25 Feb 2014

US drone war must be ‘brought into the light’

Kareem Khan’s brother and son were killed in a Pakistan drone strike in 2009. Now he is in the UK to meet MPs and tells Channel 4 News “most drone strikes are killing innocent people”.

Mr Khan is on a tour of European countries that it is believed have provided locational intelligence in the CIA in its drone war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He said he is on a “mission” to tell people the facts about the US drone campaign.

He told Channel 4 News: “Our mission is only to tell people everywhere the facts of drones. We only want justice.

“Until now the American people – the CIA and other armed forces – they don’t confess that ‘we kill innocent people’.”

Mr Khan said that his brother and son were working on computers at their home in Rawalpindi, North Waziristan, when the drone strike hit in 2009, destroying the house and killing the men inside.

“Most of the drone strikes – they are killing innocent people,” he said. “What is the reason why they are killing innocent people?”

The US has admitted that there have been some civilian deaths through its use of drones, but denies that the extent is anywhere near the estimates of human rights organisations.

‘Extreme hatred’

Noor Behram, a North Waziristan journalist who is travelling with Mr Khan, said that from what he has seen, “the vast majority of people that are killed are either women, or children, or normal tribals.”

He said he has been on the ground at 27 drone strike sites, and says that what he sees is young men “extreme hatred and anger against America and all the western countries.”

“This is a very dangerous trend in the youth of the area,” he said. “This is the youth which can easily be converted into becoming suicide bombers against any western interest in the area.”

He added that there is an “atmosphere of fear” in the region, to the extent that children are frightened by the slamming of a door, for fear it is a drone attack.

Lat year a report to British MPs by a clinical and forensic psychologist found that, in Yemen, drone attacks were causing “serious psychological harm” to a generation of children.

Complicit UK?

Concerns have been raised that GCHQ is providing intelligence on drones to the US, which have then facilitated the drone strikes in Pakistan which have resulted in the deaths of civilians, including women and children.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, which has been monitoring CIA drone activity in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, estimates that between 2004 and 2013 up to 3,700 people have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, and that up to 951 of them were civilians. It estimates that up to 200 children have been killed.

Mr Khan and Mr Behram are touring European countries with human rights charity Reprieve. The charity has also recently lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Nato members of war crimes over their role in facilitating CIA drone strikes.

The document named the UK, Germany and Australia as countries that had assisted the US in drone strikes, and therefore says they could be accountable under international law. The ICC complaint calls for people such as Mr Khan to be given the opportunity to make submissions at the Hague.

The US is not accountable to the ICC because it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the court in 2002. Rafiq Rehman, whose grandmother was killed in a North Waziristan drone strike, took his family to the US last year to tell his story to US politicians.

In January, the UK Court of Appeal rejected a legal attempt to discover if British intelligence was assisting the US drone campaign.

However, Jennifer Gibson, a staff attorney at Reprieve, told Channel 4 News that it is time people were made aware of what the CIA drones programme entails.

“There are a lot of things that can be done and must be done if we are really going to come to terms with what the US has been doing,” she said.

“This is a debate that has been shrouded in secrecy, in the shadows, and it was time it was brought into the light.”

A FCO spokesperson said: “It is the UK’s long standing policy not to comment on intelligence matters. The use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS, or drones) in strikes against terrorist targets is a matter for the States involved. They are facing a shared and dangerous threat from terrorists, and there is a need for effective action against terrorism.”