U.S. broke international law by killing civilians with drones - rights groups

By Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Human rights groups on Tuesday accused the United States of breaking international law and perhaps committing war crimes by killing civilians in missile and drone strikes that were intended to hit militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released separate reports detailing the deaths of dozens of civilians in the two countries. They urged the Obama administration and Congress to investigate, and end a policy of secrecy on the attacks.

"In some of the cases we looked at ... they appear to be war crimes, but really the full picture is for the U.S. authorities to reveal," Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, said after describing the death of a 68-year-old Pakistani grandmother in an alleged drone strike.

"We are saying for the U.S. authorities to come clean," he said at a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch.

Responding to the reports, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama administration officials "take the matter of civilian casualties enormously seriously." He said he could not speak to specific operations, but that U.S. policies met international and domestic legal obligations and the standard of "near certainty" that civilians would not be hit.

U.S. officials have argued that any drone strikes are very carefully targeted and that civilian casualties have been kept to a bare minimum, possibly in the low dozens.

Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch said her organization had found violations of international law when civilians were "indiscriminately" killed in Yemen.

In a September 2, 2012, attack, the target - an alleged al Qaeda militant, Abd al-Raouf al-Dahab, - was "nowhere in sight" when the United States hit a passenger van and killed 12 people returning from the market, she said.

"Their loved ones found their charred bodies in pieces on the roadside, dusted in flour and sugar that they were bringing home to their families," Tayler told reporters.

Both the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports looked at handful of U.S. attacks in Pakistan and Yemen to urge transparency and accountability in U.S. policy.

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen increased dramatically after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, and the pilotless aerial vehicles became a key part of the fight against al Qaeda. More recently the number of strikes has slowed.

The United States has also used drones over Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Iraq, and this year received approval to base drones in Niger.

Obama discussed drone strikes in a speech on counterterrorism policy last May, when he also signed a document codifying guidelines for the use of force against terrorists. He said that before drone strikes were taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians would be killed or wounded.

CIVILIAN DEATHS

Earlier this month, Pakistan told the United Nations that of some 2,200 people killed by drone strikes in the past decade, at least 400 were civilians, a U.N. human rights investigator said.

The United States has not followed its own guidelines, even striking in cases where the targets were not present, or when it would have been easy to capture targets instead of killing them, the human rights advocates said.

The Central Intelligence Agency declined comment.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, visiting Washington, said drones had deeply disturbed Pakistan's people.

"This issue has become a major deterrent in our bilateral relationship as well. I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks," Sharif said.

Pakistan's North Waziristan is the area of the most intensive U.S. drone campaign in the world.

Qadri, Amnesty's researcher, said he was concerned that Pakistani authorities may be complicit in the strikes, but that he had no concrete evidence of this.

Amnesty's 74-page report said it had researched nine strikes in North Waziristan. The Pakistani grandmother, Mamana Bibi, was killed last October in one strike and several of her grandchildren were wounded; 18 civilian laborers died in another strike in July, the report said.

Human Rights Watch's 96-page report described six "unacknowledged" U.S. military attacks on targets in Yemen, one in 2009 and the others in 2012-2013. Eighty-two people, 57 of whom were civilians, were killed, it said.

In December 17, 2009, an attack by as many as five U.S. Navy cruise missiles struck a Yemeni hamlet. Human Rights Watch said that although 14 fighters for al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate were killed in the attack, so were at least 41 civilians. (Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Jackie Frank)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore lose nerve, lose game

Bangalore lose nerve, lose game

IPL 7, GAME 11—Vinay's over, Lynn's catch turns last-over finish in KKR's favour. More »

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting the IPL as a means of protest against the grime in the game may not yield the desired results. More »

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

IPL 7, GAME 10—Chennai beat Rajasthan by 7 runs after last-over scare. More »

Gambhir a knock away from striking form - KKR coach

Gambhir a knock away from striking form - KKR coach

Gautam made an eight-ball duck in the opening game against Mumbai and in the second game against Delhi, he lasted only half those balls. More »

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

The group opposed to Srinivasan alleged that since BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel belongs to the president’s group, he was intentionally delaying the SGM… More »

April 24: A legend is born

As Sachin Tendulkar turns 41 - here's a look at some offbeat moments from the Master Blaster's innings. More »

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

... because, as recent events reveal, the BCCI has little intention of doing it. More »

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

Sri Lanka depart for assignments in Ireland and England in two weeks, and Sanath Jayasuriya suggested Marvan Atapattu would be interim head coach for those… More »

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Sri Lanka's cricket selectors on Wednesday sacked Dinesh Chandimal as Twenty20 captain and replaced him with Lasith Malinga, while Angelo Mathews was… More »

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Herath has been rested, while the team will be without the veteran pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who retired from T20 internationals… More »

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

Dalmiya said that it was the first time that the BCCI had been faced with a situation where the apex court had hauled up the Board and it should have acted… More »

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

The ECB continued the restructuring of the England coaching set-up on Wednesday by announcing the appointment of Paul Farbrace as assistant coach. More »

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

Mukul Mudgal has communicated to the court his willingness to take up the investigation and has been asked to specify the terms and modalities on April… More »

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

The pay dispute between Sri Lanka Cricket and its 13 contracted players ended on Wednesday when the latter agreed to accept 10 percent of the participation… More »

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

With two heavy defeats at the hands of Bangalore and Chennai, Daredevils currently languish near the bottom of the table. More »

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

The Supreme Court prefers that the Justice Mudgal panel further investigate the IPL corruption scandal. More »

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

The Mukul Mudgal probe committee dropped a bombshell in the Supreme Court on Tuesday by making a sensational claim that it was forced to stop audio recording… More »

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

IPL7, GAME 9—Maxwell (95, 43b), Balaji (4-13) set up 72-run win. More »

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Money talks, but it is in light of this ICC shakeup that the ECB's act of soliciting of another team's coach deteriorates from free-market aggression to… More »

Farbrace quits for England post

Farbrace quits for England post

He will assist Peter Moores who was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday. More »

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Pakistan on Monday reappointed Moin Khan as chief selector and manager of the national team, a week after fellow former captain Rashid Latif turned down… More »

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

IPL7, MATCH 8—Raina-led middle order, superlative catching give CSK a 93-run win. More »

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

The former BCCI president says he was "disillusioned" by the happenings at the emergent working committee meeting on Sunday. More »

Injured Bravo to miss rest of IPL

Injured Bravo to miss rest of IPL

Dwayne Bravo is set to be sidelined for at least four weeks due to a shoulder problem. Bravo sustained the injury when attempting a catch on the boundary… More »