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I Worked on the US Drone Program. The Public Should Know What Really Goes On December 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Few of the politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue how it actually works (and doesn’t)

The Elbit Systems Hermes 450 is an Israeli medium size multi-payload unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for tactical long endurance missions.

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.

I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from mosque.

The US and British militaries insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs. These specific incidents are not isolated, and the civilian casualty rate has not changed, despite what our defense representatives might like to tell us.

What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is a far cry from clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

It’s also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analyzing intelligence these UAVs. I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone. UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one year leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life – at home and abroad – will continue.

Heather Linebaugh

Heather Linebaugh served in the United Stated Air Force from 2009 until March 2012. She worked in intelligence as an imagery analyst and geo-spatial analyst for the drone program during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter: @hllinebaugh

“Really Good At Killing People” Sez Obama Article Cites Grandma Killed, Too. Still Love the Dude? December 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, War.
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Roger’s note: There is no hard evidence that Obama said that he is good at killing people, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong (watch the video below).  Of course, it doesn’t matter what he says, it is what he does, which is to use his unfettered powers to authorize the murder of innocent civilians, including American citizens, with neither transparency or due judicial process.  This is known quaintly as collateral damage.  The Fog of War?  Just Wars?  War is Hell?

Try instead War is a Racquet.  Here is the Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket).  Better yet, read the book.

 

Cindy Casella

 

 

http://www.dailykos.com, December 13, 2013

 

Yesterday, I was flamed for writing a diary that juxtaposed Obama’s alleged statement to aides that he’s “really good at killing people” with the story of a Pakistani family who came to Washington to testify about how drones killed their mother/grandmother.  Among the pies tossed my way was the accusation I was deliberately flame baiting by pairing these two concepts side by side in the title of my diary: Son Told Truant Congress Drones Killed His Mom; Obama: “I’m good at killing people”.

When I wrote my diary, my intention wasn’t fishing for flames as one commenter kept accusing me.  Obama’s comment popped into my head when I read this article, Please tell me, Mr President, why a US drone assassinated my mother, written by Rafiq ur Rehman, the son of the 67 year old midwife, Momina Bibi, who was targeted by the bright lights of a drone and blown up while picking okra with her 9 grandchildren, who witnessed the “dum dum” sound of the drone hovering overhead and then smelled the “weird” scent of their grandmother being blown up by a hellfire missile as their world before them darkened.  I thought this dreadful statement is the only explanation that Obama has even remotely given the grief stricken family so far about the death of their mother and grandmother, albeit indirectly.

I recommend reading this Huffington Post article: Obama Told Aides He’s ‘Really Good At Killing People,’ New Book ‘Double Down’ Claims by Mollie Reilly and urge you to watch the video, in which the reporter says the following:

“The quote, the relish that he seems to take in the taking of human life is sort of unseemly, I’d say, and not the best thing for a politician to say.””Pretty nasty stuff.”

 

Will the detractors who changed the subject away from a Pakistani family traveling 7000 miles to testify before Congress, most of whom didn’t bother to show up and listen to the innocent drone victims, who according to the REAL LIARS don’t even exist, libel the Huffington Post reporter’s integrity, too, for finding Obama’s statement “unseemly,” “pretty nasty stuff,” and noting “the relish that he seems to take in the taking of human life”?

Just using the phrase “being good at killing” in and of itself, whether or not it was said quietly, is creepy to most people with any shred of humanity or even a modicum of social acumen.  But when it is said by the world leader who gave his OK for drone strikes that killed and maimed hundreds of innocent victims, including this grandmother, whose families’ suffering he ignores and does not compensate, it is beyond unseemly to anyone with even half a conscience.

The MSM reported that instead of a grandmother being droned in a field alongside her 9 grandchildren, 3-5 militants were droned in their car/house.

Now, that’s what I call a lie.

Ms. Reilly also included in her article the story about the Pakistani family losing their grandmother as an example of one of the many civilians Obama has killed with drones.  So, I was not alone in pairing Obama’s statement about “being good at killing people” with the sweet grandmother droned to death.

The claim that Obama is remorseful about the grandmother’s death rings hollow since he has never apologized for it or given any compensation to her family for her loss or the medical expenses to remove hellfire missile shrapnel from her 11 year old grandson’s, Zubair’s, leg or treating her 9 year old granddaughter’s, Nabila’s, hand wounds, who awoke in a hospital after running and running away from the explosion.  Not only that, but the very next day after the family voiced their sad testimony in our Nation’s Capitol, Obama was scheduled to meet, not with them, but with the very company that manufactured the hellfire missile that killed their grandmother and two companies that manufacture drones.  He never met the grieving school teacher or his two injured children while they were in Washington.  This snub alone says it all.

If these angry Kossacks believe Obama feels rueful about “being good at killing” and maiming innocent people by the softness of his voice, why do they accept the fact that he isn’t apologizing to the innocent victims, helping them, or even acknowledging that they exist?  Why are they accepting his continuance of a drone program considered a war crime by many legal minds?

As I commented yesterday:

I was trying to show the horrible reality of who Obama was really good at killing…many of whom are innocent people.

A commenter wisely made this point about Obama’s explanation on drones:

He doesn’t need words or legal construct….He can either reduce or stop their use, he can explain to these families WHY they were targeted, as was the case with al-Awlaki’s 16 year old, American citizen son, whose family members still have not heard why the strike that killed him was ordered. He can set up a system where targets can somehow contest the evidence against them…

But I don’t accept the current system, where secret evidence is gathered secretly, where the approval for strikes is done in secrecy, and where the government refuses to even allow an assassination target to see the evidence against him or contest any of it, because again, secrecy. These are not the policies of an enlightened, transparent, and peaceful country.

And the truth is, none of us have any idea as to how Obama actually feels about these strikes….

How anyone could attack someone for pointing out the obvious about a statement that is truly horrible coming from a world leader, instead of demanding the world leader STOP KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE is WHY he is getting away with secretly killing grandmothers without a trial, without any apology, without any compensation, and without any acknowledgment.To quote Bill Clinton about his indiscretion that pales in comparison to droning a grandmother, Obama can answer Momina Bibi’s grieving son, “I did it, because I could.”

Yes, he can.

John Brennan vs. a Sixteen-Year-Old Boy January 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
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Published on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 by Common Dreams

by Medea Benjamin

In October 2011, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attended a gathering in Islamabad where he was taught how to use a video camera so he could document the drones that were constantly circling over his Pakistani village, terrorizing and killing his family and neighbors. Two days later, when Aziz was driving with his 12-year-old cousin to a village near his home in Waziristan to pick up his aunt, his car was struck by a Hellfire missile. With the push of a button by a pilot at a US base thousands of miles away, both boys were instantly vaporized—only a few chunks of flesh remained.Tariq Aziz (circled) at the Grand Jirga in Islamabad just days before he was killed by a US drone hellfire missile.

Afterwards, the US government refused to acknowledge the boys’ deaths or explain why they were targeted. Why should they? This is a covert program where no one is held accountable for their actions.

The main architect of this drone policy that has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents, including 176 children in Pakistan alone, is President Obama’s counterterrorism chief and his pick for the next director of the CIA: John Brennan.

On my recent trip to Pakistan, I met with people whose loved ones had been blown to bits by drone attacks, people who have been maimed for life, young victims with no hope for the future and aching for revenge. For all of them, there has been no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.

That’s why when John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC last April and described our policies as ethical, wise and in compliance with international law,  I felt compelled to stand up and speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz and so many others. As they dragged me out of the room, my parting words were: “I love the rule of law and I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people. Shame on you, John Brennan.”

Rather than expressing remorse for any civilian deaths, John Brennan made the extraordinary statement in 2011 that during the preceding year, there hadn’t been a single collateral death “because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.” We later learned why Brennan’s count was so low: the administration had come up with a semantic solution of simply counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.

The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented over 350 drones strikes in Pakistan that have killed 2,600-3,400 people since 2004. Drone strikes in Yemen have been on the rise, with at least 42 strikes carried out in 2012, including one just hours after President Obama’s reelection. The first strike in 2013 took place just four days into the new year.

A May 29, 2011 New York Times exposé showed John Brennan as President Obama’s top advisor in formulating a “kill list” for drone strikes. The people Brennan recommends for the hit list are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law. The kind of intelligence Brennan uses to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?

In addition to kill lists, Brennan pushed for the CIA to have the authority to kill with even greater ease using “signature strikes,” also known as “crowd killing,” which are strikes based solely on suspicious behavior.

When President Obama announced his nomination of John Brennan, he talked about Brennan’s integrity and commitment to the values that define us as Americans.  He said Brennan has worked to “embed our efforts in a strong legal framework” and that he “understands we are a nation of laws.”

A nation of laws? Really? Going around the world killing anyone we want, whenever we want, based on secret information? Just think of the precedent John Brennan is setting for a world of lawlessness and chaos, now that 76 countries have drones—mostly surveillance drones but many in the process of weaponizing them. Why shouldn’t China declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York City as an “enemy combatant” and send a missile into Manhattan, or Russia launch a drone attack against a Chechen living in London? Or why shouldn’t a relative of a drone victim retaliate against us here at home? It’s not so far-fetched. In 2011, 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus, a Massachusetts-based graduate with a degree in physics, was recently sentenced to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol with small drones filled with explosives.

In his search for a new CIA chief, Obama said he looked at who is going to do the best job in securing America. Yet the blowback from Brennan’s drone attacks is creating enemies far faster than we can kill them. Three out of four Pakistanis now see the US as their enemy—that’s about 133 million people, which certainly can’t be good for US security. When Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked the source of US enmity, she had a one word answer: drones.

In Yemen, escalating U.S. drones strikes are radicalizing the local population and stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants. Since the January 4, 2013 attack in Yemen, militants in the tribal areas have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. According to Abduh Rahman Berman, executive director of a Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, the drone war is failing. “If the Americans kill 10, al-Qaeda will recruit 100,” he said.

Around the world, the drone program constructed by John Brennan has become a provocative symbol of American hubris, showing contempt for national sovereignty and innocent lives.

If Obama thinks John Brennan is a good choice to head the CIA and secure America, he should contemplate the tragic deaths of victims like 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, and think again.

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org), cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. Her previous books include Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart., and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide).

The CIA’s Unaccountable Drone War Claims Another Casualty November 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Pakistan, War on Terror.
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Published on Monday, November 7, 2011 by the Guardian/UK

 

If Tariq Aziz, the 16-year-old soccer fan I met last week in Pakistan, was a dangerous Taliban terrorist, let the CIA prove it.

by Pratap Chatterjee

Last Friday, I met a boy, just before he was assassinated by the CIA. Tariq Aziz was 16, a quiet young man from North Waziristan, who, like most teenagers, enjoyed soccer. Seventy-two hours later, a Hellfire missile is believed to have killed him as he was traveling in a car to meet his aunt in Miran Shah, to take her home after her wedding. Killed with him was his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan.

Over 2,300 people in Pakistan have been killed by such missiles carried by drone aircraft such as the Predator and the Reaper, and launched by remote control from Langley, Virginia. Tariq and Waheed brought the known total of children killed in this way to 175, according to statistics maintained by the organization I work for, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The final order to kill is signed allegedly by Stephen Preston, the general counsel at the CIA headquarters. What evidence, I would like to know, does Mr Preston have against Tariq and Waheed? What right does he have to act as judge, jury and executioner of two teenage boys neither he nor his staff have ever met, let alone cross-examined, or given the opportunity to present witnesses?

It is not too late to call for a prosecution and trial of whoever pushed the button and the US government officials who gave the order: that is, Mr Preston and his boss, President Barack Obama.

There are many people whom I know who can appear as witnesses in this trial. We – a pair of reporters, together with several lawyers from Britain, Pakistan and the US – met the victim and dozens of other young men from North Waziristan for dinner at the Margalla hotel in Islamabad on Thursday 27 October. We talked about their local soccer teams, which they proudly related were named for Brazil, New Zealand and other nations, which they had heard about but never visited.

The next morning, I filmed young Tariq walking into a conference hall to greet his elders. I reviewed the tape after he was killed to see what was recorded of some of his last moments: he walks shyly and greets the Waziri elders in the traditional style by briefly touching their chests. With his friends, he walks to a set of chairs towards the back of the hall, and they argue briefly about where each of them will sit. Over the course of the morning, Tariq appears again in many photographs that dozens of those present took, always sitting quietly and listening intently.

Tariq was attending a “Waziristan Grand Jirga” on behalf of drone strike victims in Pakistan, which was held at the Margalla hotel the following day. As is the Pashtun custom, the young men, each of whom had lost a friend or relative in a drone strike, did not speak. For four hours, the Waziri elders debated the drone war, and then they listened to a resolution condemning the attacks, read out by Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a lawyer from the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. The group voted for this unanimously.

Neil Williams, a volunteer from Reprieve, the British legal charity, sat down and chatted with Tariq after the jirga was over. Together, they traveled in a van to the Pakistani parliament for a protest rally against drone strikes led by Imran Khan, a former cricketer, and now the leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf political party.

The next day, the group returned home to Waziristan. On Monday, Tariq was killed, according to his uncle Noor Kalam.

The question I would pose to the jury is this: would a terrorist suspect come to a public meeting and converse openly with foreign lawyers and reporters, and allow himself to be photographed and interviewed? More importantly, since he was so easily available, why could Tariq not have been detained in Islamabad, when we spent 48 hours together? Neither Tariz Aziz nor the lawyers attending this meeting had a highly trained private security detail that could have put up resistance.

Attending that jirga, however, were Clive Stafford Smith and Tara Murray, two US lawyers who trained at Columbia and Harvard. They tell me, unequivocally, that US law is based on the fact that every person is innocent until proven guilty. Why was Tariq, even if a terrorist suspect, not offered an opportunity to defend himself?

Let me offer important alternative argument – the US government has a record of making terrible mistakes in this covert war. On 2 September 2010, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan claimed to have killed Muhammad Amin, the alleged Taliban deputy governor of Takhar province in Afghanistan, in a drone strike. There was only one problem: Michael Semple, a Taliban expert at Harvard University, subsequently interviewed Muhammad Amin and confirmed that he was alive and well and living in Pakistan in March 2011.

The man who was killed was Zabet Amanullah, who was out campaigning in parliamentary elections – along with nine of his fellow election workers. This was confirmed by exhaustive research conducted by Kate Clark, a former BBC correspondent in Kabul who now works for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, who had met with Zabet Amanullah in 2008. The error could have been avoided, Clark points out in her report, if US military intelligence officers had just been “watching election coverage on television”, instead of living in its “parallel world” remote from “normal, everyday world of Afghan politics”.

If Barack Obama’s CIA believed in justice and judicial process, they could have attended the Islamabad jirga last Friday and met with Tariq. It was, after all, an open meeting. They could have arrested and charged Tariq with the help of the Pakistani police. If a prosecution is ever mounted over the death of Tariq, those of us who met him on several occasions last week would be happy to testify to the character of the young man that we had met. But if the CIA has evidence to the contrary, it should present it to the world.

Unless the CIA can prove that Tariq Aziz posed an imminent threat (as the White House’s legal advice stipulates a targeted killing must in order for an attack to be carried out), or that he was a key planner in a war against the US or Pakistan, the killing of this 16 year old was murder, and any jury should convict the CIA accordingly.

© 2011 Pratap Chatterjee

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Pratap Chatterjee

Pratap Chatterjee is the author of two books about the war on terror: Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War and Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004). He is the former executive director of CorpWatch and a shareholder of both Halliburton and KBR.

Obama, Pakistan, and the Rule of Law May 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, War.
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by Peter Dyer

“Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man — a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.”

In his first full day in office President Obama said: “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this administration.”   The remarkable campaign and inspiring oratory of the first African-American to be elected to the planet’s most powerful public office sparked worldwide optimism and hope for new and creative approaches to serious national and international challenges.           Two days later, on Jan. 23, the CIA launched two missile attacks on Pakistan. Fifteen people in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, were killed by Hellfire missiles launched from unmanned drones.

The attacks were the latest in a series that began several years earlier and intensified in 2008.

As such, despite the Obama campaign mantra, “Change We Can Believe In,” they represented the President’s commitment to a critical component of the Bush administration’s foreign and military policy: expansion of what George W. Bush dubbed the “global war on terror” – from one key theater of the GWOT in Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan.

The attacks are ostensibly aimed at leaders of al-Qaeda who are blamed for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and at Taliban militants who slip across the Afghan border to attack U.S., NATO and Afghan government forces.

Hawkish Address

Candidate Obama outlined his position in a hawkish address at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on Aug. 1, 2007. He said:

“Al-Qaeda terrorists train, travel, and maintain global communications in this safe haven. The Taliban pursues a hit-and-run strategy, striking in Afghanistan, then skulking across the border to safety. This is the wild frontier of our globalized world. …

“But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. … If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistan’s leader] won’t act, we will.”

Since the start of the Obama administration about 170 people have been killed inside Pakistan in at least 17 of these attacks. The Pakistan newspaper, “The News,” says the great majority have been civilians.

For many, the killings have thrown a shadow over early hopes for new thinking about Bush’s GWOT, which the Obama administration rebranded as the “Overseas Contingency Operation.”

The missile attacks indicate, as well, that President Obama’s perspective on the rule of law may have less in common with the uplifting eloquence of January than with the disdain consistently displayed during the previous eight years by his predecessor in the Oval Office.

Killing people in Pakistan with Hellfire missiles is against the law.

The attacks violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, the United Nations Charter, UN General Assembly Resolution #3314 and the Nuremberg Charter.

Even when the missiles hit their intended targets in Pakistan, the orders to fire are given from thousands of miles away by CIA officials watching on computer screens in North America. CIA teams sit, in effect, as collective judge, jury and executioner.

Protocol II, Article 6(2) of the Geneva Conventions says: “No sentence shall be passed and no penalty shall be executed on a person found guilty of an offence except pursuant to a conviction pronounced by a court offering the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality.”

Extrajudicial Killings

The 170 or so people who have been killed by Hellfire missiles in Pakistan since Inauguration Day represent 170 extrajudicial killings – outlawed not only by the Geneva Conventions but by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:   Article 6(1): “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

Article 6(2): Sentence of death “can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.

Unless the Pakistani government has invited the United States to fire missiles into Pakistan, the attacks violate the United Nations Charter Article 2(4): “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Perhaps the most far-reaching aspect of the illegality of the drone attacks is that each is an act of aggression.   The United Nations Definition of Aggression, General Assembly Resolution #3314, provides a list of acts defined as aggression, including Article 3(b):  “Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State.”   Article 5 makes it clear — aggression is never legal: “No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise may serve as a justification for aggression.”

This was the position of the Tribunal at the first Nuremberg Trial. At Nuremberg 22 of the most prominent Nazis were tried for war crimes, crimes against peace (aggression), crimes against humanity and conspiracy following World War II.

In the judgment the Tribunal left no doubt as to the enormity of the crime of aggression, labeling it “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Eight German leaders were convicted of aggression at Nuremberg. Five of these received death sentences.

Certainly the scale of American aggression in Pakistan is small compared to that of German aggression in World War II.

But how many civilian deaths, destroyed homes and summary executions does it take for the firing of remote-controlled missiles into Pakistan to qualify as a crime?

Creative Alternatives

It’s not as if there is a lack of compelling and creative alternative visions being proposed by smart people with experience in and knowledge of the region.

For example, as recently reported in The Nation, Akbar Ahmed, former High Commissioner from Pakistan to the UK emphatically told the Congressional Progressive Caucus on May 5 that the best strategy in Pakistan is to work through tribal organizations and networks. He emphasized aid, education and the certain failure of an approach that is primarily military:         “The one thing every Pakistani wants for his kids is education…. Within one to three years you will turn that entire region around. The greatest enemies of the Americans will become their allies.”   In the book outlining Barack Obama’s vision, Change We Can Believe In — Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise, are these words (p. 104) “To seize this moment in our nation’s history, the old solutions will not do. An outdated mind-set which believes we can overcome these challenges by fighting the last war will not make America safe and secure.”

Unfortunately, in its first few months the Obama administration has been fighting the last President’s war. As far as Pakistan is concerned, neither the President’s foreign policy nor his perspective on the rule of law seem to be materially different from those of President Bush.         However, President Obama apparently is now “re-evaluating” the missile strikes, in light of their widespread unpopularity in Pakistan and the threat to the survival of Pakistan’s government.

Perhaps now is a good time to look for an approach that is both legal and more effective in the long term than extra-judicial killings of Taliban militants, al-Qaeda extremists and Pakistani civilians.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for change we can believe in.

Peter Dyer is a freelance journalist who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at p.dyer@inspire.net.nz