Continuing Devastating U.S. War Crimes
By Nat Hentoff
November 16, 2012 "Information
- During the tumultuous months of the presidential campaign,
most Americans heard nothing of this report in the
(Minneapolis-St. Paul) Star Tribune (that originally appeared in
The Los Angeles Times): "To live under drones is to live in
terror." Based on a study by Stanford University and New York
University, it was written by Jennifer Gibson, who was one of
the on-site researchers of this startling account of the CIA
pilotless drones' killings in Pakistan under the enthusiastic
authority of President Barack Obama.
Gibson is on the staff of the London-based international human
rights organization Reprieve, whose carefully documented work I
have frequently cited in these columns.
"Drones," she wrote, after spending weeks in North Waziristan,
"are a constant presence ... with as many as six hovering over
villages at any one time. People hear them day and night. They
are an inescapable presence, the looming specter of death from
above. And that presence is steadily destroying a community
twice the size of Rhode Island."
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First
Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato
Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
Here is the horror that is being inflicted on these people in
our nation's name: "Parents are afraid to send their children to
school. Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid
to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier
"What makes this situation even worse is that no one can tell
people in these communities what they can do to make themselves
safe. No one knows who is on the American kill list, no one
knows how they got there and no one knows what they can do to
get themselves off."
Among the more than 60 people Gibson interviewed were survivors
of the strikes, and those who had lost loved ones and family.
And dig this, my fellow Americans: "All of them live under the
constant threat of annihilation."
Although I have often reported about these U.S. hellfire
missiles, what I did not know — until this Stanford
University/New York University study was done — was that our
nation is repeating in Pakistan a recklessly flawed procedure
that we used in Afghanistan, where, as Gibson has reminded us:
"The Bush Administration paid enormous bounties ... in areas
rife with tribal and familial rivalries ... hundreds of innocent
people were wrongly fingered (by Afghan informants) as Taliban
or al-Qaida, many of whom (then) spent years at Guantanamo or
other American prisons overseas."
So, too, "now the United States is offering similar incentives
to people in North Waziristan who promise to identify militants.
The alleged militants' homes are tagged by GPS trackers and
later, when the informant is at a safe distance, blown to
"And because no one knows who the informants are, people are
reluctant to invite neighbors into their homes."
But sometimes, I expect, they fatally do admit neighbors they've
known a long time and still trust.
So how does the United States define "militants" to get them on
our kill lists? They are, Gibson wrote, nothing more than
"military-age males, typically those between 18 and 65. In
addition, because the U.S. generally does not release the names
of people who have been killed, we cannot know whether the
victims were actually militants or were deemed militants simply
because Washington says they were."
For further explanation, here comes Ben Emmerson, the U.N.'s
special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. I'm
usually wary of quoting any U.N. official because that
organization sometimes talks a good game on human rights, but
seldom follows through. However, as a recent commondreams.org
story explained, "Emmerson's role at the U.N. is that of an
independent researcher and adviser, but he does not necessarily
represent the views or speak on behalf of the world body" ("U.N.
Official: Aspects of U.S. Drone Program Clearly 'War Crimes,'"
CommonDreams.org, Oct. 26).
According to a copy of a recent speech he gave at Harvard
University (and reported by commondreams.org), Emmerson said,
"It's not my job to speak for the U.N. I speak to the U.N."
And in my reporting, I've found his to be an accurate statement.
During his Oct. 25 appearance at Harvard University, also
reported by The Harvard Crimson, Emmerson made this vital point
— largely ignored by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Obama and many
members of Congress — that "even though a state's primary human
rights obligation is protecting the lives of its citizens ...
this does not 'mean infringing the rights of those suspected of
terrorism'" ("U.N. Official: Geneva To Launch Investigation on
Drone Attacks," Francesca Annicchiarico, The Harvard Crimson,
Emmerson told the students at Harvard Law School that he would
"be launching an investigation unit within the special
procedures of the (U.N.) Human Rights Council to inquire into
individual drone attacks, and other forms of targeted killings
conducted in counterterrorism operations, in which it has been
alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted" (CommonDreams.org,
He added, as others have, that Obama's government doesn't answer
some of the most basic explanations on how it validates these
programs, nor has it shown that it has inserted safeguards to
prevent false charges against those who it claims are
But Emmerson is making a mistake. He himself is independent, but
the U.N. Human Rights Council — with some members utterly
contemptuous of human rights in their own countries and
elsewhere, such as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and the Russian
Federation — cannot be trusted on this assignment.
What he should do is get together organizations like Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, et
al. for a concerted, documented investigation — with crucial
direct questions to the U.S. government.
Regarding Obama's and Romney's opinions on drones — as I have
reported — Emerson said, "It is perhaps surprising that the
position of the two candidates on this issue has not even
featured during their presidential elections campaigns ... we
now know that the two candidates are in agreement on the use of
Worse yet, the candidates weren't questioned about drones by the
media or by the vast majority of us.
We, too, are responsible for these targeted killings.
Nat Hentoff is one of the foremost
authorities on the First Amendment. While his books and articles
regularly defend the rights of Americans to think and speak
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