Its not time to “move on”, Mr Panetta. Not yet

No, we were not asking for closure after a cheerless breakup, rather, demanding some much needed accountability.

Mariam Kizilbash June 23, 2012
The US government continues to remain predictable  and resort to its usual clichés. Yesterday, the Pakistani state was asked to  “move on”.

No, Defence Secretary Panetta, we were not asking for closure after a cheerless  breakup, rather, demanding some much needed accountability for the killing of our armed forces which was reasonably against all precepts of international law.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, has  nonetheless, predictably but unacceptably, all but ruled out an apology over an air strike last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and badly set back efforts to improve US-Pakistani ties. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) airstrike that killed Pakistani soldiers was  reasoned to be a “misunderstanding about the correct location of Pakistani units”; this speaks volumes about the tragic irony surrounding the continued US offense in the northern parts of Pakistan.

Their actions have claimed thousands of Pakistani lives already to which nobody has yet answered .

Then, in other signature move, the US government also asked a federal court to reject lawsuits demanding the release of documents on CIA drone strikes targeting suspected militants abroad, stating that the entire subject is "classified."

Doesn't this sound a little familiar though?

This reminds me of the Binyam Mohamed case where the the US had said it ‘deeply regretted’ the decision by a UK court to release intelligence details about torture of a suspect, which it insisted to be “classified”.

Meanwhile, Christof Heyns, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, has told a conference in Geneva that President Obama's drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere may encourage other states to disregard years of long established human rights standards. Heyns has  suggested some of these excursions may even constitute as war crimes.

They may indeed be  considered as war crimes for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, according to Article IV of the Geneva Convention:

"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria."

Drone strikes in Pakistan, especially in the last two months, have targeted religious places, funeral processions, rescue aid missions, and claimed lives of the elderly, women and children. This is prima facie in breach of the article.

Secondly, the pilots that operate drones, which comprise of CIA officials, do not fall within the meaning of “combatants”. This not only makes them immune to prosecution in countries where they have caused personal injury or damage to property, but also, the officials under whose orders they function, have committed war crimes.

Thirdly, US cannot possibly keep up the stance of bringing all these atrocities within the canopy of “self defence” as Article 51 of the UN Charter strictly calls for the use of force to conform to both necessity and  proportionately, and be authorized by the  UN Security Council .

The jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice affirms the above principles as well. For instance in cases such as  Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion of July 8 1999, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion of July 9 2004, Nicaragua v United States of America, 1984 ICJ REP, these cases re-enforce the basic formalities and requirements stated in article 51 of the UN Charter.

As for the information regarding drones being “classified material”, not only are requests for documents explaining the legality of the raids justified under the US  Freedom of Information Act, but maybe the drone operation should have never been boasted so openly and crudely in the first place.

It is worth noting here what the acting counsel to the CIA, John Rizzo had to say to Newsweek in February last year, about his role in authorizing the inclusion of names on the so-called 'target' or 'neutralisation' list. Rizzo described the previously unreported 'process' of determining who should be hunted down and 'blown to bits'. He mentioned that the request of inclusion in the list were written by the staff lawyers who determine whether an individual is of grave threat or danger to the United States. No information was provided as to what the criteria was to assess these requests. Rizzo stated that at any given time there were roughly 30 individuals that were targeted.

What's intriguing is that at no point during the interview did he use the word 'capture'.

So in light of all the information, arguments and facts, how does Mr Panetta then suggests that we move on as a nation who has been victim to heinous acts of violence. How can we move on knowing that our country's sovereignty and safety is in jeopardy without anybody being held accountable for it?

So Mr Panetta, know that I, and many like myself think that it is not time to “move on”. Not just yet.


Mariam Kizilbash The author read her LLM from University College of London and has worked in human rights NGOs in Islamabad and London. She is currently a legal researcher for Corruption Watch (UK).
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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