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Peace conference puts face to drone victims

Published Apr 30, 2012 12:02am


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Protesters staging a demonstration against drone attacks in Pakistan.— AFP File Photo

WASHINGTON: Drone victims are not just figures on a piece of paper, they are real people and that’s why it is important to see what happens on the ground when a missile hits a target, argues Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar.

“We have to see what exactly is happening on the ground, what is happening to the people,” he told a Washington conference on drones.

“We apologise to the people of Pakistan for the strikes that have killed so many civilians,” said Nancy Maneiar, a peace activist associated with the US-based, anti-war Code Pink Group.

“The CIA needs to be held accountable for their strikes.”

"Those who order a drone strike act at once “as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners,” said journalist Jeremy Scahill who recently travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to observe the consequences of the drone war.

“This is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world,” he said.

“War on terror is an oxymoron. How can you end terrorism by spreading terror via horrific remote control killing machines,” said Dr Amna Buttar, a PPP MPA from Punjab.

“All 190 million people are the victims of this remote-controlled war.”

They were among two dozen peace activists, lawyers, journalists and retired military officials attending a two-day conference, which began in Washington on Saturday.

International peace groups had to lobby hard for Akbar to attend the conference as the US government delayed his visa application for 14 months because he has sued the CIA over drone strikes in Pakistan.

Akbar told an audience of about 300 people from across the United States that it was important to put faces on the drone victims; otherwise people will not understand their plight.

“They feel this imminent threat of being attacked from the sky. And they feel helpless because they have no other place to relocate. Many have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate to other parts of Pakistan,” he said. Advocate Akbar showed a photo of a teenager named Saadullah, who was helping his mother in the kitchen when a drone hit their home in Fata in 2009. He woke up in a hospital three days later without his legs.

Sanaullah, a 17-year-old pre-engineering student, burned alive in his car during another strike in 2010.

Akbar also showed photos of the Bismillah family: mother, father, a daughter and a son, all killed in a drone strike.

Other speakers noted that US drone strikes in Pakistan had also killed 168 children. They quoted from recent surveys suggesting the number of ordinary people killed could be 40 per cent higher than previously reported.

US officials, however, have rejected such studies as “exaggerated”, and said the “the claims of extensive non-combatant casualties are uncorroborated”.

The “Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control,” organised by American human rights groups, noted that there had been a lethal rise in the number of drone strikes under the Obama administration.

President Obama argues that drone strikes are focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists and have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.

Supporters of drone warfare say the drone technology is an accurate and less expensive weapon that minimises risks to US troops and protects America by killing terrorists.

Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of Reprieve, an organisation that helped secure the release of 65 prisoners from notorious Guantanamo Bay, also highlighted this point.

“We can kill people without any risk to ourselves and that’s why the politicians like it,” said Smith while addressing the drone conference.

Other panellists noted that US drones had the potential to be equipped with heat sensors, Geographic Positioning Systems, licence-plate readers, extremely high resolution cameras, infrared cameras, and facial-recognition software. Coordinated swarms easily could track people’s daily movement from home to the office to a political rally to the grocery store.


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Comments (8) Closed

Palvasha von Hassell Apr 30, 2012 08:45am
Very courageous and absolutely right of Shahzad Akbar and his colleagues to speak up for drone victims. But will their voices be stronger than those of vested interests that profit from production and use of these horrendous weapons? One shall not know unless one tries. Hopefully the movement will gain momentum and be taken notice of in the States.
paki Apr 30, 2012 09:21pm
What about all the innocent men, women and children killed by suicide bombers sent by taliban and their supporters. Far more pakistani civilians have been murdered by these suicide bombers than by drone strikes. More important issue is to stop the suicide bombings and taliban menace in Pakistan and drone strikes will stop itself.
Atta May 01, 2012 12:45am
Great Job Akbar. Many people in the United States are unaware of the atrocities of drone attacks and the civilian causalities. Thanks for presenting the other side of the picture to the world.
concerned May 01, 2012 02:39am
These are just empty cries. A US life is more precious than a Pakistani life, as they have made clear with their statements of 'drone attack saves american lives'. Little do they know that they are instead, making more enemies than killing them. And then they wonder why people hate the US so much. It's just pathetic. But then again, what can be done of a country whose president has no emotions at all.
Jameel May 01, 2012 03:57am
I was told there were many people who were opposing the of Shehzad Akbar and were in favor of Drone attacks as these are very specific and targeted, they also told the audience Drones weakened the terrorists groups operating in FATA, but there views were not mentioned in the story. Is this not prejudice?
butseriouslyok Apr 30, 2012 05:07am
Now how about a conference to put faces on people who are victims or suicide bomb attacks and other kinds of terrorism (perpetuated by those that are targets of these drone attacks)?
Sabir May 02, 2012 03:55am
I am so sad to read some of the comments above. Dears, the fact that there are few militants in the tribal areas doesn't legitimize drone attacks. Drone attacks are unjustifiable any where. If there are militants in the tribal areas our Gov should go and hunt them. I believe our government should take a firm stand against drone attacks as well as against the militants. But human life is human life whether it is the drone or the militants.
mf Apr 30, 2012 04:16pm
These terrorists who have killed and injured thousands of innocents Pakistanis, and are now being defended by these misled " do gooders" who have no idea what is happening in the remote area of Pakistan. America has no other option but to adopt such a strategy, the terrorist go across the border attack the Nato forces then retreat back to Pakistan. The Nato forces can't cross the border. Mostly killed are terrorists and those who shelters them.