For Immediate Release
Americans in Pakistan Meet Families of Victims Obama Says Don't Exist
WASHINGTON - Thirty-two U.S. peace activists, including 6 members of Veterans For Peace are taking part in a peace delegation to Pakistan organized by the anti-war group Code Pink.
See video: http://vimeo.com/50666774
Wednesday the delegation met with U.S. Charge d'Affaires Richard Hoagland. U.S. peace activist Robert Naiman asked about reports of secondary attacks on rescuers of drone victims. Ambassador Hoagland denied that rescuers are targeted, but not that strikes are launched on the same location just struck minutes before.
Hoagland also said that he agreed with President Obama that the number of civilian deaths was near zero, but later seemed to contradict himself when he said that number he believed was accurate was in "two digits." When asked to be more specific as to whether that number was closer to 10 or 99, he declined.
VFP President Leah Bolger asked: "Since you know exactly where we intend to go, presumably the CIA and the DoD know as well, so can you guarantee us that there will be no drone strikes in the area while we are there?" He then gave a 100% guarantee that there would be no strikes on the group. Bolger followed up with: "So if we just position Americans throughout the region, can we guarantee the safety of the Pakistanis as well?" He replied that most of the "militants" in the area are foreigners -- not Pakistanis -- and that they come in and take over. He said that the local people would be very pleased to have them go.
On Wednesday and Thursday the delegation met with drone victims, with more such meetings planned for Friday. The families of the victims related a very different story than that purported by the Charge. Karim Khan, described the deaths of his son and his brother in a 2009 drone attack, as well as the damaging psychological effects of having up to six drones circling overhead 24 hours a day. Khan's story is featured in the book "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control," which was written by the delegation's leader, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin. See also this article. And this one.
The Pakistan National Defense University (NDU) was the site on Wednesday for a presentation by retired U.S. Army colonel and former diplomat Ann Wright, a lead member of the Code Pink delegation against drones. The delegation was invited to appear by the Dean of the Faculty of Contemporary Studies and was attended by an enthusiastic audience of NDU students as well as several high ranking officers.
Wright emphasized the illegality of the U.S. drone program which violates the sovereignty of other nations, and also allows President Obama to be the ‘judge, jury and executioner’ when he gives the go-ahead for extrajudicial signature drone attacks.
Wright’s anti-drone message resonated with the audience, who were also critical of U.S. policies. One questioner said that though drones may be an effective tactical weapon, but they were a failure strategically; i.e. the anti-American sentiment created by the deaths and the damage of the drones far outweighs the “benefit” of killing selected targets, even if they are considered “high value,” and that the policy of drone warfare would turn out to be counterproductive.
Following Wright’s presentation, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin presented a copy of her book "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control" to Brigadier General Najam and the Dean, and responded to questions.
Benjamin pointedly noted that the U.S. drone program in Pakistan is run by the CIA, not the military, and is thus classified and sheltered from accountability. The U.S. government has only recently even admitted that it has a drone program, even though the program has been responsible for the killing of over 3000 Pakistanis since 2004. Benjamin noted that the Executive branch of the U.S. government subverts the Judicial branch by using the cover of “national security” to protect itself from legal action, and thus undermines the entire governmental system. One questioner noted that not only were U.S. policies a violation of international law, but also were especially dangerous because they set a precedent…”Bush started it, but Obama has made it worse.”
Bolger said, "In the few days we have been here we have met with dozens of Pakistanis who are outraged about the illegal murder of their fellow citizens. We have received nothing but gratitude, admiration and support for our stand against the policies of our own government, and we have been told that our presence here inspires them to stand up against the Pakistani government, which they see as complicit in these attacks."
The six members of VFP who are part of the Code Pink delegation of 32 are Leah Bolger, Bill Kelly, Jody Mackey, Rob Mulford, Ann Wright, and Code Pink's Medea Benjamin who is an associate member of VFP.
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Veterans For Peace is a national organization founded in 1985. It is structured around a national office in Saint Louis, MO and comprised of members across the country organized in chapters or as at-large members. The organization includes men and women veterans of all eras and duty stations including from the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and current Iraq wars as well as other conflicts. Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary.