Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pakistan : Amnesty anger at innocent civilians killed by CIA drone

Amnesty International today wrote to US President George Bush to express its concern that between 13 and 18 people were killed on 13 January 2006, when missiles were fired into three houses in Damadola in Bajaur Agency, a federally administered tribal area. Reports indicate that “Hellfire” missiles were fired from an unmanned Predator drone probably operated by the CIA.

Their intended target appears to have been Ayman al-Zawahiri, a high ranking al- Qa’ida operative, who was not reportedly amongst the dead. In the letter Amnesty International said it was concerned that a pattern of killings carried out with these weapons appeared to reflect a US government policy condoning extrajudicial executions. Amnesty International reiterated to the US President that extrajudicial executions are strictly prohibited under international human rights law. Anyone accused of an offence, however serious, has the right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty and to have their guilt or innocence established in a regular court of law in a fair trial.

The fact that Pakistan and the USA closely cooperate on security issues and that the USA believed they knew the location of suspects, suggests that it may have been possible to attempt to arrest the suspects in order to bring them to trial. The failure to attempt such arrest points to a policy of elimination of suspects and a deliberate disregard of the duty to prosecute in a fair process. In addition, the fact that air surveillance, witnessed by local people, took place for several days before the attack indicates that those ordering the attack on the basis of this information were very likely to have been aware of the presence of women and children and others unconnected with political violence in the area of the attack.

Reports about the identity of the victims remain confused. While the Government of Pakistan has regretted the deaths of “18 innocent local people”, the head of the Bajaur administration said that up to five foreign militants had been killed and their bodies had been removed by associates. Security officials were subsequently quoted in Pakistani media as saying that the dead included Abdur Rehman al-Maghribi, the Moroccan son-in-law of al-Zawahiri, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid 'Umar, an Egyptian explosives expert, and Abu Obaidah al-Masri, al-Qa'ida's chief of operations in Afghanistan's Kunar province.

As no bodies were produced other than those of non-militant victims, it is unclear on what basis this identification was made. Pakistani journalists who interviewed local people said that the victims were all civilians, including five women, five children and eight men and that reports of militants killed in the attack were intended to justify an attack based on faulty intelligence. Member of the National Assembly for Bajaur Haroon ur-Rashid, who was in the area at the time of the attack, said he had known all the victims personally and categorically denied reports of bodies of militants being taken away. On 22 January Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that there was “no tangible physical evidence” of militants having been killed in the attack.

Continue reading the report at Amnesty International


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