International law experts, peace activists, journalists and human rights advocates from around the world gathered in Washington, DC over the weekend to inform the American public about US drone policy and the impact it is having on human populations throughout the world.
Peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights hosted the first International Drone Summit as a way to build an organizing strategy against the growing use of drones, call an end to airstrikes that kill innocent civilians, and to prevent the potentially widespread misuse both overseas and in the United States.
"Drone victims are not just figures on a piece of paper, they are real people and that’s why it is important to see what happens on the ground when a missile hits a target," said Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar, according to the Pakistani newspaper DAWN. “We have to see what exactly is happening on the ground, what is happening to the people,” he told the Washington conference.
During his speech, journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has done in-depth reporting on the US drone program in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, questioned the Obama Administration's policy of assassination. "What is happening to this country right now?" asked Scahill after noting that recent legislation in the US Congress opposing the assassination of US citizens abroad without due process received only six votes in the House of Representatives. "We have become a nation of assassins. We have become a nation that is somehow silent in the face of -- or embraces, as polls indicate -- the idea that assassination should be one of the centerpieces of US foreign policy. How dangerous is this? It's a throwback to another era -- an era that I think many Americans thought was behind them. And the most dangerous part of this is the complicity of ordinary people in it." [Note: See below, Part 4 at the 5:30 mark]
"We have become a nation of assassins. We have become a nation that is somehow silent in the face of -- or embraces, as polls indicate -- the idea that assassination should be one of the centerpieces of US foreign policy."
-Jeremy Scahill, journalist
Scahill was emphatic in his talk that the drone and assassination programs have received wide bi-partisan support and lamented those in the US who ceased to voice their concern over such policies as soon as President Bush left office. "President Obama has shown us in a very clear way that when it comes to the premiere national security policy of this nation, there is not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans."
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Pakistani newspaper DAWN reports today:
Peace Conference Puts Face to Drone Victims
Drone victims are not just figures on a piece of paper, they are real people and that’s why it is important to see what happens on the ground when a missile hits a target, argues Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar.
“We have to see what exactly is happening on the ground, what is happening to the people,” he told a Washington conference on drones.
“We apologize to the people of Pakistan for the strikes that have killed so many civilians,” said Nancy Mancias, a peace activist associated with the US-based, anti-war Code Pink Group.
“The CIA needs to be held accountable for their strikes.”
“This is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world.” --Jeremy Scahill, journalist
“Those who order a drone strike act at once “as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners,” said journalist Jeremy Scahill who recently traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to observe the consequences of the drone war.
“This is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world,” he said.
“War on terror is an oxymoron. How can you end terrorism by spreading terror via horrific remote control killing machines,” said Dr Amna Buttar, a PPP MPA from Punjab.
“All 190 million people are the victims of this remote-controlled war.” [...]
Akbar told an audience of about 300 people from across the United States that it was important to put faces on the drone victims; otherwise people will not understand their plight.
“They feel this imminent threat of being attacked from the sky. And they feel helpless because they have no other place to relocate. Many have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate to other parts of Pakistan,” he said. Advocate Akbar showed a photo of a teenager named Saadullah, who was helping his mother in the kitchen when a drone hit their home in Fata in 2009. He woke up in a hospital three days later without his legs.
Sanaullah, a 17-year-old pre-engineering student, burned alive in his car during another strike in 2010.
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“We apologize to the people of Pakistan for the strikes that have killed so many civilians,” --Nancy Mancias, CodePink
Akbar also showed photos of the Bismillah family: mother, father, a daughter and a son, all killed in a drone strike.
Other speakers noted that US drone strikes in Pakistan had also killed 168 children. They quoted from recent surveys suggesting the number of ordinary people killed could be 40 per cent higher than previously reported. [...]
The “Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control,” organized by American human rights groups, noted that there had been a lethal rise in the number of drone strikes under the Obama administration.
President Obama argues that drone strikes are focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists and have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.
Supporters of drone warfare say the drone technology is an accurate and less expensive weapon that minimizes risks to US troops and protects America by killing terrorists.
Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of Reprieve, an organization that helped secure the release of 65 prisoners from notorious Guantanamo Bay, also highlighted this point.
“We can kill people without any risk to ourselves and that’s why the politicians like it." --Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve
“We can kill people without any risk to ourselves and that’s why the politicians like it,” said Smith while addressing the drone conference.
Other panelists noted that US drones had the potential to be equipped with heat sensors, Geographic Positioning Systems, license-plate readers, extremely high resolution cameras, infrared cameras, and facial-recognition software. Coordinated swarms easily could track people’s daily movement from home to the office to a political rally to the grocery store.
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Video by Kevin Gostzola at FireDogLake: Journalist Jeremy Scahill says United States 'A Nation of Assassins'
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