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U.S. Ambassador Acknowledges Need to Compensate Drone Victims, and Admits They Exist
By Robert Naiman
Islamabad, Pakistan -- Sometimes, when some people insist that it's impossible to put some urgent problem on the table for discussion and redress, you have no choice but to undertake flamboyant action. Call it "propaganda by nonviolent deed."
We demand an immediate moratorium on the drone strikes. We demand that U.S. policy in Pakistan be brought into compliance with U.S. and international law, that the U.S. government come clean about civilian casualties, that civilian victims and their families be compensated, and that "signature" drone strikes and attacks on civilian rescuers be permanently abandoned, in Pakistan and everywhere else."
"There are numerous reports of follow-up attacks and some accounts suggest they have the result of killing rescuers who come to the scene to aid wounded individuals. In February 2012, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that at least 50 individuals were killed in follow-up drone strikes in Pakistan when they had gone to help victims killed in initial strikes."
"Initial strikes on targets are based on sizeable amount of intelligence from both reconnaissance and HUMINT sources. However in the kill-boxes follow-up attacks often occur after the initial strike targeting those coming to the potential aid of wounded militants. It is in these follow-up attacks [that] rescuers are targeted in an attempt to score a windfall of extra militants killed. Unfortunately in these attacks on rescuers, the task of differentiating civilian from militant is up to the [discretion] of a drone operator. In these circumstances it appears little has been done to discern combatant from non-combatant, the consequence being an increased amount [of] civilian casualties."
"I particularly would like you to address... the issue of attacks on civilian rescuers... I'm sure you're aware that many experts in international law are absolutely convinced that whatever one may think otherwise about the lawfulness of the drone strikes, even if it were a lawful conflict, attacks on civilian rescuers are a war crime..."
"On this one, for at least the last several years that I have been here in Pakistan and more intimately associated with the knowledge of this, there is never any deliberate strikes against civilian rescuers. Now, what I have seen is that after a strike, there will be colleagues from one of the isolated places, never urban, it's not ambulances or anything like that, who are also part of the larger group. But I can tell you honestly I have never, ever in recent times seen any deliberate strike on rescuers coming to a site."
"Shahzad [lawyer Shahzad Akbar of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights] mentioned thereport from Stanford and NYU that just come out last week, there was extensive attention on this issue of the 'secondary,' 'follow-up,' 'double tap' strikes, and the question of attacking civilian rescuers, and the [Center for Civilians in Conflict] and Columbia Law also just put out a report, also addresses this, there was also an article in the New York Times, there was an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Independent, so I would strongly urge you to look at those sources, check that against what you know, there's the specific allegation of targeting rescuers, but then more broadly, whether or not rescuers are specifically targeted, the tactic of secondary strikes intrinsically threatens rescuers, people that would come to a site after there's a strike."
"So I urge you to look at this, and please put out a public statement, from the Embassy, after you've looked at this question, and say, we've looked at this, and we believe this not to be true, or we believe this not to be true over this period, and here's why. I think it would tremendously add to the transparency of the debate, if there would be an official, government response to these allegations."
"I think it would, and I agree with that, I can't promise you that that will ever happen, but I agree that it would add to the transparency of the debate. Who are these sources? Can we talk to them, [that] kind of thing. And really get down to the ground truth."
"Well, first of all, for the numbers, to be very honest, I looked at the numbers before I came here today, and I saw a number for civilian casualties that officially -- U.S. government classified information -- since July 2008, it is in the two figures, I can't vouch for you that that's accurate, in any way, so I can't talk about numbers. I wanted to see what we have on the internal record, it's quite low."
"That's a good question. And the reason I say it's a good question is there has to be some kind of an apparatus set up for that. I'd say that in principle, the U.S. government is not against that kind of compensation, because as you point out, I understand we do it in Afghanistan. Also... what is referred to here as the Salala Incident of November 26  when there was a border -- a serious misunderstanding that led to the deaths of 24 Pakistani military by NATO/ISAF forces, and I assure you immediately after that we made an informal offer of compensation, through the government of Pakistan, to the Pakistani military, so you see that is not in the realm of the impossible. But there's nothing in place for that right now."