News Release

Americans Heading to Drone-Targeted Area of Pakistan; U.S. Amb. Questions Confidential U.S. Casualty Numbers

Peace Delegation to South Waziristan; U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan States He Can’t Vouch for U.S. Casualty Numbers: “I Probably Just Got in Big Trouble”

The Independent is reporting: “Imran Khan and a group of human-rights activists have vowed to press ahead with a march into Pakistan’s remote tribal area to highlight the civilian cost of the American drone missile program.

“The cricketer-turned-politician said he would hold the government of President Asif Ali Zardari responsible if anything happened to those taking part. Mr. Khan is tomorrow due to lead a convoy of vehicles into the tribal areas, culminating in a rally in South Waziristan on Sunday night. He is to be accompanied by human-rights campaigners from the U.S. and Pakistan. In recent days, government officials had tried to warn the politician off, suggesting it might not be safe for the large contingent, despite an apparent statement from the Taliban that it would not target the activists.

“Last night, campaigners said it was essential they pushed ahead with the plan. Speaking from Islamabad, Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the U.S.-based Code Pink campaign group, said people were prepared to risk danger to show solidarity with the people of the tribal areas. ‘We came here to show the people of Pakistan that there are Americans who are totally opposed to the drones and that we will try to put pressure on our government to stop this,’ she said. ‘And we are prepared to risk our lives to do this.’”

The following are in Pakistan and on the peace delegation:

ROBERT NAIMAN, [in Pakistan, 9 hours ahead of U.S. ET] [email], also in the U.S. via Megan Iorio [email]
Policy director of Just Foreign Policy, Naiman just wrote the piece “Americans Press U.S. Ambassador for End to Drone Strikes in Pakistan, and the Ambassador Responds,” which states: “On Wednesday, as a member of a U.S. peace delegation to Pakistan organized by Code Pink, I delivered a petition from more than 3,000 Americans to Acting U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Hoagland calling for an end to the CIA drone strike policy in Pakistan.

“I also delivered a letter from Alice Walker, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Wolf, Oliver Stone, Danny Glover, Jody Williams, Tom Hayden, Patch Adams, Glenn Greenwald, Juan Cole and other prominent Americans, including former U.S. government officials, calling for an end to the drone strikes. The letter concludes: ‘We demand an immediate moratorium on the drone strikes. We demand that U.S. policy in Pakistan be brought into compliance with U.S. and international law, that the U.S. government come clean about civilian casualties, that civilian victims and their families be compensated, and that “signature” drone strikes and attacks on civilian rescuers be permanently abandoned, in Pakistan and everywhere else.’

“In our meeting, I particularly pressed Ambassador Hoagland on reports of U.S. drone attacks on civilian rescuers. Ambassador Hoagland responded in more specific detail to some of the concerns that I and others raised than has been typical for U.S. officials in the past, who have usually either 1) refused to talk publicly and on the record about the U.S. drone strike program because it is ‘classified’ or 2) have defended the policy in vague and misleading terms without answering specific allegations. …

“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported 474-884 civilians killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 out of 2,572-3,341 killed overall. That suggests that somewhere between a sixth and a third of the deaths have been civilian deaths. Is that ‘exceedingly rare’? Meanwhile, a recent Stanford/NYU report says that only 2 percent of drone strike deaths have been ‘high-level’ targets. This suggests that somewhere between 7 and 15 times as many civilians have been killed as ‘high level’ targets, and that while killing civilians has been common, it is the killing of ‘high level’ targets that has been ‘exceedingly rare.’”

In the the meeting, Ambassador Hoagland stated: “I looked at the numbers today, before I came here and I saw a number of civilian casualties officially, U.S. government, classified information. Since July 2008, it is in the two figures. I can’t vouch for you that that’s accurate — in any way. So I can’t talk about numbers. … I probably just got in big trouble for what I just said.” See video.

SHAHZAD AKBAR [email]
Akbar is co-founder of Foundation for Fundamental Rights, an organization representing victims of drone strikes in Pakistani courts. He is accompanying the U.S. activists.

ALLIE McCRACKEN [email]
TIGHE BARRY [email]
MEDEA BENJAMIN [email]
McCracken, Barry and Benjamin are with the group CodePink. Benjamin wrote the book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

LEAH BOLGER [email]
Bolger is president of Veterans for Peace.