Forty-plus village elders and government-appointed tribal leaders known as maliks had gathered in Datta Khel in North Waziristan, Pakistan, to attend a decision-making jirga. Their task on the morning of March 17, 2011, was to settle an ongoing dispute concerning a nearby chromite mine. Reportedly, four men from a local Taliban group were also present to help settle things in this part of the semi-autonomous mountainous tribal region of the country along the border with Afghanistan. They were sitting in two large circles outside the bus depot. And while drones hovered above North Waziristan every day, the bearded men felt secure believing the strange-looking flying machines only targeted terrorists or people who worked against the government. Moreover, at least 35 of them were maliks, khassadars (government workers who serve as an auxiliary police force) plus visiting government officials. Ahmed Jan, a malik himself, recalled the hissing sound he heard right before the first missile exploded in the center of his group. Miraculously, he survived after being thrown a number of feet, although he lost his hearing, the use of one foot and had to have a rod implanted in a leg. Everyone else in the circle, however, was killed instantly. Another missile demolished the second circle. Blood, flesh and other body parts were spewed everywhere. Later the villagers did their best to collect them, but had a hard time matching the dismembered parts with the right person. At least 42 residents of Datta Khel died that March morning. And while U.S. officials still insist everyone killed was an insurgent, the evidence gathered by a research team from Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the New York University’s Global Justice Clinic suggested a whole different scenario. Their conclusion was backed up by the Pakistani military, an independent investigation by the Associated Press, interviews with lawyers and the personal testimony of nine witnesses, survivors and family members. The group’s troubling finding in the North Waziristan village was repeated in other drone strikes up and down the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), made up of six frontier regions and seven agencies. After nine months of in-depth research — including two on-the-ground investigations in Pakistan with more than 130 interviews with victims like Ahmed Jan, witnesses, humanitarian workers, physicians and journalists — co-authors James Cavallaro of Stanford Law School and Sarah Knuckey of NYU produced a 2012 report, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan.” Their blunt conclusion:“In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the U.S. safer by enabling ‘targeted killing,’ of terrorists with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.”In a related New York Times op/ed piece last September, Cavallaro and Knuckey reported that 474 to 881 civilians had been killed by drones in Pakistan since 2004, according to the most reliable estimates. “U.S. drone strikes cause considerable harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians,” observed the law professors. “Civilians face the constant worry that a strike may be fired at any moment — at someone’s home or car, or at a school, mosque or market. Civilians and even humanitarian workers are afraid to assist victims for fear they may be killed in a second strike.”‘Growing hatred of America’Contractor General Atomics came out with the first military drone in 1995 for surveillance and intelligent gathering. But the aptly named MQ-1 Predator was soon equipped to launch weapons like the also apply named “Hellfire” missile. The durable UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) workhorse has been used mainly by the CIA and U.S. Air Force, seeing action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia plus Bosnia and Serbia. When President George W. Bush declared a “War on Terror” soon after 9/11, the Pentagon had less than 50 drones. (Today that number is more than 7,500.) The first armed U.S. drone strike of the secret “flying robot” probably took place in mid-November of 2001. It targeted and successfully killed the military commander of Al- Qaeda in Afghanistan, Mohammed Atef. Somewhere during those early years, the CIA took control of America’s drone program. It’s been well documented by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit based at City University of London, that hundreds of armed drones, with bombs as well as missiles, have been launched by the once-exclusive spy agency, killing some 3,000 individuals, including hundreds of civilian men, women and children. It’s estimated that only 2 percent of these “kills” were so-called “high-value” leaders of Al-Qaeda or connected to other non-state terrorist groups.The Obama administration has greatly ramped up the United States drone program, making it a much bigger part of the U.S. anti-terrorism effort and multi-times more lethal. And it has expanded from Afghanistan to other Third World Islamic nations, especially Pakistan and Yemen. A host of legal, human rights, social justice and religious organizations — as well as individuals — have stressed the dramatic, and ever-growing, negative impact the killing of civilians is having. In April, Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni born in the mountain village of Wessab but educated at a California high school, told a Senate Judiciary committee about a recent deadly drone attack on his village that he actually live-tweeted with people there. “The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine,” he testified, his voice breaking at times. “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village … one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.” ‘Very problematic’Maryann Cusimano Love, an associate professor of international relations in the politics department at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has studied and written about U.S. drone strikes. While she speaks in a calm and steady voice, the tenured academic — consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on international justice and peace issues — does go as far as an academic typically goes in condemning the current use of UAVs in Pakistan, Somalia and more recently Yemen — calling these non-war-zone, preemptive attacks “very problematic.”Proponents of using the death-dealing drones, she notes, often argue how they meet the Christian Just War Tradition, which dates back to the fourth century and St. Augustine of Hippo. While Cusimano Love is sure this “Father of the Church” didn’t imagine a world where unmanned machines in the sky could rain down destruction on people going about their daily lives, she says his ancient moral codes still offer wise guidance to robot war today.St. Augustine, who originated the phrase “just war,” insisted a Christian could be a soldier as well as a servant of God. He went so far, in fact, as to say in facing a great wrong that could only be stopped by violence, peacefulness would be a serious sin. But it was left to St. Thomas Aquinas 800 years later to articulate the actual conditions that would override the Sixth Commandment forbidding killing and constitute a war that was truly just. And the Just War Tradition has come down to us today in two parts about the morality of the use of grave force: jus ad bellum (the right to go to war) and later jus in bello (right conduct within war).Besides discrimination, or not targeting noncombatants, Cusimano Love addresses the issues of proportionality (the benefits of waging a war have to be proportionate to its expected harm), last resort (all peaceful alternatives have been exhausted) and probability of success (the chance of building a sustainable long-term peace must be high) among others. “Proponents of drone warfare often say that they’re meeting the Just War Tradition of discrimination, because it’s better at protecting civilians,” the political scientist told The Tidings during a phone interview. “The argument they’re making is that it’s more surgical and it’s better than sending boots on the ground. “The problem with that argument is that these drones are being used outside of war zones, where the U.S. would never send boots on the ground. So rather than limiting military operations, they are expanding them. “And the use of the word ‘drone’ is a bit euphemistic,” she noted, “because what we’re talking about is bombing. So you’re bombing outside a war zone. And in that sense it’s very problematic because civilians have no reason to expect that they are going to be underneath bombs. They have no way to protect themselves like even running away beforehand. It’s really expanding the war zone rather than limiting it.”Another red flag that pops up in her head is that the U.S. drone program is only useful against Third World nations who don’t have anti-aircraft weapons or a strong military defense system. That, she says, calls into question whether this is a military necessity or merely politically expedient for the powers that be. “The third issue is that Catholic tradition is always about the protection of life, including foreigners,” she reported. “And Just War Tradition requires soldiers to take on more risk in order to protect civilians. Because, you know, soldiers have been trained, they have special equipment, they signed up for this job.“But, unfortunately, it appears that the political logic of our drone program is that it’s putting foreign civilians at greater risk, while protecting soldiers more. And that’s not allowable by Just War Tradition. We’re not protecting the most vulnerable first.”Cusimano Love is hopeful that President Obama has promised to turn back control of the drone program to the Pentagon and take it out of the hands of the secret CIA. She believes such a move would make drones more transparent and accountable, as the president has promised. Why? Because the military has “many levels of training” about picking bomb targets, and lawyers would be involved in the whole process.“So there’s more of a connection between Just War Tradition, the Geneva Conventions, which come directly from that tradition, the laws of armed conflict and what the military is doing,” she explained. “Because at this point we just have two administrations who have been basically saying, ‘Trust us. We’re using drones in a responsible fashion.’”She’s also hoping that President Obama’s scheduled speech May 23 on counterterrorism measures will, as an administration official has already promised, finally lift the veil on the worse-kept-secret program in Washington’s beltway.‘We’re just always in fear’The “Living Under Drones” report on the death, injury and trauma to civilians caused by U.S. drones in Pakistan collected numerous victim stories. Tahir Afzal’s brother died in a UAV strike. “It was in the afternoon around two o’clock and he was on his way to work. They were in a car. A drone struck and four people died in it, including children who were walking on the road. … There were lots of drones wandering over that day. They were wandering all over, and as the car passed by, it was targeted,” Afzal told the California and New York researchers. “He was my older brother, and I miss him a lot.”At the time of his village’s attacks, Khalid Raheem was a respected elder in his Pakistani community. “We did not know that America existed. We did not know what its geographical location was, how its government operated until America invaded Afghanistan,” he acknowledged. “We do know that Americans supported the Taliban in our area, North Waziristan, to fight the Soviets. But [now with] the Soviets divided and broken … we have become victims of Americans.…“We know that the consequences of drone strikes are extremely harsh,” Raheem continued. “Our children, our wives know that our breadwinners, when they go out to earn a livelihood, they might not come back, and life may become very miserable for them in years to come. Now we are always awaiting a drone attack, and we know it’s certain and it’s eventual and it will strike us; and we’re waiting to hear whose house it will strike — our relatives’, our neighbors’ or us. We do not know. We’re just always in fear.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0524/drone/{/gallery}