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Extrajudicial murder by CIA drones

The slap on the wrist delivered to Israel yesterday by foreign secretary David Miliband over the use of fake British passport in the murder of a leading member of Hamas in Dubai should not obscure the fact that “targeted assassination” is a policy that Washington carries out in Afghanistan and Pakistan with London’s blessing.

Miliband had nothing to say about the actual killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by agents of the Israeli secret service Mossad, not even in a roundabout way that covered all eventualities. That’s because in private, New Labour and the US government support so-called “targeted assassinations” themselves – a policy that clearly violates international laws and could be considered a war crime.

Most days, for example, pilotless drones unleash a deadly attack on targets in Pakistan which, it should be remembered, is a sovereign state that has not given permission for its airspace to be violated by the United States in this way. This morning the BBC reported that missiles fired by a suspected US drone killed at least five people in north-west Pakistan's tribal region.

The missiles hit an area near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan district, bordering Afghanistan, officials said. The identity of those killed is not yet known. Hundreds of people, including a number of militants, have been killed in scores of drone strikes since August 2008.

For every Taliban fighter or Al-Qaeda leader killed, many more civilians perish as the missiles come out of a clear blue sky to hit their village. Earlier this year, Pakistan’s leading newspaper Dawn reported:

Of the 44 predator strikes carried out by US drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan over the past 12 months, only five were able to hit their actual targets, killing five key Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but at the cost of over 700 innocent civilians. According to the statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities, the Afghanistan-based US drones killed 708 people in 44 predator attacks targeting the tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009. For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.

The drone attacks were sanctioned by George W. Bush in 2008 and have actually been stepped up by his successor. More attacks have occurred in the first year of the Obama presidency than all years of his predecessor.

The programme is operated by the CIA spy agency and the targets selected by agents in front of computer screens at the agency’s HQ in Langley, Virginia, half a world away. No doubt it’s like a video game for the operatives while the CIA officially denies the very existence of drone killings because it’s a “covert” operation. New York University law professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions since 2004, says his requests for US legal justification for what are effectively extrajudicial executions are always denied.

In August last year, Khaista Khan, saw 12 charred bodies after US missiles struck a small hamlet in North Waziristan. He said:

Americans are cowards. They are afraid of fighting man-to-man in a battlefield and that is why they hit from the sky and run away. Many people who did not support the Taliban previously support them now because the Americans are killing innocent people.

Apparently, 44 countries have unmanned aircraft for surveillance. There are only two countries that use the drones for killing people. One is the United States. The other is, naturally enough, Israel.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
24 March 2010

Your Say

Colin says:

Mr. Feldman really hits the nail on the head here. The hegemony of the U.S. has its inherent contradictions and double standards. "Western" countries want to manage the region by their standards. How's that been working out?

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