Amnesty International’s recent publication, “Will I be Next? US Drone Strikes in Pakistan” has spurred a global debate on the use of drone strikes in Pakistan. The report invited some critical responses on issues of accuracy and objectivity but overall it has informed the ongoing debates. In Pakistan, it has been used by different lobbies to advocate their stance through selective interpretation. Raza Rumi spoke to Amnesty’s Pakistan Researcher Mustafa Qadri on some of these issues and concerns.
What are the most critical findings of Amnesty’s recent report?
In some of the cases we have documented extensively, the US appears to have committed unlawful killings in breach of international law. Some of these killings, particularly the targeting of so-called ‘rescuers’, may even constitute war crimes or extra-judicial executions. This includes the killing of 18 laborers in the impoverished village of Zowi Sidgi around Magreb time on 6 July 2012. In another case, a drone strike killed 67 year old grandmother Manana Bibi in front of her grandchildren. Those responsible for these killings must be brought to justice. The US must come clean and acknowledge this secretive program, fully disclose the number of documented deaths, how many they view as non-combatants, how they arrived at these figures, how they assess that a person is a combatant and therefore will be targeted, and fully disclose the legal basis for the program, including the US Department of Justice Legal Memo that is purportedly the cornerstone of its legality. I believe this is only possible if the program and the cases we and others have documented are investigated by a genuinely independent and impartial body. It should not be left to the Obama Administration and the US Congress and Senate committees, which are supposed to provide oversight of the targeted killing programs, because they have failed to adequately do this.
What were the difficulties in gathering data? How did you secure access to the victims and the area? Did Pakistan state cooperate or hinder the efforts?
Securing data is extremely difficult in FATA because of the secretive US program, the lawless and remote nature of the area, and the active control and suppression of accurate testimony by local actors including the Taliban, Al Qaeda linked groups and Pakistani security authorities. This issue is so politicised that it is difficult to take claims on face value. That’s why our research is based on extensive, discreet research from multiple eyewitnesses interviewed on three separate occasions by separate investigators who have worked with us in the past – not just on drones, but abuses by the Taliban and others, abuses against women and so on. We corroborated eyewitness testimony against satellite imagery, photographs, video, and analysis of missile fragments by experts. […]