‘Living under drones’: Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law

Professor James Cavallaro, director of Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, supervised a team of students who co-authored Living under drones, a study published in September by Stanford Law School (right) and New York University’s School of Law.

Nine months of research went into the report, according to its authors, which included “two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting.”

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed far more people than the United States has acknowledged

The study asserts that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed far more people than the United States has acknowledged – only around 2% being “high-level” targets – have traumatized innocent residents and have largely been ineffective (surely counterproductive? Ed).

It accuses Washington of misrepresenting drone strikes as “a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the U.S. safer,” saying that “there is significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.”

In contrast to more conservative U.S. statements by the president and his chief adviser, the Stanford/NYU report offers starker figures published by the admirable Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent organization based at City University in London. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes:

  • killed 2,562 – 3,325 people in Pakistan
  • 474 – 881 civilians,
  • and 176 children

The Stanford/NYU study adds that they also injured, 228 – 1,362 individuals. It charged the CIA, after interviewing witnesses, victims and experts, with  “double-striking” a target, moments after the initial hit, thereby killing those who had flocked to help the injured.

An entire region is being terrorised

Accounts of psychological trauma experienced by people living in Pakistan’s tribal northwest region – as drones hover above them 24 hours a day – are highlighted. One of our sources, the CNN news website, continues:

“Before this we were all very happy,” the report quotes a resident as saying. “But after these drones attacks a lot of people are victims and have lost members of their family. A lot of them, they have mental illnesses.”

People have to live with the fear that a strike could come down on them at any moment of the day or night, leaving behind dead whose “bodies are shattered to pieces,” and survivors who must be desperately sped to a hospital.

The London-based rights organization Reprieve, which with the help of a partner organization in Pakistan facilitated access to some of the people interviewed for the Stanford/NYU study, backed its finding that the drone program causes wider damage than is acknowledged by the U.S. government. “This shows that drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies,” said Reprieve’s director, Clive Stafford Smith.

“Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe.”

Though real threats to U.S. security and to Pakistani civilians have developed in the Pakistani border areas, the report concludes that drone strikes, which are conducted by the CIA in a country not at war with the United States, are too harmful to civilians, too sloppy, legally questionable and do more harm to U.S. interests than good.

It recommends that Washington undertake measures to rectify collateral damage – including:

  • making public detailed legal justification for strikes,
  • implementing mechanisms transparently to account for civilian casualties,
  • ensuring independent investigations into drone strike deaths,
  • prosecuting cases of civilian casualties
  • and compensating civilians harmed by U.S. strikes in Pakistan.


Obama has already authorized 283 strikes in Pakistan, six times more than the number during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office. As a result, the number of estimated deaths from the Obama administration’s drone strikes is more than four times what it was during the Bush administration — somewhere between 1,494 and 2,618.

Next:  more than 70 countries now own some type of drone . . .

This entry was posted in CIA, Civilian deaths, Drone strikes, Pakistan, President Obama and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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