For Immediate Release
Medea Benjamin, firstname.lastname@example.org, +923.365.978.798
Alli McCracken, email@example.com, +923.419.853.545
On the eleventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, 31 American peace delegates representing the U.S. peace group CODEPINK joined political leader Imran Khan and Pakistanis at a rally against U.S. drone strikes in Hatala, Pakistan, near the border between D.I. Khan and South Waziristan. The delegates traveled to the tribal areas in solidarity with the people of Waziristan who have been terrorized by U.S. drone attacks since 2004. This was the first time that the Pakistani government has admitted foreigners into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in nearly a decade.
The group’s initial destination was Kotkai, a town inside South Waziristan, but the government sealed off the border into the region and set up road blocks to block the caravan.
CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, flanked by members of the delegation holding anti-drone signs and pictures of children who have been killed in drone attacks, delivered an apology for the death and suffering caused by the drones. “We want you to know that these Americans you see here have been fighting for years against this drone policy, and will continue to do so until we put an end into to these barbaric attacks. We want to live in peace and harmony with our brothers and sisters in this region,” she said to the crowd that chanted, over and over, “You are welcome! We want peace!”
On the journey from Islamabad to Waziristan, the delegation received overwhelming support from Pakistanis who held processions along the route.”I think we were successful in showing people that there are Americans who care about their plight. The people we spoke with made a clear distinction between American government policies and its people,” said delegate Judy Bello from Rochester, New York.
While the delegates were disappointed that the Pakistani government prevented them from entered deeper into South Waziristan as planned, they feel they have been successful in putting the issue of drone warfare in the international spotlight. Back in Islamabad, they will continue to have meetings with US and Pakistani government officials and may embark on a fast to commemorate civilians who have died in the strikes.
For Immediate Release
Alli McCracken, firstname.lastname@example.org 034 1985 3545
Medea Benjamin, email@example.com 033 6597 8798
On Friday, October 6th, a delegation of 32 CODEPINK peace activists will set out on a historical march to Waziristan, where US drones have been killing so many innocent people. They will be joining political leader Imran Khan and many thousands of Pakistanis in the first-ever attempt to march to the troubled tribal areas that have been off-limits to non-residents. The group will spend the night of October 6th in Dera Ismail Khan and on October 7th the caravan will proceed to the village of Kotkai, where a massive rally is planned.
The march has already created a stir throughout the country of Pakistan, and internationally. Rumors have been swirling of possible attacks by local militants, and the US embassy has said that it cannot guarantee that drones will not strike during the march. Nonetheless, the group is determined to go ahead.
When asked why she was going to participate in this march considering the serious security risks, Dianne Budd, a medical doctor from San Francisco, answered, “Of course I’m concerned about our security, but I am even more concerned about the security of the people of Waziristan who face constant threats and terror from the drones flying above their heads twenty-four hours a day.”
On Friday, the group met with about a dozen drone attack survivors who came to Islamabad to tell their stories. “I felt horrified and ashamed hearing how these drones have not only killed these people’s loved ones but have disrupted their daily lives,” said Chelsea Faria, 22 years old from Northampton, Massachusetts, and the youngest member of the delegation. “We were told that people are afraid to send their children to school, attend community meetings, go to weddings and funerals, because they never know when a drone might hit.”
The delegation is anxious to show Pakistanis, three-fourths of whom consider America their enemy, that there are Americans who care about their lives and are determined to change US foreign policy. “We also feel this march will put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are,” said CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin. “We will continue to find ways to protest these barbaric assassinations until they finally end,” she added.
Medea Benjamin and Karim Khan
During the CODEPINK delegation to Pakistan, the delegates had a chance to meet with many of the drone victims and family members from Waziristan. One man they met was Karim Khan, from the tiny village of Machikhel in North Waziristan. Khan, a large man in his late fifties with striking features, including a long beard, and wearing traditional tribal garb, surprised the group when he revealed that he spoke English and has worked as a journalist for outlets such as Al Jazeera.
Khan told his story about how on December 31, 2009, a drone strike leveled his home, killing his 18 year-old son and his brother. The third man that died the night of that strike was a stonemason who had traveled to the town to work on the village mosque.
The news reports alleged that the target of the drone had been a Taliban commander, Haji Omar, but Khan insisted that Haji Omar had been nowhere near the village that night. He also said that the Taliban commander was reported dead several times by the media and Khan wondered aloud, how many times could this man be killed?
Khan said his son had just graduated from high school, and his brother was a teacher at the local school. Both were government employees. Khan’s brother tried to teach his students that education was far more powerful than weapons. The drone strike that killed him sent them a very different message.
Anti-drone protesters from across Pakistan and around the world are gathering in Islamabad this week in preparation for a weekend march into the tribal areas of South Waziristan.
A delegation of 30 US activists and parents of U.S. Army soldiers has arrived in Islamabad, where they plan to join the October 6 and 7th anti-drone march and rally.
During a meeting with Acting US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Hoagland, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy and members of CODEPINK challenged Hoagland to respond to reports that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have targeted civilian rescuers, and assertions by international law experts that such targeting is clearly a war crime under international humanitarian law, regardless of whether US drone strikes in Pakistan are otherwise legal.
Imran Khan and a group of human-rights activists have vowed to press ahead with a march into Pakistan’s remote tribal area to highlight the civilian cost of the American drone missile programme.
The cricketer-turned-politician said he would hold the government of President Asif Ali Zardari responsible if anything happened to those taking part. Mr Khan is tomorrow due to lead a convoy of vehicles into the tribal areas, culminating in a rally in South Waziristan on Sunday night. He is to be accompanied by human-rights campaigners from the US and Pakistan. In recent days, government officials had tried to warn the politician off, suggesting it might not be safe for the large contingent, despite an apparent statement from the Taliban that it would not target the activists.
Last night, campaigners said it was essential they pushed ahead with the plan. Speaking from Islamabad, Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the US-based Code Pink campaign group, said people were prepared to risk danger to show solidarity with the people of the tribal areas. “We came here to show the people of Pakistan that there are Americans who are totally opposed to the drones and that we will try to put pressure on our government to stop this,” she said. “And we are prepared to risk our lives to do this.”
Editor’s note: Mirza Shahzad Akbar is Reprieve legal fellow in Pakistan, Director and Founder of Foundation for Fundamental Rights and a practicing human rights lawyer in Islamabad. He represents a number of families of victims affected by drone strikes.The United States has conducted hundreds of drone missions in Pakistan since 2004
Islamabad (CNN) – On March 17, 2011 a drone attack killed at least 40 members of a Wazir tribal Jirga, which was resolving a land ownership dispute among sub-tribes in Waziristan, a mountainous region in northwest Pakistan, according to local media reports.
The reports claimed the Jirga was not the intended target and the predator was chasing a car before finally executing five people without any trial or due process near the Jirga. While this predator was hovering in the area, sophisticated cameras allegedly picked up images of a bigger gathering. Without appearing to have any intelligence or knowledge of its target, it fired four more missiles at the congregation.
In the same month, a joint investigation by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Sunday Times newspaper cited Pakistan’s military commander in Waziristan at the time, Brigadier Abdullah Dogar: “We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting, we’d got the request 10 days earlier. It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga — they have their people attending — but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?”
There should never be doubts. A big gathering in Waziristan does not mean they must be Taliban.
To put it in perspective: My clients say drone attacks are now happening almost twice a week on Pakistani soil.