Amnesty International Urges United States to Clarify Basis for Lethal Drone Attacks in Pakistan

Press Release
January 31, 2012

Amnesty International Urges United States to Clarify Basis for Lethal Drone Attacks in Pakistan

Human rights organization urges Attorney General Holder to provide facts, not rhetoric, in his anticipated speech justifying use of drones

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579

(Washington, DC) -- The United States must disclose details of the legal and factual basis for the lethal use of drones in Pakistan, Amnesty International said today, after President Barack Obama confirmed that the CIA is using the unmanned aircraft to target suspected militants in the country's tribal areas.

President Obama made the rare public acknowledgment on Monday during an hour-long online video chat with users of the social network Google+. Amnesty International also called on the United States to monitor civilian casualties inflicted by drone attacks in Pakistan.

"President Obama’s confirmation of drone use in Pakistan opens the door for improved transparency and accountability in the U.S. drone program: its scope, legal justification and provisions to safeguard civilians," said Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA’s policy director for (counter) terrorism and human rights.

The President said that the drone strikes were a "targeted focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists." He asserted that the strikes targeted "al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will reportedly touch on the U.S. Government’s legal arguments in support of such killings by drone attacks in a speech on national security in the coming weeks.

"The drone program has been conducted in secrecy for too long," said Parker. "Attorney General Holder needs to bring some clarity to this debate by answering questions on the legal theory underpinning these operations, how targets are chosen and who decides when to pull the trigger."

Past justifications offered by U.S. officials have invoked legal justifications based on a "global war" between the United States and al-Qaeda, a concept that is not recognized by international humanitarian or human rights law.

U.S. drone attacks have doubled overall in Pakistan during the Obama administration. Thousands of people have been killed by the strikes - civilians as well as suspected militants. Because of the security situation and difficulty in accessing the terrain, it has been impossible for organizations like Amnesty International to verify the number of civilian casualties caused by drones.

In its June 2010 report, As If Hell Fell on Me: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, Amnesty International said the use of drones to target insurgents in northwest Pakistan had generated considerable resentment inside the country. Available evidence shows that the number of strikes decreased during 2011.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.