Human rights organization, Amnesty International, has released a report that presents two case studies on victims of United States drone strikes in Pakistan and also details the practice of signature strikes, which has led to rescuers being killed in follow-up attacks while they are trying to help wounded individuals.
Both of the drone strikes detailed in the report, “Will I Be Next?”, occurred in 2012 and were reported. In the aftermath of one of the strikes, there was particular focus on the fact that the US was deliberately attacking civilian rescuers after the first strike was launched against whomever had been targeted.
On July 6, 2012, laborers from the Zowi Sidgi village were gathered in a tent after working a long day in the summer heat. Residents nearby could clearly see four drones were flying overhead. Then, as the Amnesty International report describes, “the sound of multiple missiles” suddenly was heard “piercing the sky, hitting the tent and killing at least eight people instantly.”
Ahsan, a chromite miner who lives in Zowi Sidgi, said, “When we went to where the missiles hit to help people; we saw a very horrible scene. Body parts were scattered everywhere. [I saw] bodies without heads and bodies without hands or legs. Everyone in the hut was cut to pieces.”
There was panic, with people running to their homes, to trees, anywhere to escape. Some villagers chose to go see if there were any survivors.
One of the laborers, Junaid, recounted how people attempted to collect bodies. They carried stretchers, blankets and water. But, minutes later, another series of missiles were launched. They targeted those who had come to clean up the devastation and six people were instantly killed. Two others died from wounds.
In total, “18 people were killed in the drone strikes that evening and at least 22 others were injured, including an eight-year-old girl named Shehrbano who sustained shrapne linjuries to her leg.”
“Some people lost their hands,” Nabeel said of the second strike. “Others had their heads cut off. Some lost their legs. Human body parts were scattered everywhere on the ground. The bodies were burnt and it was not possible to recognize them.”
No more villagers went near where victims had been killed until the next morning. Just about everyone feared if they came close to the site they would be killed in another attack.
In another attack on October 24, 2012, which Amnesty International detailed in the organization’s report, a sixty-eight year-old grandmother named Mamana Bibi was killed instantly by two Hellfire missiles while she was gathering okra in the family fields for cooking that evening. Two grandchildren, Zubair and Nabeela, witnessed the drone strike.
“There was a very bad smell and the area was full of smoke and dust. I couldn’t breathe properly for several minutes,” said Zubair.
Nabeela recalled the explosion had been “very close to us” and had been “very strong.” It took her into the air and pushed her to the ground. When she ventured to where her grandmother had been killed, Nabeela said, “I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards,” recalled Nabeela. “It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth.”
Following this attack, a “second volley of drone missiles” were fired. They hit a “vacant area of the field” nine feet from where their grandmother had been standing.
The report describes:
A few minutes after the first strike a second volley of drone missiles was fired, hitting a vacant area of the field around 9ft from where Mamana Bibi was killed. Mamana Bibi’s grandsons Kaleemul and Samadur Rehman were there, having rushed to the scene when the first volley struck. Kaleemul Rehman recalled: “I was sitting at my home drinking tea [when] suddenly I heard a sound of explosions. I ran outside and saw the rocket had left a big crater in the field and dead animals, and the area was full of smoke and dust. I could not see my grandmother anywhere.” As the two boys surveyed the area, they discovered their grandmother had been blown to pieces. Fearing further attacks, the two tried to flee the area when the second volley of missiles was fired. Kaleemul was hit by shrapnel, breaking his left leg and suffering a large, deep gash to that thigh. “This time I felt something hit my leg and the wave of the blast knocked me unconscious,” Kaleemul said. “Later I regained consciousness and noticed that my leg was wounded and my cousin was carrying me on his back to the main road, about 1.5 miles away.” From there a car drove Kaleemul to the Agency Headquarters Hospital.
Mamana Bibi, an elderly woman, was not engaged in any fighting when she was hit. She may have been killed as a result of “faulty intelligence.” Or, perhaps, “drone operators deliberately targeted and killed” her. It is unknown what exactly happened because US officials refuse to provide additional information.
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Christof Heyns has called this CIA tactic of targeting civilian rescuers a “war crime.”
“When one drone attack is followed up by another in order to target those who are wounded and hors de combat or medical personnel, it constitutes a war crime in armed conflict and a violation of the right to life, whether or not in armed conflict,” he wrote in a recent UN report on drones.
Zalan, a resident of Mir Ali, which is a village in North Waziristan, told Amnesty International, “The people think that if we gather at the incident site after the drone attack there is a possibility of further attacks on them because the drones might think Taliban have gathered and fire again.”
Amnesty International contends that evidence of “follow-up attacks, possibly on the presumption that they too were members of the group being targeted by the USA,” makes it “virtually impossible for drone strikes to be surgically precise as claimed by US Administration officials, even if certain attacks comply with the necessary standards under international law.”
The report highlights two other attacks, which involved similar signature strikes, in less detail. On July 23, 2012, after targeting fighters from a group that is part of the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban, six were killed in a follow-up strike while trying to rescue those wounded. These people were not participating in “hostilities.”
On June 4, 2012, early in the morning, five men were killed in drone strike that hit a building in the village of Esso Khel. Locals arrived to assist victims. Those hit were likely Arabs or Central Asians that were members of al Qaeda. After this attack:
As one resident explained to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which also did research on this case, “They started rescue work and were collecting body pieces of the slain people and pulling out the injured from debris of the building when the drones started firing again.”
The use of drones has brought fear or terror to the innocent lives of Pakistanis. One resident said, “When the drone plane comes and we hear the sound of ‘ghommm’ people feel very scared. The drone plane can launch missiles at any time.”
But Pakistanis do not just have US drone strikes to fear. They have to fear attacks from Pakistani forces and other armed groups, particularly if they live in North Waziristan. Such armed groups have engaged in “unlawful killings” and committed war crimes. Pakistan has done a poor job of bringing those responsible to justice in fair trials.
Each of the people who Amnesty International spoke to for the report “did so at great personal risk, knowing that they might face reprisals from US or Pakistani authorities, the Taliban, or other groups. They spoke out because they were anxious to make known the human cost of the drone program, and the impact on themselves and their communities of living in a state of fear.”
Chillingly, a person unnamed in the report who witnessed a drone strike, said, “It is difficult to trust anyone. I can’t even trust my own brother… After I spoke to you some men in plain clothes visited me [in North Waziristan]. I don’t know who they were, whether they were Taliban or someone else; they were not from our village.”
I was clearly warned not to give any more information about the victims of drone strikes. They told me it is fine if I continue to do my work but I should not share any information with the people who come here,” the person added.
To read the full report on drone strikes in Pakistan, go here.