Why Are CIA Drones Still Causing the Death of Innocents in Pakistan?

25/09/2012 08:23 BST | Updated 24/11/2012 10:12 GMT

In Pakistan there are 800,000 people playing Russian Roulette. They do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's not a voluntary game. Someone else holding the gun, refusing to tell how many projectiles there are in the chamber, or even who the weapon is currently aimed at.

According to a report published today by Stanford University and New York University, CIA drones are inflicting this terror on the communities of Waziristan, in North-West Pakistan. The report, originally commissioned by Reprieve, warns that the United States' drone campaign is terrorizing the men, women and children who live in the region night and day. Nobody in the region knows who the drones are targeting or what some CIA informant has to say to place a target on someone. Those living underneath the constant presence of circling Predators are left helpless, with no known means of keeping themselves or their families safe.

The CIA suggests that no innocent people are dying in their drone campaign, a claim that I find beyond improbable - I met at least one innocent youth, the 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, three days before he was killed. Regardless, there are 800,000 innocent victims of this illegal, undeclared drone war, the rest of the Waziristan population.

One local resident described the sound of the drones as a horror washing over the community, leading "children, grown-up people... to scream in terror." This constant fear, according to the Stanford report, leads to widespread "psychological trauma among civilian communities." Parents, fearful of attracting the attention of the Predators - or, more accurately, the drone operators sitting behind a computer thousands of miles away in Nevada - refuse to allow their children to congregate in groups of more than two or three. "The children are crying and they don't go to school. They fear that their schools will be targeted by drones," reported one parent.

There is an equal fear of helping others, as the good samaritan has become a CIA target. The report found "significant evidence" for a process called "double tap", where drones launch a missile at a target and then fire again at those who come to the rescue of the screaming survivors. The result is civilians are discouraged "from coming to one another's rescue," and the CIA is even discouraging provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.

While Americans sitting behind computers may be physically operating the drones, others, including some in the UK, are complicit in the terror by reportedly providing locational intelligence to the U.S. for use in drone strikes.

Reprieve is currently representing Noor Khan, whose father was killed in a drone strike. In proceedings before the UK High Court, we are asking the court to force the government to disclose whether it has a lawful policy for providing locational intelligence, so Khan and others can be assured that the UK is not contributing to their ongoing terror. Sadly, we know otherwise: the UK contribution cannot be lawful, since the drone strikes are themselves in violation of the laws of war - there being no legally declared war against Pakistan in the first place, and no Pakistan consent for the US to kill its citizens.

Khan's father, an elder in the local society, was killed in a 17 March 2011 drone strike detailed in the Stanford report. Researchers found that the strike may have killed as many as 42 people. All of the people killed that day were attending a peaceful meeting of a council convened to resolve a local dispute.

When we speak of the toll drones are taking, the Stanford report is an important reminder that any calculation must go beyond just casualties. Those, like Noor Khan, who live under the daily presence of drones, are constantly terrorized by the possibility that they or their loved ones may be next. It is important that those who are carrying out this policy, directly or indirectly, are held accountable, so that Noor Khan's terror may end.