Drones terrorising men, women, and children in Pakistan

September 25, 2012

Image of a drone flying

A report published today by Stanford University and New York University warns that the CIA’s drone campaign “terrorizes men, women and children” in North-West Pakistan “twenty-four hours a day.”

The campaign is “damaging and counterproductive,” and neither policy-makers nor the public can “continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm” it causes, warn the academics of Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law.

Through extensive interviews with the local population – including victims of strikes – humanitarian workers and medical professionals, the report demonstrates for the first time the devastating impact drones have had on the society of Waziristan as a whole.

Reprieve helped, through its partner organization in Pakistan, to facilitate access to many of the interviewees. Reprieve is currently bringing litigation in the UK to force the Government to clarify its reported policy of supporting the CIA’s drone strike programme through intelligence-sharing.  The action is being brought on behalf of Noor Khan, who lost his father in the 17 March 2011 strike described in detail in the report, which killed a large number of local elders who had met to resolve a mining dispute.

Reprieve’s Director, Clive Stafford Smith said: “This shows that drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies.  Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups.  Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe.  George Bush wanted to create a global ‘War on Terror’ without borders, but it has taken Obama’s drone war to achieve his dream.”

Key points from the report include:

Children deprived of education

  • Children in the affected areas are being taken out of school for a number of reasons, including:
    • The physical, emotional and financial impacts of the [drone] strike
    • To compensate for the income lost after the death or injury of a relative
    • Due to fear that they would be killed in a drone strike
  • “I know a lot of people, girls and boys, whose families have stopped them from getting an education because of drone attacks,” says one father.
  • The report points out that “these fears are not without a legitimate basis, as drones have reportedly struck schools in the past, resulting in…the deaths of dozens of children.”
  • Sadaullah Khan, a fifteen-year-old who lost both legs in a drone strike, says that before his injury, “I used to go to school…I thought I would become a doctor.” However, “after the drone strikes, I stopped going to school.

Strikes targeting rescuers hinder humanitarian assistance

  • The report describes the “significant evidence” that now exists for the practice of “double-tap” strikes, in which rescuers arriving at the scene are also targeted by follow-up attacks.  Interviewees “explained that the secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.”
  • “Other people came to check what had happened, they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people,” said one local resident.
  • A leading humanitarian organisation has “a policy to not go immediately [to a reported drone strike] because of follow-up strikes. There is a six hour mandatory delay.”
  • “Once there has been a drone strike, people have gone in for rescue missions, and five or ten minutes after the drone attack, they attack the rescuers who are there,” says local journalist Noor Behram.
  • Civilian communities are “scared all the time”

The presence of drones overhead is leading to “substantial levels of fear and stress” and mental health problems “in the civilian communities below.”

  • A local taxi driver described how “whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting at home playing cards – no matter what we are doing we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.”
  • A humanitarian worker who has worked in areas affected by drones drew parallels with the US after 11 September 2001: “I was in New York on 9/11… People were afraid about what might happen next…This is what it is like. It is a continuous tension.”
  • Interviewees “described common symptoms of…post-traumatic stress disorder…emotional breakdowns…fainting, nightmares” the researchers find.

Fear in all areas of life – “afraid to attend funerals”

  • People in North Waziristan are now “afraid to attend funerals” or other gatherings, the report finds.
  • “Now [they have] even targeted funerals…they have targeted people sitting together, so people are scared of everything,” says one man from the Manzar Khel area.
  • “After the drones, people can’t go and talk with or sit with anybody at any time. And so they [face great difficulty carrying] on their business and their families,” says another local interviewee.

Safdar Dawar, President of the Tribal Union of Journalists, described the pervasive sense of fear in North Waziristan: “If I am walking in the market, I have this fear that maybe the person walking next to me is going to be a target of the drone. If I’m shopping, I’m really careful and scared. If I’m standing on the road and there is a car parked next to me, I never know if that is going to be the target. Maybe they will target the car in front of me or behind me. Even in mosques, if we’re praying, we’re worried that maybe one person who is standing with us praying is wanted. So, wherever we are, we have this fear of drones.”