‘America treats us worse than animals’ — victims of Obama’s secret drone war speak out

The Guardian reports: Because US drone strikes are cloaked in secrecy, occur in remote or dangerous locales and target people presumed to be terrorists, Americans rarely hear from survivors or their relatives. But a theme emerges in interviews the Guardian has conducted with more than half a dozen drone survivors: the pain from the strike never ends, as the apparatus of secrecy renders closure unobtainable.

According to six people in Pakistan and Yemen who have lost their brothers, sons and grandparents to drone strikes, the strike lasts a moment and the consequences last a lifetime. Most of them have never told their stories to an American reporter. Some of them have theories about whom the US was targeting, while others are left guessing. The interviews were facilitated by the human rights group Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights and conducted in translation.

The people are left impoverished, anguished and infuriated. Justice, let alone apologies, never arrive, even as a modest amount of blood money flows from the local governments. The United States, which styles itself a force for justice in the world, is to them the remote force that introduced death into their lives and treats them like they are subhuman, fit only to be targeted. At any moment, they fear, another drone could come for them.

The White House has said it will soon release of a tally of drone deaths. Relatives of the dead and survivors of the attacks expect little of it to include the truth, and doubt it will lead to the public apologies they desire – particularly since a senior aide to Barack Obama recently told the Atlantic that the president “has not had a second thought about drones”.

The CIA would not comment for this piece. An Obama administration official said: “It is certainly not the case that lives of a certain nationality are more valuable to us than those of any other. What is true, however, is that the president has said … that the American people need information to hold their government accountable. That is in part why we have been especially transparent when it comes to the deaths of US citizens.”

Nabila’s father, and Mamana’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, took a different view. “If America kills any westerner, one of their own, white people, they apologize and compensate. But if it’s Pakistanis like us, they don’t care. In my opinion, America treats us worse than animals.” [Continue reading…]

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Dilip Hiro: Flashpoint for the planet

Once upon a time, if a war was going to destroy your world, it had to take place in your world. The soldiers had to land, the planes had to fly overhead, the ships had to be off the coast. No longer. Nuclear war changed that equation forever and not just because nuclear weapons could be delivered from a great distance by missile. To use a term that has become commonplace in our world when discussing commerce, the prospect of nuclear conflict has globalized war and it’s a nightmare of the first order.

In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.

Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia. The smoke and particulates thrown into the atmosphere from those weapons would undoubtedly bring on some version of a global “nuclear winter,” whose effects could last for at least 10 years, causing crop shortfalls and failures across the planet. The cooling and diminished sunlight (along with a loss of rainfall) would shorten growing seasons in planetary breadbaskets and produce “killing frosts in summer,” triggering declines in crop yields across the planet. Robock and Toon estimate that “around one billion people worldwide who now live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.”

To say the least, it’s a daunting prospect at the very moment when the Obama White House has just ended the president’s final Nuclear Security Summit with fears rising that Pakistan’s new generation of small, front-line tactical nuclear weapons are “highly vulnerable to theft or misuse.” Hiro, an expert on the South Asian region, suggests just why a nuclear war is all too conceivable there and would be a catastrophe for us all. Tom Engelhardt

The most dangerous place on Earth
A nuclear Armageddon in the making in South Asia
By Dilip Hiro

Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration.  In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.

[Read more…]

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Pakistan militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar threatens fresh wave of violence

The Wall Street Journal reports: The militant group behind the park massacre here this week on Tuesday threatened to unleash a wave of new attacks, as the government rounded up thousands of suspects.

The Easter Sunday bombing that killed 72 people was the latest in a series of bloody assaults by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar extremists over the past two years, which has established them as the most brutal and capable militant group in the country. The Pakistani Taliban affiliate’s network, officials say, reaches into the country’s heartland of Punjab province, whose capital Lahore is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hometown and political base.

“Let Nawaz Sharif know that this war has now reached the doorstep of his home,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, the militant group’s spokesman, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday, announcing a new campaign of violence. “God willing, the winners of this war will be the righteous holy warriors.” [Continue reading…]

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Pakistan bombing: Who are Jamaat ul-Ahrar?

By Talat Farooq, University of Birmingham

The Easter Sunday suicide attack on Gulshan-e-Iqbal amusement park in Lahore, Pakistan has claimed more than 70 lives. A rescue services spokeswoman confirmed that at least 29 children, seven women and 34 men were killed and more than 300 were wounded. On the fateful day, the popular resort was crowded with people marking Easter.

Pakistan is in a state of shock and dismay as eye witnesses on television screens recalled scattered body parts and pools of blood across the park, and hospital officials tweeted calls for blood donations.

Jamaat-ul Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack. Ahsanullah Ahsan, the spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said the group had targeted Christians celebrating Easter, although the police are still investigating the claim. Warning Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that “we have entered Lahore”, the capital of the Punjab province and the political power base of Sharif, the militant group threatened further attacks.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has so far launched several attacks on Pakistani civilians and security forces in recent months in an apparent attempt to boost its profile among Pakistan’s increasingly fractured Islamist militants, who since June 2014 have been at the receiving end of a fully-fledged military operation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). So far, the military has killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants in the operation.

[Read more…]

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Thousands of protesters in Pakistan’s capital call for Sharia law

The Associated Press reports: Hundreds of Islamic extremists resumed protests in Pakistan’s capital on Tuesday over the execution of a man who killed a secular governor, in a show of defiance amid a government crackdown following a suicide attack two days earlier.

The rally by Pakistan’s Sunni Tehreek group brought more than 10,000 protesters into the streets of Islamabad on Sunday, where they clashed with police. On Tuesday, local police official Mohammad Kashif said some 700 remained, bringing parts of the capital to a standstill.

The protesters are demanding strict Shariah law after the hanging of police officer Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Gov. Salman Taseer in 2011 over his opposition to the country’s far-ranging blasphemy laws. The protesters are also demanding the hanging of a Christian woman Taseer had defended against blasphemy allegations. [Continue reading…]

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Lahore bombing is faction’s boldest bid to stake claim as Pakistan’s most violent terrorists

The Guardian reports: Christian leaders have expressed horror at the massacre of more than 70 people in Lahore on Easter Sunday, the most significant day in the church calendar.

The Vatican said Pope Francis was praying for the victims and their families in the aftermath of the suicide bombing, which “casts a shadow of sadness and anguish on the feast of the Easter”. [Continue reading…]

Jason Burke reports: The bombing of Lahore’s most popular park is the bloodiest attempt yet by a new Islamic extremist faction to establish itself as the most aggressive and violent of the many such groups active in Pakistan.

The target was the country’s long-beleaguered Christian community, according to a credible claim of responsibility from Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a group founded about two years ago after a split within the fragmented movement known as the Pakistan Taliban.

However, many Muslims were among the scores of victims when a suicide bomber detonated a nail-filled device near a children’s playground. This is unlikely to bother the perpetrators.

Extremist clerics have made sustained efforts to find theological justification for such casualties in recent decades and, though such arguments are contested by mainstream scholars, they are preached in hardline mosques and taught in many religious schools in Pakistan.

The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, like the broader Pakistan Taliban, follow an extremist branch of the rigorously conservative Deobandi strand of Islam which, along with equally intolerant schools of practice influenced by those in the Gulf, has made major inroads in Pakistan in recent years at the expense of more open-minded local traditions. [Continue reading…]

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Drone strikes: The brand of detached warfare that Obama made his own

The Guardian reports: Faheem Qureshi’s uncles sat with their neighbors, chatting, cracking jokes and sipping tea, in their family’s lounge for male guests. Qureshi, almost 14, stood nearby, bored and restless, thinking about when he could go to the nearby playground where he and the other Ziraki village kids played badminton and cricket.

It had been a long day – Friday prayers, a food shopping errand at his mother’s behest, hosting – but also a happy occasion, as people stopped by to welcome an uncle home to North Waziristan, in tribal Pakistan, from a work excursion to the United Arab Emirates. Then he heard a sound like a plane taking off.

About two seconds later, the missile punched a hole through the lounge. Qureshi remembers feeling like his body was on fire. He ran outside, wanting to throw water on his face, but his priority was escape. The boy could not see.

This was the hidden civilian damage from the first drone strike Barack Obama ever ordered, on 23 January 2009, the inauguration of a counter-terrorism tactic likely to define Obama’s presidency in much of the Muslim world. It was the third day of his presidency. [Continue reading…]

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Pakistan learns from news reports that it’s now part of new Saudi ‘coalition’ against ‘terrorism’

The Express Tribune reports: Saudi Arabia’s inclusion of Pakistan in a 34-nation military alliance against terrorism sparked much confusion on Tuesday after officials in Islamabad said they were unaware of any such development.

In a rare news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman announced the formation of new military alliance of Islamic countries, including Pakistan. He said the alliance will coordinate efforts against terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, but offered few concrete indications of how the military efforts might proceed.

The announcement cited “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organisations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent.”

Asked if the new alliance would focus just on the Islamic State, the Saudi minister said it will confront “any terrorist organisation that appears in front of us.”

The Saudi state new agency, SPA, mentioned Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan among the 34 Islamic countries which are part of the military alliance – Iran, Syria and Iraq are not part of it. It added the coalition will have a joint operations centre in Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations.

When contacted, a senior official of Pakistan’s Foreign Office said they were gathering details about the newly formed alliance. “We came to know about it (the alliance) through news reports. We have asked our ambassador in Saudi Arabia to get details on it,” he said, suggesting that Pakistan has been caught off guard by the Saudi announcement. [Continue reading…]

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Pakistani Shi’ites fighting for Iran in Syria

Reuters reports: For years, websites linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have posted articles eulogizing Shi’ite fighters who die in Syria. But two men heralded last month for dying to defend a shrine near Damascus were different from most martyrs given such treatment in the past: they were Pakistanis.

The men were part of the Zeinabiyoun, a unit of Pakistani fighters named for a granddaughter of the prophet Mohammad buried in the shrine, the latest contingent in an Iranian drive to recruit Shi’ites from the region to fight in Syria.

The increase in the number of “martyrdom” notices of fighters from the group this year indicates they are taking a more active role in the conflict. A posting in mid-November on a Twitter account bearing the group’s name displayed the pictures of 53 men, described as fighters killed in battle.

While there has been no official announcement of their total numbers, a regional source familiar with the issue said there were hundreds of Pakistanis fighting in Syria, many stationed around the shrine of Mohammad’s granddaughter Zeinab.

Iran’s recruitment of the Pakistani fighters adds yet another international dimension to Syria’s 4-year-old civil war, which has deepened sectarian divisions across the Muslim world and drawn in most regional and global powers. [Continue reading…]

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Pakistan stops foreign reporters’ probe into radicalization of California shooters

The Times of India reports: Pakistan has begun preventing western reporters from investigating the radicalization of the San Bernardino terrorists even as it emerged that the Pakistani wife of the Chicago-born Pakistani-American Syed Rizwan Farooq may have “honey-trapped” him into entering the United States.

Correspondents who made their way to the city of Multan in Pakistan’s Punjab province, considered the hotbed of sunni extremism where Farooq’s jihadi wife Tashfeen Malik studied pharmacy, reported they had been corralled in a local hotel and are not being permitted to go out to investigate.

“Pakistani ‘officials’ not letting some journalists out of our hotel in Multan this morning to do reporting. I am still barred from leaving hotel in Multan and Pakistani ‘officials’ strongly suggest I, as foreign journalist, ‘go back to Islamabad”‘ tweeted Washington Post’s Tim Craig, who has been reporting from Pakistan.

“On one hand officials say Tashfeen Malik wasn’t radicalized here in Multan, yet on other hand they say ‘it’s too dangerous’ for foreigners,” Craig tweeted, adding, “I’ve lost track of how many different security/intel officials I’ve had to talk to, copy my passport, etc in past 17 hours – think 12 to 16.”

By putting “officials” in quotes, the correspondent seemed to indicate they are ISI roughnecks who are frequently tasked with tailing foreign reporters to make sure they do not get too close to the truth, in this case the fact that Multan and surrounding areas in Pakistan’s Punjab is the hotbed of state sponsored Sunni sectarianism and extremism.

The country’s security apparatus uses rough methods, including beating up foreign journalists as it happened with New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, to protect its interests. It also uses the grisly example of Daniel Pearl’s murder to advise foreign reporters that they are treading in dangerous territory, which in this case appears to be the state-protected Southern Punjab region. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Dr. Shah, of the [Bahauddin Zakariya] university faculty, said he was shocked by the news that Ms. Malik was suspected of committing a mass killing. He said he did not think she had become radicalized at the university, because it does not have a reputation for extremism.

But neither Multan nor Ms. Malik’s university have been immune to extremist currents. A proliferation of hard-line religious schools across southern Punjab have obtained a reputation as incubators for sectarian and militant groups, some of which enjoy the tacit support of political leaders and elements of the Pakistani security forces.

In response, the university kept a “very vigilant eye” on its students, said Dr. Janbaz, the lecturer, and coordinated with intelligence agencies to install surveillance cameras. Ms. Malik, however, never came under scrutiny, he said.

“We never heard anything suspicious about her activities,” he said. “She kept to herself and seemed to just focus on her studies.”

But the authorities did little to stop a virtual witch hunt on campus that led to a nationally publicized death after Ms. Malik left the university.

In 2013, Islamist students there accused Junaid Hafeez, a young lecturer in English who had traveled to the United States as a Fulbright scholar, of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in comments he made on his Facebook page. Mr. Hafeez was later charged with blasphemy, a crime that carries a possible death penalty in Pakistan, and he is currently in jail awaiting trial.

Mr. Hafeez has struggled to find legal representation since two men fatally shot his lawyer, Rashid Rehman, in May 2014, in what was seen as punishment for daring to defend someone accused of blasphemy.

Pakistani security officials say there is no indication yet that Ms. Malik moved in extremist circles on campus or in the city. Yet they have sought to restrict reporting from the area in recent days, often by issuing quiet threats to Pakistani reporters to back off. The officials conducted a search of Ms. Malik’s former home in Multan on Saturday. [Continue reading…]

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How four federal lawyers paved the way for Obama to order the execution of Osama bin Laden

The New York Times reports: While the lawyers believed that Mr. Obama was bound to obey domestic law, they also believed he could decide to violate international law when authorizing a “covert” action, officials said.

If the SEALs got Bin Laden, the Obama administration would lift the secrecy and trumpet the accomplishment. But if it turned out that the founder and head of Al Qaeda was not there, some officials thought the SEALs might be able to slip back out, allowing the United States to pretend the raid never happened.

Mr. Preston wrote a memo addressing when the administration had to alert congressional leaders under a statute governing covert actions. Given the circumstances, the lawyers decided that the administration would be legally justified in delaying notification until after the raid. But then they learned that the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, had already briefed several top lawmakers about Abbottabad without White House permission.

The lawyers also grappled with whether it was lawful for the SEAL team to go in intending to kill Bin Laden as its default option. They agreed that it would be legal, in a memo written by Ms. DeRosa, and Mr. Obama later explicitly ordered a kill mission, officials said. [Continue reading…]

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There’s just one problem with those Bin Laden conspiracy theories

Mark Bowden writes: Without a shred of evidence, without contradicting a word that I wrote, Jonathan Mahler in The New York Times Magazine this week suggests that the “irresistible story” that I told about the killing of Osama bin Laden in my 2012 book, The Finish (excerpted in Vanity Fair), might well have been a fabrication—“another example of American mythmaking.” He presents an alternative version of the story written by Seymour Hersh as, effectively, a rival account, one that raises serious doubts about mine, which is all but dubbed “the official version.” It’s not meant kindly.

Mahler’s think piece about the iffiness of reporting and the hazards of trying to shape history into a narrative is a great gift to conspiratorial thinkers everywhere. It’s not often that the most distinguished journalistic institution in America wades so fully into the crackpot world of Internet theorizing, where all information, no matter its source, is weightless and equal. Mahler is careful not to side with either Hersh or me, but allows that “Hersh’s version doesn’t require us to believe in the possibility of a government-wide conspiracy.”

In fact, that’s exactly what it does. [Continue reading…]

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Pakistani military says its drone killed 3 suspected militants

The Washington Post reports: An unmanned Pakistani aircraft killed three suspected terrorists Monday, marking the first time that the country’s military has used drone technology on the battlefield, officials said.

In March, Pakistan’s military declared that it had successfully armed an indigenously produced drone, which it calls the Burraq, with a laser-guided missile. But the weapon had not been used in combat until now, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, a spokesman for the military, said in a brief statement that three “high-profile terrorists” were killed in the strike in the Shawal Valley in northwestern Pakistan. Bajwa did not identify them but said details would be forthcoming.

With the announcement, Pakistan appears to have joined a handful of nations that use armed drones as instruments of war. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-intelligence chief: ‘Pakistan is at war against the Afghan people’

Der Spiegel reports: In an interview, former Afghan secret service chief Amrullah Saleh discusses the recent wave of Taliban violence aimed at cementing power for its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. He says the attacks are backed by Pakistan.

SPIEGEL: More than 100 people have been killed in the recent series of attacks in Afghanistan. What are the perpetrators seeking to achieve with this new wave of violence?

Saleh: The Taliban have a reputation for brutality and mercilessness to defend. Their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor wants to prove that he can maintain these capabilities. All the major attacks require enormous military and financial resources. They are planned and executed with the aid of ISI, Pakistan’s secret service. The aim of the attacks is to establish Mansoor as the new strong man. The violence is intended to show that the Taliban brand still exists, and the message as the same as before — that the Talban is united and powerful.

SPIEGEL: Why was the death of Mullah Omar, his predecessor, kept secret?

Saleh: We don’t know if he died two years ago or five. The only thing that is certain is that Mullah Omar was living under the patronage of the ISI. Pakistan always denied this, just as the leadership in Islamabad denied that Osama bin Laden lived in the country with their protection. But how can we lead a peace process together with Pakistan when everyone lies — from the army chief right up to the president? [Continue reading…]

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Mullah Omar’s death revelation could divide Taliban, undermine peace talks

The Washington Post reports: By the time Mohammad Omar’s death in 2013 was confirmed Wednesday, he had long been the ghost leader of the Taliban. His Afghan acolytes had not seen or heard from him in more than two years, even as they continued to fight and die in the name of the Islamist movement he founded two decades before.

Like Osama bin Laden, confined to watching TV in a Pakistani safe house before he was killed by U.S. commandos in 2011, Omar was still an inspiring symbol for his followers but he was no longer calling the shots. All the messages he sent out were scripted by someone else — props in a campaign to keep the splintering insurgents united.

Now that the truth is out, analysts in Kabul said Wednesday, two questions loom for the Taliban and the future of Afghanistan. First, with no immediate successor in place, can anyone else keep the fractured insurgency unified, or will disillusionment and power struggles pull it apart? Second, with peace talks just beginning to gain momentum, will the sudden leadership vacuum bring them to a chaotic halt? [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: The Taliban have chosen late supreme leader Mullah Omar’s longtime deputy to replace him, two militant commanders said on Thursday, as Pakistan announced that peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government had been postponed.

Pakistan cited reports of Omar’s death as the reason for the delay in negotiations, amid fears they could trigger a potentially bloody succession battle and further deepen divisions within the militant movement.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was appointed leader at a meeting of the Taliban’s top representatives, many of whom are based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to the sources who were present at the shura, or gathering.

“The shura held outside Quetta unanimously elected Mullah Mansour as the new emir of the Taliban,” said one commander at the Wednesday night meeting.

“The shura will release a statement shortly.”

Siraj Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani militant faction, will be a deputy to Mansour, both commanders added. [Continue reading…]

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