WASHINGTON — United States drone strikes unlawfully killed a grandmother and 18 men in Pakistan over the past year, a new Amnesty International report alleges.
The report, based on research into nine of the 45 strikes that took place between January 2012 and August 2013 in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, which has reportedly seen more strikes than any other area of that country, posits that at least two of the strikes "may have resulted in unlawful killings that constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes."
The Amnesty researchers based the report off of 60 interviews with strike survivors, Pakistani government officials, relatives of victims, and "members of armed groups." The report details the killing of Manama Bibi, a 68-year-old grandmother who was killed in a drone strike in October 2012, and of 18 laborers in the village of Zowi Sidgi who were killed in a strike in July 2012.
Amnesty found no evidence that militants were in the area when Manama Bibi was killed, though in the case of the 18 laborers killed in July 2012, the report's authors concede that, "It is possible that some of the 40 or more people killed or injured in Zowi Sidgi had at some point been involved in attacks on US forces, its allies or Pakistani security forces, however all residents interviewed by Amnesty International strongly denied that this was the case."
Amnesty reports that one of the men killed in the second of two strikes in Zowi Sidgi was a senior al-Qaeda operative named Abu Yahya al-Libi and that "it is possible that the USA was trying to target al-Libi as he is a prominent member of al-Qa'ida with a significant international profile owing to his frequent appearance in the group's propaganda videos and other materials."
However, Amnesty argues that even if that is the case, the fact that none of the men was involved in combat actions at the time of the strike means that the strike still constituted a breach of international humanitarian law. Amnesty found that a second strike was launched after the first, killing innocent people who had gone in to try and rescue the victims of the first strike.
More broadly, the report argues that signature strikes — drone strikes where the precise identity of targets is not known and are instead identified based on patterns of behavior — open the door to human rights violations when innocents like Manama Bibi are killed.
The Amnesty report goes as far as to accuse the U.S. of committing war crimes in these strikes, especially in the case of the Zowi Sidgi attack, where a second strike was conducted while villagers attempted to rescue the victims.
It describes widespread fear of drones among Pakistani villagers, particularly among women who fear that their male relatives will be targeted.
In a press release attached to the report, Amnesty's head Pakistan researcher Mustafa Qadri calls for the U.S. to "come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account."
The report also calls on Pakistani authorities to disclose all the information it has on U.S. drone strikes in the country.