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US drones also targeting mourners and rescuers in Pakistan

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The US drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal belt have killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, the British newspaper Sunday Times has reported.

The Sunday Times Bureau Investigative report says that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. There have been about 260 drone attacks in Pakistan by Obama's administration -- averaging one every four days.

The report said that: "A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts."

Quoting Christof Heyns, a South African law professor who is United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial Executions, the report states that "Allegations of repeat strikes coming back after half an hour when medical personnel are on the ground are very worrying. To target civilians would be crimes of war." Heyns is calling for an investigation into the Bureau's findings.

On July 14, 2011 Al Jazeera newspaper provided graphic accounts of the two civilian victims of the drone attacks namely Resham Khan and Kareem Khan:

The 52-year-old shepherd, Resham Khan, was brought on a stretcher to a psychiatric hospital in Islamabad in January, traumatized and unable to speak. The father of six witnessed 15 members of his extended family perish in June 2010 when a US drone attacked a funeral procession in his native North Waziristan. The atrocity has left him mute and emotionally paralyzed, his vacant eyes staring into the distance. He gave up on food and drink in the months following the attack. His condition also prevented him from looking after his ailing mother who died soon thereafter. And his surviving children have suffered. When the Reuters journalist finally got him to talk, one of the few things he said was 'Stop the drone attacks.'

Kareem Khan, too, has suffered. On December 31, 2009, his son Zaenullah Khan and his brother Asif Iqbal were among the three people killed in a US drone attack which destroyed their home in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Kareem's absence spared him the sight of his mutilated family; and unlike the helpless shepherd, he had the wherewithal to demand justice.

Tellingly, in the listing for these drone attacks the New America Foundation database does not record a single civilian death.

Complaint against John A. Rizzo

In July 2011, Kareem Khan and two other tribesmen -- Sadaullah and Maezol Khan -   filed a complaint with the police against John A. Rizzo, former legal counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA), for approving drone missile strikes that killed hundreds of people.

In the complaint, the attorney for the tribesmen, Shahzad Akbar, pointed out that John A. Rizzo was acting General Counsel to the CIA until June 25, 2009. "At CIA, one of his role was to approve a list of person to be killed every month in Pakistan by the CIA using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," Akbar said in the complaint.

The complaint said Rizzo admitted to approving the drone strikes in an interview with the Newsweek magazine this year. "The agency was very punctilious about this ... They tried to minimize collateral damage, especially women and children," the magazine quoted him as saying about the attacks in an interview in February. Rizzo explained that he was the one who signed off, the magazine reported.

Earlier in November 2010, Kareem Khan's lawyer, Barrister Shahzad Akbar served legal notices to the CIA station chief in Pakistan Jonathan Banks, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta for $500 million in damages.  Banks, who was in Pakistan on a business visa hurriedly left Pakistan. In June 2011, Barister Akbar was denied visa to the United States to participate in a conference hosted by the human rights program at Columbia University law school in New York City.

One of the most devastating attacks took place on March 17, 2011, when a drone massacred 45 tribesmen, including children, gathered for a jirga (tribal council) to resolve a local dispute in Dattakhel, North Waziristan. The incident happened only a day after Pakistan had released CIA contractor Raymond Davis, jailed for killing two men in Lahore. Davis had been held for two months and was released after the payment of blood money said to be around $2.3million. The attack compelled Pakistan's military chief General Ashfaq Kayani to condemn the US for 'carelessly and callously' targeting civilians, in 'complete violation of human rights'.

Quoting the website , Raph Nader says that the drone attacks have destroyed about 1900 insurgents in Pakistan's tribal regions. Nader questions. How these fighters are so clearly distinguished from civilians in those mountain areas is not clear? Nor is it clear how or from whom the government gets such "precise" information about the guerilla leaders' whereabouts night and day? Interestingly, establishing precise casualty figures and identifying the dead in such attacks is also virtually impossible as independent media are barred from Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border.

The Sunday Times report came as the US resumed drone attacks on January 10, after a lull of almost two months. Four alleged militants were reportedly killed in this strike in North Waziristan. Another drone attack on January 23 in the same tribal region killed at least four alleged militants.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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