LEGAL action charity Reprieve and Islamabad human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar on Monday announced the publication of the first large array of photographs depicting the devastating impact of US unmanned aircraft (‘drone’) attacks on innocent civilians in Pakistan.
The photographs are the work of Noor Behram, a 39-year-old photographer from the North Waziristan Agency (NWA). Noor’s pictures and videos are featured at an exhibition, Gaming in Waziristan, which opened yesterday at Beaconsfield, 22 Newport Street, London SE11, and runs 11am-5pm, Tuesday-Friday until August 5th. At 6.30pm on Thursday, July 21, Reprieve’s Clive Stafford Smith will be in conversation there with Shahzad Akbar.
Noor started covering the violence in Pakistan’s Waziristan and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) for Al Jazeera in 2007. For the last three years, as a personal project, he has been taking pictures and footages of civilian victims, focusing on women and children killed and injured by CIA drones.
He has covered many drone strikes since 2007; the current photograph and video collection provides images of 28 attacks.
Noor is married with six children. His oldest daughter Aqsa, aged 14, has just finished her school in Miranshah and is going to college. His youngest is six months old and is named Mohammed Ali.
The exhibition is part of Reprieve’s broader project Bugsplat which aims to inject transparency into the manner in which drones are being used in Pakistan and elsewhere.
The US is radically changing the nature of war in ways that jeopardise 60 years of humanitarian law.
On Monday, working in conjunction with Reprieve, Shahzad Akbar also filed an FIR (First Information Report) in Islamabad calling for a warrant for the arrest of John A Rizzo, former acting chief counsel to the CIA, who has publicly boasted of his role in killing people with drones.
This will be one stage of a long and concerted campaign to reintroduce the rule of law into US-sponsored violence around the world.
Also later yesterday the Bureau of Investigative Journalism rolled out a project intended to inject objective transparency into the numbers of those being killed, using some of Noor’s photographs in its launch, and disproving objectively US official claims that the drone strikes hit targets precisely and without civilian casualties.
Shahzad Akbar, the pioneering lawyer who has been leading the legal fight against the American use of drones in his native Pakistan, said: ‘I constantly meet the relatives of those killed in these drone strikes, and they are all angry at America. This policy is simply further radicalising an unstable region.
‘Noor Behram shows great courage to capture these pictures in order to show the world what is really happening. People living in countries supporting this war with their tax money need to ask questions from their governments if their money is being spent on such gruesome murders of women and children.’
Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith said: ‘This is another terrible US policy in the War of Terror.
‘I hate to expose the world to pictures of a child with his head blown half off, but this is what the CIA calls “collateral” damage. In a country that is not at war with America, everyone else calls it murder, and the drone attacks are causing vastly more harm than good.’
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism said yesterday that Washington’s claims of ‘no civilian deaths’ in Pakistan drone strikes are untrue.
Claims by a senior Obama administration official that ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral (civilian) death’ in Pakistan drone strikes since August 2010 were found to be untrue on Monday, following a detailed investigation.
Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed for the first time the extent of civilian casualties in CIA drone strikes in the past year.
It comes less than a month after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan publicly stated: ‘. . .that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop’.
The Bureau’s analysis of 116 drone strikes that took place between August 2010 and Brennan’s speech on June 29 reveals:
• Ten drone strikes in which a total of at least 45 civilians have been killed.
• Six named children killed by these drone strikes.
• At least 15 additional strikes are likely to have killed many more civilians.
US drone strikes in Pakistan have risen from one a year in 2004 to one every four days under President Obama.
The US continues to insist that drone strikes are ‘the most accurate weapon in history’.
For more than six months, US intelligence sources have insisted that there have been no civilian deaths since a specific drone strike on August 23 2010.
That CIA attack caused the deaths of seven women and children, and reportedly led to a policy change in how strikes are targeted. A senior US official told the Bureau: ‘There haven’t been any non-combatant casualties for about a year, and assertions to the contrary are wrong. The most accurate information on counter-terror operations resides with the United States.’
Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, said: ‘There is the greatest danger here of a falsehood being told by US intelligence services, which misleads President Obama into taking decisions which are manifestly contrary to America’s best interests.’
Professor Anatol Lieven, author of the recent book: Pakistan: A Hard Country, and Chair of International Relations and Terrorism Studies at King’s College London said: ‘These commanders don’t live in separate military headquarters or barracks; they live very often in their own houses with their own families. If you’re going to hit these people in their own houses at their headquarters you’re virtually bound to kill women and children.’
Chris Woods, who leads the Bureau’s investigation into US drone strikes, said: ‘Washington believes that no civilians are dying in Pakistan drone strikes. Our evidence directly contradicts this. So it is unfortunate that the CIA chooses not to share its ‘accurate information’ with the world’.
Iain Overton, editor of the Bureau, said: ‘A senior US official’s reaction to our findings was that drone attacks protected America “from terrorists who continue to seek to kill innocents around the world.”
‘Our investigation, however, has shown it is these drones that killed innocents. The US has to answer for its actions.’
The Bureau noted that asked on June 29 about US ‘targeted killings’, a euphemism which in this case refers to the CIA drone strikes, Brennan responded: ‘One of the things President Obama has insisted on is that we’re exceptionally precise and surgical in terms of addressing the terrorist threat. And by that I mean, if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.’
He was more precise: ‘In fact I can say that the types of operations . . . that the US has been involved in, in the counter-terrorism realm, that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.’
This is the first of a series of major investigations by the Bureau on the US covert war, concluded the Bureau.