May 13, 2013
A Pakistani court has declared that US drone strikes in the country’s tribal belt are illegal and has directed the government to move a resolution against the attacks in the United Nations.
Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the petitions, ruled the drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter onhuman rights. The court said the strikes must be declared a war crime as they killed innocent people.
“The government of Pakistan must ensure that no drone strike takes place in the future,” the court said, according to the Press Trust of India. It asked Pakistan’s foreign ministry to table a resolution against the American attacks in the UN.
“If the US vetoes the resolution, then the country should think about breaking diplomatic ties with the US,” the judgment said.
US officials have said the drones target al-Qa’ida and Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s tribal regions who are blamed for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and say the operations are done with the complicity of Pakistan’s military. Activists say hundreds of civilians are killed as “collateral damage” and that there is no transparency about the operation of the drones.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party is considered frontrunner in this Saturday’s election, this week vowed that he would not tolerate drone attacks on Pakistani soil.
“Drone attacks are against the national sovereignty and a challenge for the country’s autonomy and independence,” he said.
The case was filed last year by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a legal charity based in Islamabad, on behalf of the families of victims killed in a 17 March 2011 strike on a tribal jirga.
The jirga, a traditional community dispute resolution mechanism, had been called to settle a chromite mining dispute in Datta Khel, North Waziristan. This strike killed more than 50 tribal elders, including a number of government officials. There was strong condemnation of this attack by all quarters in Pakistan including the federal government and Pakistan military.
Shahzad Akbar, lawyer for victims in the case, said: “This is a landmark judgment. Drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This judgment will also prove to be a test for the new government: if drone strikes continue and the government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.”?
Clive Stafford Smith of the London-based group Reprieve, which has supported the case, said: “Today’s momentous decision by the Peshawar High Court shines the first rays of accountability onto the CIA’s secret drone war.”
He added: “For the innocent people killed by U.S. drone strikes, it marks the first time they have been officially acknowledged for who they truly are - civilian victims of American war crimes.”
The US will surely veto any resolution that goes through the UN, just as it has before in the past (ahem, 41 vetoes to defend Israel)… but this case is monumental in examining the US drone war as a war crime because of the innocent civilians who have been killed, not just in Pakistan (between411-884) but in Yemen (between 99-184) & Somalia (up to 15) as well. (Note: These stats don’t include “militants,” which was redefined to include all males of military age in a strike zone, which often includes innocent civilians.)
I was deprived of my comfort items, except for a thin iso-mat and a very thin, small, and worn-out blanket. I was deprived of my books, which I owned. I was deprived of my Quran. I was deprived of my soap. I was deprived of my toothpaste. I was deprived of the roll of toilet paper I had. The cell—better, the box—was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time. I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off.
“We know that you are a criminal.”
“What have I done?”
“You tell me, and we reduce your sentence to 30 years. Otherwise you will never see the light again. If you don’t cooperate we are going to put you in a hole and wipe your name out of our detainees database.” I was so terrified because I knew, even though he couldn’t make such decision on his own, he had the complete backup of the high government level. He didn’t speak from the air.
“I don’t care where you take me, just do it.”
an excerpt from Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Memoirs, Part One: Endless Interrogations
I scare myself when I look in the mirror. Let them kill us as we have nothing to lose. We died when Obama indefinitely detained us. Respect us or kill us. It is your choice. The US must take off its mask and kill us.
Faiz al-Kandari, a Guantanamo hunger striker.
About 28 prisoners are currently on hunger strike at the prison, up from 21 prisoners last week. But the official count is much lower than what defense lawyers have reported, citing a majority of the 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike. Three have been hospitalized & 10 are being force-fed through tubes.
March 21, 2013
War zones are heavily polluted with a variety of contaminants, and toxic metal mixtures are routinely found in these areas. Metal contaminants in war zones originate from bombs and bullets as well as from other explosive devices. Metals, most importantly lead (Pb), uranium (U), and mercury (Hg), are used in the manufacture of munitions. Their purpose and utility have been repeatedly described in US military manuals and bulletins (Departments of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Joint Technical Bulletin 1998; US Department of the Army Technical Manual 1990).
In addition, the US armed forces have used depleted uranium (DU) weapons in recent wars. DU weaponry was first extensively used in the US invasion of Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. At that time, an estimated DU expenditure of 320 to 800 tonnes was mainly shot at the Iraqi troops who were withdrawing from Kuwait to Basrah.
Later, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom shot ammunition made from DU at a wide variety of targets, including populated cities, power and sanitation infrastructure (electrical power plants and water and sewage treatment plants), and civil and agricultural infrastructure. Although the amount of DU used and the specific locations of DU releases are not well known, approximately 2,000 tonnes of DU may have been used in Iraq.
Large quantities of DU bullets were also expended in the Iraqi environment. Between 2002 and 2005, the US armed forces expended six billion bullets according to the figures of the US General Accounting Office. That is 250,000 bullets per “insurgent” killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. An accurate tally of the numbers of bombs and the locations of bombings in Iraq is being compiled by the US Air Force. This information can be utilised in future studies to assess Iraqi public metal exposures and possible differential exposures in that population.
The highest levels of public exposure to toxic metals occur during and immediately after each bombardment. Upon explosion, the target population’s health is endangered by overpressure (shock), fragmentation, and heat. The explosion of bombs creates fine metal-containing dust particles that linger in the air and can be inhaled by the public. Metals are persistent in the environment and metal-containing fine dust may be re-injected into the air periodically as a result of wind and air turbulence. Iraq is well known for its strong and frequent sandstorms, which can easily render contaminated dust airborne. Since war debris and the wreckage from ammunition and bombs remain unabated in the environment, the weathering process facilitates continuous metal release into the environment. Weathering war-wreckage continues to be a source of public exposure to toxic metals long after bombing raids have ceased.
After bombardment, the targeted population will often remain in the ruins of their contaminated homes, or in buildings where metal exposure will continue. Our research in Fallujah indicated that the majority of families returned to their bombarded homes and lived there, or otherwise rebuilt on top of the contaminated rubble of their old homes. When possible, they also used building materials that were salvaged from the bombarded sites. Such common practices will contribute to the public’s continuous exposure to toxic metals years after the bombardment of their area has ended.
What must be done
Our study in two Iraqi cities, Fallujah and Basrah, focused on congenital birth defects. In both cities, the study revealed increasing numbers of congenital birth defects, especially neural tube defects and congenital heart defects. It also revealed public contamination with two major neurotoxic metals, lead and mercury. The Iraq birth defects epidemic is, however, surfacing in the context of many more public health problems in bombarded cities. Childhood leukemia, and other types of cancers are increasing in Iraq. Childhood leukemia rates in Basra more than doubled between 1993 and 2007. In 1993, the annual rate of childhood leukemia was 2.6 per 100,000 individuals and by 2006 it had reached 12.2 per 100,000.
Multiple cancers in patients (patients with simultaneous tumors on both kidneys and in the stomach, for example), an extremely rare occurrence, have also been reported. Dr Jawad al-Ali, a cancer specialist at the Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra, discussed the issue of multiple cancers with Der Spiegel last December. Familial cancer clusters, described as the occurrence of multiple cancers throughout an entire family, were also disclosed in that Spiegel report.
These observations collectively suggest an extraordinary public health emergency in Iraq. Such a crisis requires urgent multifaceted international action to prevent further damage to public health.
In regards to the epidemic of birth defects alone, the recognition that congenital birth defects in Iraq are mainly folate dependent offers treatment possibilities for at-risk populations. Folate and vitamin supplementation may prove to be useful in dealing with this crisis. In addition, chelation therapy, or the administration of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body, may be explored for appropriate candidates.
Most urgently needed is comprehensive large-scale environmental testing of the cities where cancer and birth defects are rising. Food, water, air, and soil must be tested to isolate sources of public exposure to war contaminants. This is a necessity to discover the source, extent, and types of contaminants in the area followed by appropriate remediation projects to prevent further public exposure to toxic war contaminants.
Photos of the birth defects can be seen in Alex Masi’s photo essay The Fallujah Legacy.