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Count All Lives Taken By Drone War, Not Just Western Ones: Human Rights Groups

Human rights organizations including Reprieve and Center for Constitutional Rights write open letter to President Barack Obama

Pakistani journalist and anti-drone campaigner Kareem Khan holds a photograph of his brother and teenage son, both killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2009. (Image courtesy of Reprieve)

All victims of U.S. drone strikes and assassination attempts deserve to be acknowledged by the government that carried out their killing—not just citizens of western nations—human rights organizations charged (pdf) in an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama released on Wednesday.

In late April, the Obama administration publicly apologized for the drone killings of two civilians, U.S. citizen Warren Weinstein and Italian citizen Giovanni Lo Porto, in a U.S. strike that occurred in Pakistan in January 2015. For the first time in the drone war, the president pledged to pay compensation to the victims' families.

But the president has repeatedly refused to acknowledge, let alone pay reparations for, the vast majority of people killed in over a decade of covert drone wars, the most of whom hail from Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

"We write to urge your administration to adopt the same approach to all other U.S. counterterrorism strikes in which civilians have been injured or killed—regardless of their nationalities," reads the letter, which was signed by humanitarian and advocacy groups, including Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Reprieve.

"To that end, your administration should establish a systematic and transparent mechanism for post-strike investigations, which are made public, and provide appropriate redress to civilian victims," the missive continues.

But the statement goes beyond calling for transparency and redress: "In addition to investigating individual strikes, acknowledging responsibility, and providing appropriate redress for civilian harm, we urge your administration to take essential steps to: publicly disclose standards and criteria governing 'targeted killings'; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international human rights and humanitarian law; and enable meaningful congressional oversight and judicial review."

Many from heavily impacted areas and countries have called for an immediate end to the U.S. drone war altogether. "These drones attack us, and the whole world is silent," declared Kareem Khan, a Pakistani journalist and anti-drone campaigner whose brother and teenage son were killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2009, addressing a 2011 anti-drone conference in Islamabad.

Wednesday's letter includes examples of ten U.S. drone strikes that have left family and loved ones seeking redress, accountability, and simply, acknowledgement.

One such case is from October 24, 2012 in Pakistan: "A strike allegedly killed Mamana Bibi, a woman aged about 65 who was gathering vegetables in her family's large, mostly vacant fields in Ghundi Kala, a village in North Waziristan."

But the human toll goes far beyond these ten examples.

According to estimates from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, one of the few outfits publicly tracking such deaths, up to 1,273 people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan have been killed in CIA drone attacks and other covert operations since 2002.

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