Armed Predator drone fires Hellfire missile (photo by Brigadier Lance Mans, Deputy Director, NATO Special Operations Coordination Centre)

At least fifteen people were killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan when at least two missiles hit a compound in the village known as Hesokhel. Three people were killed by the first missile. Then, following the attack, twelve people arrived to rescue and bury the dead and were killed by a second missile.

The strike was the deadliest strike this year. A security official in Pakistan claimed “fifteen militants” were killed. “Foreigners” were possibly among the dead. But, the identities of those killed were unknown to this security official and thus not reported.

The New York Times reported “a journalist from the area said the compound was being used by Uzbek, Tajik and Turkmen militants fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Qaeda-affiliated extremist group.” And, according to the AFP, “local people found letterheads of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the country’s main umbrella Taliban faction waging an insurgency against the Pakistani government, wooden beds, blankets and mattresses” in the debris.

Yesterday, a drone strike killed ten people who were mourning the death of two fighters that were killed in a drone strike the day before. Ghulam Khan of the Maulvi Nazir group, a Pakistan Taliban faction, was reportedly among the dead. The strike bore a resemblance to a strike that killed Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. The Obama administration knew when they launched a drone attack on Mehsud in August 2009 that they would kill his wife and other family members. On Sunday, Obama knew there were innocent people surrounding Khan and still ordered the strike.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in the UK, published an analysis of the recent attacks. They found the recent strikes to be a continuation of a CIA practice of targeting rescuers and funeral-goers with drones.

On more than a dozen occasions between 2009 and June 2011, the CIA attacked rescuers as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured. Although Taliban members were killed on almost every occasion, so too were civilians – many of whom the Bureau’s field investigators were able to name. The investigation also reported that on at least three occasions the CIA had struck funeral-goers.

The targeting of people who are mourning or engaged in rescuing people or burying the dead is likely illegal and clearly inhumane. Rescuers are not engaged in hostilities. Additionally, under international human rights law (which the US only subscribes to when it can bolster US foreign policy or be used to condemn a country opposed to some US agenda), it is forbidden to launch an attack “except in the most restricted circumstances, namely when the possibility of being attacked is absolutely imminent.”

‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into this very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution. This is absolutely unlawful under IHRL and of course under domestic law in any place in which such an attack might occur. And illegal under US law,’ says Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University.

‘So then we don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’

According to the TBIJ, “under President Barack Obama one drone strike has hit Pakistan on average every four days…most of the 2,292 to 2,863 people reported to have died were low-ranking militants, but that only 126 fighters had been named,” and 385 to 775 civilians including 164 to 168 children have been killed” by drone strikes.

Twenty to twenty-seven people have now been killed in three strikes in the past three days. Only a few of those killed were reported to have any connections or affiliations to any groups like the Taliban, which the US has been fighting in Afghanistan.

The New York Times quoted an anonymous Pakistani security official, who suggested the recent rise in drone attacks are “nothing but pressure tactics and preparing for the second term.” Pakistani officials believe that the US is using drone attacks to force the re-opening of NATO supply routes. Officials also think the strikes help Obama look good on national security ahead of the November election. An anonymous senior American official, however, disputed this suggestion: ”Until now the area was socked in by a long stationary front with cloud cover.” The attacks are just being carried about because the US finally got some good weather.

Pakistan strongly condemned the recent attacks. The country has spent the past few months trying to force the US to stop launching drone attacks in Pakistan. Officials closed the NATO supply routes to put pressure on the US, however, the Obama administration has shown little interest in halting drone attacks. They have shrugged off demands from Pakistan that the US respect the country’s sovereignty. They’ve shown nothing but unremitting indifference to the concerns of the leaders of Pakistan, which are supported by widespread outrage toward drones among the people of Pakistan.

David Sanger, reporter for the New York Times, told Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” this past weekend that the Obama administration “had about four days in 2009 when they thought the Pakistani Taliban – based on intercepts they’d gotten listening to leaders of this Taliban group – had a small nuclear device. And they actually sent a nuclear search team to the Gulf.” This was a “false alarm.” The “experience,” however, “reinforced an idea among U.S. policymakers: That it’s Pakistan, not Afghanistan that is really the biggest single threat to the United States in that region.”

The Obama administration should go before Congress and ask them to declare war if it really believes so many people in Pakistan pose an imminent threat to the United States. But, as Sanger suggests, that does not comport with the Obama doctrine of foreign policy:

“There is an Obama doctrine,” said Sanger, “which is, the country’s tired of these big wars of occupation, of sending 100,000 troops into a country, staying around for four or five years at a cost of a trillion dollars or more, and yet we still have these threats. So the way he has operated has been to try to choose a high tech area where the Unites States has advantage.”

Obama has had to use his background as a law professor to make the drone war seem legal. He’s had lawyers from the Justice Department, including Attorney General Eric Holder, help his administration redefine the meaning of “due process” to provide cover for drone assassinations. He’s argued doing this on a smaller scale is better than spending trillions of dollars on military occupation, which is debatable. Millions of dollars go into the manufacturing and procurement of these flying killer robots so in the long run it is highly debatable whether this is cheaper than military occupation.

Also, according to author and activist Medea Benjamin’s book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control:

…It takes significantly more people to operate unmanned aircraft than it does to fly traditional warplanes. According to the Air Force, it takes a jaw-dropping 168 people to keep just one Predator aloft for twenty-four hours! For the larger Global Hawk surveillance drone, that number jumps to 300 people! In contrast, an F-16 fighter aircraft needs fewer than one hundred people per mission.

Once again, who is being killed? Military-age males, whom the administration wants the world to consider “combatants.” People in “areas of known terrorist activity.” Individuals found with “top Qaeda” operatives that are “probably up to no good.” Actually, no, as previously mentioned, many women and children and innocent men are being executed away from the battlefield in Afghanistan.

People, as Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill points out, are being killed because they are seen to be engaging in “superficial patterns of life” that make them suspect. This greatly increases the “odds” that “a large number of innocent people” will be killed and suggests America is “now into ‘pre-crime’territory, Minority Report-style” and it “should be disturbing to many Americans.” Yet, far too many defend Obama for claiming this executive power to execute people without judicial process abroad. They gripe at the fact that Obama has been able to expand the “war on terrorism” in a way that George W. Bush could not have ever gotten away with when he was president. The fear and terror that drone warfare has brought and is bringing to people in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen is completely ignored.