashing victory, and bringing up such Debbie Downer stuff as drones will just make you Captain Buzzkill. Besides, the voters' mandate will mean that we really like and endorse drone strikes, so take your "war criminal" jazz someplace else.

    I'm trying real hard to trim my ideals to fit this year's fashion, but I just can't quite see my way clear to cutting the Constitution and our treaty obligations. I'm sure there's something wrong with me, because so many other people have no problem whatsoever with our country's practice of raining down sudden death from the sky on people who can't get away or defend themselves.

  •  It's dismaying that even on "liberal" DKos... (8+ / 0-)

    the case against drones needs to be made, over and over again.

    Thanks for this.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 01:06:17 PM PDT

  •  Oh please (0+ / 0-)
    If you pressed Democrats on why they were cheerleaders for the war in Afghanistan while they slammed the war in Iraq, some would say what amounted to: "well, we have to be for some war."
    Oh for crying out loud.  I never heard one Democrat express they supported the Afghanistan war because "we have to be for some war".  My guess is my experience was not unique.  

    The truth is if you pressed most Democrats as to why they supported the war in Afghanistan, the answer would have been that was Bin Laden's safe haven.  Lest we forget, the Taliban supported Bin Laden and sheltered him.  

    The reason why many Democrats did not support the Iraq war was because it was a phony war based on a neo-con fantasy.  Saddam Hussein did not attack this country nor did  he shelter or support Bin Laden.  

    I have mixed feelings about drone attacks.  

    OTOH, they hurt innocent people.  

    OTOH, the reason why they hurt innocent people is because terrorists use those innocent people as a shield and hide among them.  They know the PR value of dead innocents and use it to their advantage.  

    Like I said, mixed feelings.  

    •  re: OTOH (7+ / 0-)

      "OTOH, the reason why they hurt innocent people is because terrorists use those innocent people as a shield and hide among them.  They know the PR value of dead innocents and use it to their advantage. "

      Even if this were true, would this really be an argument for the drone strikes? The attitude seems to be: we have an inalienable right to drop these bombs, and if civilians happen to be in the way, that's not our lookout.

      •  If this were true? (0+ / 0-)

        Do you actually believe drones are sent for no particular reason other than to kill innocent civilians?

        Btw, where was Bin Laden hiding in plain sight?  That would be in Pakistan in a residential neighborhood and more than likely known to the Pakistani government.  

        I rest my case.  

        •  re: If this were true (7+ / 0-)

          "Do you actually believe drones are sent for no particular reason other than to kill innocent civilians?"

          who said that? no-one.

          "Btw, where was Bin Laden hiding in plain sight?  That would be in Pakistan in a residential neighborhood and more than likely known to the Pakistani government."

          Evidence has not been brought forward that indicates that the Pakistani government knew where he was, despite the fact that many people have an interest in bringing forward such evidence. And regardless of all that: how is this relevant in any event? The USG did not use a drone strike in that case, so how is this example evidence for the need for drone strikes? How is it evidence for the need to bomb civilian rescuers, or for "signature" strikes, or for "secondary strikes"?

          "I rest my case."

          Before you rest your case, you should make one.


          •  Me. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            "Do you actually believe drones are sent for no particular reason other than to kill innocent civilians?".

            The purpose of terror is terror.

            Whether or not we actually kill anyone on the Tuesday List isn't terribly important.

            The goal is to cause people to fear associating with any anti-Western leaders.

            We're massacring civilians in Waziristan when they gather for political purposes for the same reason the Brits did before us.

            Because we're defending a fucking empire.

            "How dare you call someone a warmonger just because he's paid to sell war?"

            by JesseCW on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 06:27:10 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Mobsters with body counts in the hundreds (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Damnit Janet

      often attend weddings.

      Should the PD be allowed to bomb those weddings, since performing a raid instead might get an officer killed?

      "How dare you call someone a warmonger just because he's paid to sell war?"

      by JesseCW on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 06:24:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you don't come back, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Can I have your skateboard?

    Everyone is crying out for peace; no one's crying out for justice...

    by mojave mike on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 03:46:55 PM PDT

  •  good luck in your journey (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, sofia

    and be sure not to be where one is going to strike.

  •  Thanks, Robert (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fire bad tree pretty

    Tipped and rec'd.

    Good luck on your trip.

    For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas.

    by sofia on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 09:14:39 AM PDT

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