Posts Tagged ‘US missile attacks’

Obama, Pakistan, and the Rule of Law

May 14, 2009

By Peter Dyer | Consortium News, May 13, 2009

“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 .

Pakistan insists no deal made with US on strikes

October 7, 2008

Pakistan says no deal on US strikes in its northwest, downplays president’s reported comments

NAHAL TOOSI | AP News, Oct 06, 2008

Pakistan insisted Monday it had no deal allowing the U.S. to fire missiles at militant hideouts after an American newspaper quoted the new president as suggesting otherwise.

President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that “India has never been a threat” to his country, while calling Islamist militant groups in the disputed Kashmir region “terrorists.”

The reported comments could undermine Zardari just a month into his presidency, especially with Pakistan’s powerful military. The army’s top brass have traditionally viewed India as its top enemy and has denied any agreement with the U.S. on crossborder operations.

In the interview with the Journal reported on Saturday, Zardari is paraphrased as saying that the U.S. is carrying out missile strikes on Pakistani soil with his government’s consent.

“We have an understanding, in the sense that we’re going after an enemy together,” he is then quoted as saying.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari, said the Journal writer had read too much into Zardari’s quote, and that the president was talking in generalities about fighting terrorism.

“The official position is that we do not allow foreign incursions into Pakistani territory,” Babar said.

The U.S. has long carried out missile strikes against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban hideouts in the northwest, but a recent surge in attacks has prompted official Pakistani condemnation. Washington complains that Pakistan is unwilling or unable to take strong action against the extremists.

At least 24 people, many of them alleged foreign militants, were killed in the latest suspected U.S. strike Friday in North Waziristan province, officials said.

Suspected militants also fired rockets at the home of the top provincial official in northwestern Pakistan, the latest in a surge of attacks that have rocked the lawless region bordering Afghanistan.

Three houses were damaged but no one was injured in the strikes in Mardan late Sunday on the home of North West Frontier Province’s chief minister, Amir Haider Khan Hoti.

US attacks suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan

October 4, 2008

  • The Guardian, Saturday October 4 2008

Missiles, believed to have been fired from US drone aircraft, killed as many as 21 people in one part of Pakistan’s tribal area yesterday.

Pakistani intelligence officials said most of the dead were militants, but the attacks will aggravate strains between the two countries over American military assaults on targets in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials said two villages in the North Waziristan area were hit just before dusk by the missiles. News reports identified 16 of the dead as “foreigners”, a term which usually describes fighters from Arab countries or Central Asia.

Two women and a child also were reported to have been killed in the strike, which was the second of its kind in the tribal areas this week and the eighth in the last month. Other sources put the death toll at nine with several more wounded.

The compound targeted yesterday, located in the Momadkhel district, close to the Afghan border, was believed to be owned by two Afghan nationals. The area is about 12 miles west of Miranshah, North Waziristan’s main town.

Another strike this week killed eight people in the nearby village of Khushali Toori Khel.

Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders have complained that missile attacks violate the country’s sovereignty and anger the local population, making it harder to crack down on the extremists.

US commanders have spoken of respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty but have suggested they would not stop cross-border strikes on militants whom they suspect of aiding the Taliban insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

Raids into Pakistan: What U.S. authority?

September 15, 2008

Bush’s orders to send special forces after Taliban militants have roots in previous presidencies.

Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Sept 15, 2008

Page 1 of 2

Reporter head shot

Reporter Howard LaFranchi talks about the US military’s raids inside Pakistan, looking for terrorists.

Orders President Bush signed in July authorizing raids by special operations forces in the areas of Pakistan controlled by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and undertaking those raids without official Pakistani consent, have roots stretching back to the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In an address to a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11, President Bush said, “From this day forward any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

But even before that declaration, two key steps had been taken: One, Congress had authorized the use of US military force against terrorist organizations and the countries that harbor or support them. Two, Bush administration officials had warned Pakistan’s leaders of the dire consequences their country would face if they did not unequivocally enlist in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism.

What Mr. Bush’s July orders signify is that, after seven years of encouraging Pakistan to take on extremists harbored in remote areas along its border with Afghanistan and subsidizing the Pakistani military handsomely to do it, the US has become convinced that Pakistan is neither able nor willing to fight the entrenched Taliban and Al Qaeda elements. Indeed, recent events appear to have convinced at least some in the administration that parts of Pakistan’s military and powerful intelligence service are actually aiding the extremists.

“We’ve moved beyond the message stage here. I think the US has had it with messages that don’t get any action, and that is why the president authorized this,” says Kamran Bokhari, director of Middle East analysis for Stratfor, an intelligence consulting firm in Washington. “This says loud and clear, ‘We’re fed up.’ ”

Even before the July order, the US had undertaken covert operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Moreover, the CIA over the past year has stepped up missile attacks by the unmanned Predator drones it operates to hit targets in the region. That increase has coincided with a deterioration of the war in Afghanistan, where the Afghan Army and NATO forces have come under increasing attack from militants crossing over the rugged and lawless border from Pakistan.

But Bush’s orders, first reported in The New York Times Thursday, mean that operations against insurgent sanctuaries will become overt and probably more frequent. A Sept. 3 ground assault involving US commandos dropped from helicopters targeted a suspected terrorist compound. Missile attacks by the CIA’s unmanned drones, including one Friday reported by Pakistani officials to have killed at last 12 people, are also on the rise.

Precedence for the orders authorizing the attacks on terrorist havens can be found in President Bill Clinton’s authorization of retaliatory attacks in 1993 (against Iraqi intelligence facilities) and in 1998 (against terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Sudan), and in President Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Libya, legal scholars say.

The administration has debated the use of commando raids in Pakistan for years, but the tipping point came in July, as relations with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders deteriorated, intelligence sources say. The “kicker,” according to one source who requested anonymity over the sensitivity of the issue, was two July events: the bombing of India’s embassy in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, an act that US intelligence officials concluded was aided by Pakistani intelligence operatives; and a July 13 attack on a US military outpost in eastern Afghanistan that killed nine US soldiers. The outpost attack was carried out by Taliban militants who had crossed over the nearby border from Pakistan.

Continued . . .

Pakistan to protest new U.S. missile strike

September 13, 2008


Zeeshan Haider, Reuters, Sat Sep 13, 2008

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Missiles fired by a U.S. drone aircraft killed 14 people in northwest Pakistan on Friday, security officials said, in a strike against suspected militants that drew condemnation from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

A U.S. commando operation inside Pakistan last week, followed by several attacks from drones, has sent tensions soaring between Islamabad and Washington over how to tackle the Taliban and al Qaeda on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan.

Gilani said Pakistan would raise the issue with the United States at diplomatic level.

“We will try to convince the United States … to respect (the) sovereignty of Pakistan — and God willing, we will convince,” he told reporters.

Security officials said about 12 people were wounded in the attack near the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan. Residents said the pilotless aircraft fired two missiles at a former government school where militants and their families were living.

“We confirm a missile attack at around 5.30 in the morning (2330 GMT on Thursday) … We have informed the government,” said military spokesman Major Murad Khan.

The military, apparently reluctant to highlight infringements of sovereignty, has rarely confirmed such attacks.

An intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan has raised U.S. fears about its prospects, seven years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban. That worry has compounded pressure on Pakistan to go after militants operating from enclaves on its side of the border, including in North Waziristan.

Security forces stepped up offensives in two areas in August, the Bajaur region on the Afghan border and the Swat Valley in North West Frontier Province.

The security forces killed 40 militants, including foreigners, in clashes in Bajaur on Friday, raising the death toll to around 150 in fighting this week. Two soldiers were also killed and 16 wounded.

Hours after Friday’s missile strike, a roadside bomb hit a security convoy in a nearby village, seriously wounding two soldiers. Soldiers in the convoy opened fire after the blast, wounding four civilians, residents said.


Fears about Afghanistan’s future and frustration with Pakistani efforts to tackle the militants have led to more U.S. missile attacks by drone aircraft in Pakistan.

About a dozen strikes this year have killed scores of militants and some civilians.

In addition, helicopter-borne U.S. commandos carried out a ground assault in South Waziristan last week, the first known incursion by U.S. troops into Pakistan since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan condemned the raid in which officials said 20 people, including women and children, were killed.

The U.S. military raised the prospect of more incursions on Wednesday, saying it was not winning in Afghanistan and would revise its strategy to combat militant havens in Pakistan.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said in a strongly worded statement that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops onto its soil and Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended at all cost. Kayani also dismissed speculation of a secret deal allowing U.S. forces to attack.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that President George W. Bush had secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allowed U.S. special forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the approval of the Islamabad government.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the report and Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador Husain Haqqani told Reuters Bush had issued no new orders.

Kayani ended a meeting with his top commanders on Friday saying the military, under government leadership, would protect Pakistan’s territory and there was “complete unanimity of views between the government and the army” on the issue.

Tension with the United States has added to the worries of investors who have seen Pakistan’s financial markets battered by political turmoil and economic problems.

At the same time, Pakistan is highly vulnerable to any reduction in U.S. financial support given the depletion of its foreign reserves, which has sparked talk it could default on a sovereign bond next year unless it gets foreign financing.

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved

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