Two new reports, released on the same day and coinciding with a key diplomatic meeting, question American claims that overseas drone strikes only hurt militants and terrorists. Two of the world's leading human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, teamed up for the joint release of their reports, challenging the U.S. to increase the transparency of its drone programs and to take responsibility for the numerous civilians killed in these attacks. One of the reports even goes so far as to accuse the United States of possible war crimes.
The first report, from Human Rights Watch, looks at a number of drone strikes targeting members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. They say that most those killed in the attacks were actually innocent civilians, including in one instance, a local cleric working who was working to denounce AQAP. The Amnesty International report investigated all 45 drone strikes to take place in Pakistan's North Waziristan region in the last 18 months and also concluded that some of the attacks killed dozens of civilians who were not involved with any militant group. Both reports even question the legality of the attacks, even when they target suspected militants, as they might be considered extrajudicial killings or violations of the laws of war.
The timing of the release is also curious as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, will be at the White House tomorrow to meet with President Obama. The ongoing drone campaign, which Sharif has publicly criticized, is sure to be a key topic.
The other message underscoring both reports is not just the physical toll that drone strikes bring to both Pakistan and Yemen, but the mental and emotional toll on those who live there. Citizens of both nations are besieged by their governments on one side and militants on the other, as the ongoing battles between the two parties leave innocent people caught in the middle. The ever-present fear of U.S. drones adds a third terrifying element, as they strike without warning and leave civilians vulnerable to becoming "collateral damage."