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New Reports Allege U.S. Drone Strikes May Have Violated International Law

US Air Force handout image of a Predator droneTwo respected international groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have released reports alleging that the Obama administration’s drone program has violated international law and caused unnecessary civilian deaths, fear and chaos in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International’s report reviewed 45 drone strikes in North Waziristan and surrounding regions in Pakistan in 2012 and 2013 and concludes that, in many cases, drone strikes may have breached international laws. The report also concludes that the White House’s and CIA’s lack of transparency makes the drone program unaccountable to the citizens of the U.S. as well as to unintended victims of the attacks.

The Human Rights Watch report illustrates the circumstances and aftermath of six strikes in Yemen, where drones are used less frequently than in Pakistan.

“The biggest problem is the accountability vacuum,” Naureen Shah, Amnesty International’s advocacy adviser for Pakistan, told Al Jazeera America. “(The Obama administration) has created a situation where they’re claiming success at killing the right people and ignorance or indifference to the wrong people dying.”

A recent report by the United Nations urged the United States to be more transparent about its program.

Amnesty International investigators found that innocent civilians were killed in the strikes—including in one case 18 workers killed by multiple missiles in North Waziristan as they were settling into an evening meal.

Another case showed a 68-year-old grandmother was killed by a Hellfire missile as she harvested vegetables from her family’s farm.

“We cannot find any justification for these killings,” Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher, said in a statement. “It is hard to believe that a group of laborers—or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren—were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.”

Amnesty says these attacks are in violation of international law and one may be a war crime.

Shah said an attack on July 6, 2012, when a U.S. drone appears to have struck a group of people who arrived to help rescue those injured in an attack a few minutes earlier, could be considered a war crime.

But Shah said there is no way of knowing what the U.S.’s motivations were.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an estimated 407 to 926 civilians have been killed since 2004 in Pakistan, while the Pakistani government says the number is between 400 and 600.

The United States claims information on civilian deaths is classified, which Amnesty International says makes it impossible for families of civilians killed by drones to receive compensation.

The reports indicated that many are afraid to speak out against the strikes because they fear that would associate them with terrorists in the eyes of the U.S.

“The Obama administration has been rather transparent, but there are limitations,” Charles J. Dunlap, a former Air Force major general and now a professor at Duke University, told Al Jazeera America. “What they haven’t been transparent about is the information about specific cases. That’s because adversaries go to school when any information is released.”

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