The problem with “collateral damage” in a “surgical air-strike”

Published: November 26, 2014
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It is about time that the US let go of its double standards or stop exerting hegemony in the field of human rights. PHOTO: REUTERS

The questioning gaze of that drone victim, who lost one of his family members – with eight others injured – on the fateful day of October 24, 2012, in a drone strike at South Waziristan, still haunts my memory every time a new strike occurs.

Just today, four more people were killed in North Waziristan; they too shall be termed as “collateral damage” of a “precise air-strike” against “terrorists” hiding in the “safe havens”, and forgotten or not even talked about as individual human beings in the first place.

When will this loss of innocent human life stop?

Who will make the American government accountable for this tyranny?

Who will answer the questions of this Waziri victim who asks that if Malala was a victim of an attack by the Taliban on October 9, 2012, then Nabila too was a victim of American aggression, which manifested itself on October 24 – so why then was the latter not even acknowledged or recognised while the former emerged as a global icon?

Yes, I agree that each story is different and no sacrifice can be belittled in comparison to another, but can the victims be expected to understand this? Is it possible or reasonable to expect them to embrace the logic, if any, of ‘collateral damage’?

I doubt it!

A recent article published by The Guardian revealed that 41 men were targeted but 1,147 were killed in Pakistan during a drone strike; the same article discussed how the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, just to hunt down one Qari Hussein of the TTP. How can the US think that killing 128 people for a single, alleged terrorist is acceptable? The logic befuddles me.

This calls into question the accuracy of these strikes that the American government claims, while terming them as being “clinical” or “precise”. What about the loss of human life from “signature” strikes, when someone is targeted for their pattern of behaviour? In some instances, people have even been killed for mistaken identity, either for having the same name or a similar description.

There have been instances of multiple strikes on the same occasion to confirm elimination of targets. Furthermore there is no transparent and effective media reporting with sources on both sides of the issue, having incentives to manipulate the data for strategic and political reasons. The use of local intelligence is very common, often tainted with tribal prejudices and inaccuracies.

The question of the legality of drones comes into play as there is a judgment by the Peshawar High Court where the chief justice, Dost Mohammad Khan, ruled that drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights. The court said the strikes must be declared a war crime.

Similarly Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights said:

“Where the position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear: It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a matter of international law, the US drone campaign in Pakistan is … being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people or the legitimate government of the state.”

There are statements from American officials raising doubts over different issues concerning the drone war, even if not its legality per se. For instance, former US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameroon Muntor once said,

“The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.”

The CIA director John Brennan has, in the past, questioned whether “the Obama administration was overstepping its bounds by launching drone strikes, including usage against American citizens, without any congressional or judicial oversight”. He further asserted, while defending the program, that the Obama administration could ensure further transparency as to the civilian deaths in drone strikes.

So the entire argument boils down to one question – how can the Obama administration call these strikes ‘precise’ when only four percent of drone victims in Pakistan are al Qaeda operatives, as per the findings of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism?

How can such a significant number of civilian deaths, including children, be termed as collateral damage of a “precise, targeted, surgical strike”?

How can pushing a button and then shutting one’s eyes to the resultant loss of human life win a greater war? Who will compensate the victims and how will they be rehabilitated?

Who will provide education to the many Malalas who were not attacked by the Taliban, but were displaced and injured as a result of these aerial strikes?

It is about time the US lets go of its double standards or stops exerting hegemony in the field of human rights. They have no right to bash Russia over the Ukranian conflict, when history is replete of instances where the US blatantly violated international norms and fundamental rights. The US happens to be the only developed Western country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) or the Women’s Convention.

Torture of detainees and operation of prison cells like at Guantanamo, under the infamous rendition policy, is yet another massive usurpation of human rights. The use of the death penalty is not yet abolished and the US doesn’t accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for trail of war criminals. The world is witness to how the US went ahead with the Iraq invasion of 2003, completely ignoring the UN resolution against it and in breach of international law, on the pretext of controlling the spread and use of “weapons of mass destruction” which were never found.

Many innocent lives have been lost under the smoke screens of “war against terrorism” and “self-defence” while no humanitarian intervention has been made in Rwanda or places where genocides took place – they probably seem to be strategically insignificant countries. The US needs to contain its greedy control and selfish world policies before, as a consequence, they have to reap what they themselves have sown.

Ayesha Siddique Khan

Ayesha Siddique Khan

A barrister at law from Lincoln's Inn London and has LLM in International Protection of Human Rights Law from University of London.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.sepia-paper.deviantart.com Muhammed Waqar Younis

    its quite simple…America and Americans and more Important then humans or anything else in the whole world, They are the most powerful nation on the planet so they can do anything they like..kill anyone..torture anyone..make wars on anyone. USA is a Bully..nothing else moreRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I know that this is a very harsh comment but it has to be said.
    If there is even one single terrorist among 100 people living among them as their own then doesn’t that make them responsible for their own fate. I have never ever seen a single man from among those who were injured in strikes blaming the Taliban for their injuries.
    The analogy is, you live in a house, and you let a criminal in with you, the local police(or in this case, police from a land far far away) storm the house looking for the bad guy and you still do not give him up, rather you let him stay. Consequently the police force does a sweep in which they manhandle you and the criminal. Now who is to blame here? Who kept the criminal with them? Who let him in? Who thought that the criminal was right?
    Now I would like to know why these people did not just phone the military the minute a wanted TTP guy took up residence near him. I know that some people say that the terrorists coerce the locals but why not just a simple phone call?Recommend

  • Prashant

    My heart goes out for those who are the collateral damage.

    “How can the US think that killing 128 people for a single, alleged terrorist is acceptable?”

    America is not in the business of killing innocents for the sake of it, just imagine how many innocents this single terrorist may take away to the Heaven along with himself if he is not knocked out, on Sept 11, 19 of these killed more than 2000.

    “…there is a judgment by the Peshawar High Court where the chief justice, Dost Mohammad Khan, ruled that drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights.”

    You should have asked the same Chief Justice if having Taliban in Afghanistan and killing innocent Indians using these proxies was not inhumane, the fact is the chickens have come home to roost and the best way to get over it is be getting over the concept of using these proxies across borders while fighting them at home.

    “Who will provide education to the many Malalas who were not attacked by the Taliban, but were displaced and injured as a result of these aerial strikes?”

    You are asking this question to the wrong side madam, what would Pakistani Govt do if you want the Americans to take care of your issues?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Putting the blame on America for a flaw that exists in us……is wrong.
    The flaw is that we are weak and we ourselves do not value human life………14 people gunned down in Lahore Model Town…….two Christians horribly killed in a brick kiln……and many more but zero justice has been provided. Until and unless we don’t put our house in order, others will treat us with impunity and get away with it.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    USA is a bully, ok. but what do you have to say about the Taliban? What are they? and most importantly. What are your views about the ones who harbour Taliban?Recommend

  • Asad

    America is the number one terrorist in the world. They kill innocent people violently including children and on top of that they spread false media reports that ‘militants’ were killed to cover up their crime.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    All should note that the author carefully avoids reporting that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are militants belonging to any number of groups (Good Taliban!) operating from inside “sovereign” Pakistan!Recommend

  • http://www.sepia-paper.deviantart.com Muhammed Waqar Younis

    Taliban where made to fight against Soviet forces invading Afghan by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and some help from USA, after that War we people don’t know what happened to them and that is it, Our country is nearby to the place where they were made but it doesn’t mean we are providing them a safe haven. They are everywhere now and just because in one country they seem to get out much more doesn’t mean you can wage war in that country and kill anyone all in the name of fighting against terrorism. Israel did the same with Gaza and you seen the destruction caused by it and USA kept quite..why?…Cause Israel is the one providing the assets of war to USA to do these drone attacks on us as of right now…Recommend

  • hypocrisy?

    “You should have asked the same Chief Justice if having Taliban in
    Afghanistan and killing innocent Indians using these proxies was not
    inhumane,”
    Once again you harp about dead Indians and cold war deeds and ignore others killed by militants. The truth is that the Taliban are not mindless puppets of Pakistan. They have their own agenda and they operate independent of it. Find someone else to blame other than Pakistan for once.

    “chickens have come home to roost and the best way to get over it is be
    getting over the concept of using these proxies across borders while
    fighting them at home.”
    The same could be said about the US arming the Mujaheddin. Do you have the guts to tell an American that 9/11 was a direct result of their efforts of supporting the Mujaheddin or perhaps admit that Indians soldiers being killed by Kashmiri fighters is a result of Indian occupation and atrocities? Or are you here simply to insult innocent Pakistanis?

    Either way your obsession with bashing Pakistan is quite unhealthy considering you’re a top commenter. Not to mention your phobia of Muslims and their ancestors.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    When you say that you don’t provide them safe heaven I am bound to ask you. “WHICH planet are you from?” On the Planet earth Taliban have ALWAYS been harboured by thier kin in these areas. Reason you ask? Well simply because many of these people are relatives of Taliban, they share the same mindset and they are all out against USA and the “west”.
    On a logical basis. please read the last part of my comment. If they do not harbour the bad guys then why dont they contact the authorities the minute one of them shows up?Recommend

  • http://www.sepia-paper.deviantart.com Muhammed Waqar Younis

    so your saying we people MUST be killed in order to make USA safe?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Yes that is what I said. If you think that Taliban are included in this “we” people than ofc these people should be killed. tbh it is my firm belief that all taliban supporters should be hung as they are rebels and traitors. they have blood of innocents on their hands.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    yes ALL taliban and their supporters should be wiped out. Our armed forces are doing just thatRecommend

  • ayesha

    do you really think a common tribal man or a child would know about terrorists living amongst them? are their activities public? and lets assume even if they know and they report, can you imagine what their fate would be at the hands of the TTP? Is hunting down one man more important than hundreds of innocent lives? entire Iraq has been bombarded on the pretext of WMDs, were they ever found? are you that naive to believe that the drone strikes are that precise and common people are giving refuge to these terrorists?Recommend

  • ayesha

    TTP is globally considered a terrorist organisation. So should uSA a sovereign state be judged with standards of a terrorist organisation? If the acts are the same then why calling one a terrorist and not the other?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I did not get what you said. When did their acts become the same. Believe me, the minute I find out that USA is targeting polio workers, killing my brothers while they pray in mosques and initiating suicide attacks on innocents who harbor no criminals I will be the first to raise my voice(and if need be by arm) against them. But I see that they have not done anything which TTP have done to Pakistan. There was not a single drone attack before the arrival of TTP. To get rid of symptoms, you get rid of the disease. TTP is a virus which causes drone attacks, we should get rid of them and their supporters at once.Recommend

  • http://www.sepia-paper.deviantart.com Muhammed Waqar Younis

    then go ahead,,,bring your army into our lands…we will fight them Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Will a common man know that there are terrorist among them?
    Yes These are closely knit communities and the arrival of anyone from outside is an event.
    are their activities public?
    Yes, very public. They will try to recruit young men, they will try to indoctrinate the children and they will make the entire village feel their presence.
    How will snitches be treated?
    This is the best part of modern age. Anyone with a cellphone can call the military and without identifying themselves they can leave a message. The military ever ever gives up their sources. I can personally guarantee you this.
    entire Iraq has been bombarded on the pretext of WMDs, were they ever found?
    A very wrong surmise. OBL was found in Pakistan. TTP is in Pakistan. This is not something which is thought to exist, it does exist. You should read about logical fallacies before making this sort of comparisons.
    are you that naive to believe that the drone strikes are that precise and common people are giving refuge to these terrorists?
    I never said these strikes are precise. Please be kind enough to point out where I said that. Secondly, some common people do give TTP shelter.
    I think I have answered each of your question. I hope now you can stop second guessing our army and let them pound this rebellion into the proverbial dust.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Virus was introduced by Romans to divide &misrule natives of western mideast in 4th century. New strain of this virus was developed by Bedouinis in 7th century. When a society gets affected by these viruses then symptoms are: extremism, racism, loot and plunder of those normal natives who are not yet affected by this virus called bookwali AbraHaramism, colonialism of distant natives , genocide of natives and environmental degradation…Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    They are protecting Angloes drug trade assets. Poor pakhtun is getting destroyed.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Pak Army is already in Waziristan. they have taken care of almost 1200 insurgents. More insurgents will be taken care of soon. the positive result is that there have been only 3 attacks in so many months. there used to be an attack almost daily. So I guess the army’s shoot first, ask questions later(or don’t ask them at all) approach is working pretty good.Recommend