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Views from the Ground: Investigating U.S. Drone Strikes

Event took place on Tues, October 29, 2013. Event description:

Hosted by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYU School of Law) & the Open Society Foundations

Under President Obama, the US dramatically expanded targeted killing outside traditional battlefields. Over 400 strikes since 2009 have killed thousands of people. Yet rarely do American audiences hear directly from victims, or about investigations into civilian deaths. Experts at this event discussed soon-to-be released, groundbreaking reports, a new film, and legal actions that reveal serious concerns around US strikes and—for the first time—a victim of a US drone strike will speak directly to an American audience.

Welcome: Sarah Knuckey (NYU Law) and Christopher Rogers (OSF)

Moderator: Steve Coll, Dean, Columbia Journalism School; Staff Writer, The New Yorker

+ Rafiq ur Rehman, whose mother was killed in a 2012 drone strike in Pakistan
+ Robert Greenwald, director of the upcoming documentary “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars,” which documents Rehman’s case, among others
+ Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, speaking on his new UN report on targeted killings and the right to life.
+ Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International Pakistan Researcher, speaking on his recent investigations of strikes in Pakistan.
+ Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, speaking on the ACLU’s litigation challenging targeted killings secrecy and the killing of US citizens in Yemen.
+ Letta Tayler, Human Rights Watch Senior Terrorism/Counterterrorism Researcher, speaking on her new report on drone strikes in Yemen.

This event was presented in memory and honor of Ibrahim Mothana, a Yemeni advocate and writer who made enormous contributions to awareness of the civilian and security impacts of US targeted killings. Mothana died at the age of 24 in September 2013.

This event took place on Tuesday, October 29, 2013.

The most revealing section of this appears towards the end in response to the first question by an audience member. I’m transcribing it roughly here:

1:09:00 Audience member: Based on the evidence we have now – which is a great amount, do you think the United States should stop completely its drone attacks right now? right now?
(Panelists look at each other.  Steve Coll: it’s a clear enough question. laughs from audience.)

1:10:00 Shamsi (ACLU): I think that [pause the answer to that is based not he info we have, it appears clear that several hundred civilian bystanders have died. Mistakes have been made, but i cannot say to you that the use of drones is in itself unlawful or always unlawful. sdrones may be used um and lethal force might be permissible under very restricted circumstances including in the context of human rights as well as the laws of war. i think our position is that the unlawful killing, and we think that killing people far from any battlefield under the circumstances that the Obama administration is currently engaged in results in unlawful killing. That needs to stop. That the president’s promises of reigning and restricting the use of lethal force have to be followed upon.

1:11:16 Tayler (Human Rights Watch): I’ll take a drone over a cluster munition any day but i share all of hina’s concerns about the sue of, secrecy surrounding the drone program, the questions about the legality of the strikes, so what we need is enough basic information, and it’s shocking that this many years later, we do not have it – about how exactly drones are being used, but the weapon itself is — i do not think that we need to stop using drones, and i don’t think we’re in a position to say that we should stop all strikes – uh – there are serious terrorist threats in this world uh theres a lot of debate and discussion that should happen on the best way to address that threat but um – thats a long way from saying stop now.

1:02:06 Heyns (UN Special Rapporteur): I would also say that i also  don’t think that drones are inherently illegal if they are used in a situation of armed conflict within the rules of international humanitarian law. it can be justifiable. I think the problem comes in outside of situations of armed conflict and that is where i think the main focus should be.

Sarah Knuckey remarked on the answers, which kicked off a conversation online.

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Reagan and the Afghan Resistance

From the archives – while researching for Wounds, we came across this Reagan dedication of the space shuttle, Columbia, to the Afghan resistance. Enjoy!

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