'Acting Like Hit-and-Run Driver,' US Defends Drone Killings

As Pakistan prime minister set to meet with Obama, White House refuses to acknowledge counterproductive nature of program

Ahead of a Wednesday meeting in Washington between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama--and despite a flurry of intense criticism from the United Nations, human rights groups, and victims and their family--the White House continues to defend its borderless, secretive drone killing programs.

Among the key agenda items for today's meeting, Sharif has made it clear he will raise the concern of his people that the continued U.S. attacks are leaving many civilian casualties, destabilizing already fragile parts of the country, and is expected to repeat his demand that the drone campaign be stopped.

"It's time to end the black hole of accountability on drone strikes. The US is behaving like a hit-and-run driver." -Naureen Shah, Amnesty International

During a speech given at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Sharif indicated he would stress for Obama "the need for an end to drone attacks" in the tribal areas, which he considers a blatant and unwelcome assault on his nation's sovereignty.

"The use of drones is not only a continual violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country," he said.

Despite that, however, Sharif said he will continue to support the U.S. military endeavors in neighboring Afghanistan and is committed to continue the working partnership between the two countries.

Last week, two separate reports from special UN investigators (here and here) were presented to the world body, both calling into question the legal framework and human rights implications of the ongoing use of U.S. drones to carry out extrajudicial targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

And on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International presented their most in-depth studies to date looking at the innocent civilians of U.S. drone attacks, which they indicated could amount to international 'war crimes' and called on the international community to both investigate past incidents and challenge the U.S. government over its secretive, dangerous, and counterproductive approach to counterterrorism.

"Drone technology is proliferating rapidly. The US government should be careful of the signal that it is sending to the world," said Naureen Shah of Amnesty International. "It's time to end the black hole of accountability on drone strikes. The US is behaving like a hit-and-run driver."

Despite the series of public indictments, and the mounting evidence of its counterproductive nature, White House spokesperson Jay Carney delivered a new defense of U.S. drones ahead of the meeting with Sharif. Predictably, Carney said the Obama administration rejects the evidence presented by the both the UN and the human rights groups that the manner in which the drone war is executed violate any laws, domestic or international.

Carney also said the military takes "extraordinary care" when it chooses targets for aerial engagement.

Countering enormous amounts of presented evidence and expert testimony on the subject--both from witnesses and victims on the ground to the many organizations and individuals who have tried to study the subject--Carney called the cross-border assassination program "precise . . . lawful and . . . effective."

In citing just one case, however--that of 68-year-old grandmother Mamana Bibi who was killed by a U.S. drone in 2012 while tending to her garden, surrounded by children--Amnesty International's Mustafa Qadri pushed back on Carney's statement vociferously by writing:

The United States claims that its drone strikes are extremely accurate, based on vetted intelligence and that the vast majority of those killed have been linked to al Qaeda and its allies. Yet the world has to take this on faith, since the U.S. administration refuses to disclose key facts, such as details of who is targeted and on what basis. While the Taliban, al Qaeda and other armed groups operate in northwestern Pakistan, it is impossible to fathom how a woman in her 60s surrounded by her grandchildren could be mistaken for a fighter.

And Qadri concluded:

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama stated in a much-watched speech that decisions made by U.S. government now "will define the type of nation - and world - that we leave to our children." It's time for some accountability for these lofty words.


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