US drone strikes violate international law, harm civilians: Amnesty and HRW (VIDEO)


Pakistani activists burn a US flag during a protest against US missile strikes in tribal areas on August 31, 2013.



Two prominent rights groups released reports on the United States' targeted killing program Tuesday, charging that it violated international law and harmed more civilians than the Obama administration admitted.

Amnesty International's report, "'Will I be Next?' US Drone Strikes in Pakistan," focused on nine of an alleged 45 strikes that took place in Pakistan's tribal Waziristan region between January 2012 and August 2013.

The Amnesty report detailed how 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed in a drone strike in October 2012, while gathering vegetables. One of her granddaughters recounted finding her: "I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards. It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces."

Though it was unable to draw any firm conclusions, Amnesty expressed serious concern that "these and other strikes have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes."

Amnesty called on the United States to "comply with its obligations under international law to ensure thorough, impartial and independent investigations" were carried out regarding the civilian deaths.

More from GlobalPost: The Drone Wars

A report by Human Rights Watch, also released on Tuesday, focused on the impact of United States' drone strikes in Yemen. "Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda" recounted a strike on August 29, 2012 that killed what Yemen's Defense Ministry called members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Among the men killed in that attack was Salim bin Ali Jaber, a popular cleric known for preaching against Al Qaeda's methods. He and his cousin were meeting with members of AQAP because the cleric had made "a particularly strong denunciation of AQAP."

Human Rights Watch said this and another attack it profiled were "in clear violation of international humanitarian law — the laws of war — because they struck only civilians or used indiscriminate weapons." It charged that the United States "did not take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, as the laws of war require."

Gregory D. Johnsen, author of "The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America's War in Arabia," told GlobalPost in August, "One of the real truths of this war, a truth in the war against Al Qaeda, is that the side that kills fewer civilians wins."

"The United States does not appear to have internalized the truth that civilians — Muslim civilians on the ground in Yemen — is where the battle is. If the United States loses that, they’ve lost," he said.

More from GlobalPost: 'The United States sees Yemen through the prism of Al Qaeda'

However, the Human Rights Watch report alleged that out of the 82 people killed in the six airstrikes it focused on, 57 were civilians. One particular attack, on September 2,2012, killed 12 passengers in a vehicle, including three children and a pregnant woman, according to the report.

The US government has not released official figures on how many civilians have been killed by drones, though the New America Foundation estimates somewhere between 258 and 307 civilians were killed in 365 strikes in Pakistan, while appoximately 65 civilians died in 92 drone strikes in Yemen.

This Pew Research poll looks at international opposition to drones:

In May, President Barack Obama defended his administration's use of targeted killing, saying, "America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11... Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces."

"America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists; our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute," Obama insisted.

While acknowledging civilian casualties in targeted strikes, Obama said, "There’s a wide gap between US assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports."

"To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties," he argued, though he said the civilian deaths would "haunt us as long as we live."

Here is Human Rights Watch's video report from Yemen: