The Year in Drones: The Secrets Exposed, Promises Made and Ugly Realities That Remain

Amnesty said in a report released in October that the U.S. carried out unlawful drone killings in Pakistan, some of which could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions. The Administration refused to confirm or deny our account or publicly commit to investigating potentially unlawful killings.

Amnesty said in a report released in October that the U.S. carried out unlawful drone killings in Pakistan, some of which could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions. The Administration refused to confirm or deny our account or publicly commit to investigating potentially unlawful killings.

By Naureen Shah, Advocacy Advisor at Amnesty International USA

Nearly every month of 2013 brought a devastating revelation about the secret U.S. drone program, which has reportedly involved more than 400 drone strikes and killed more than 4,700 people. Here’s a look back at the secrets that were exposed, the promises made, and the ugly realities that remain:

January 2013: The White House reportedly finalizes a lethal “playbook” with rules for the secret killing of terrorism suspects. The CIA conducts drone strikes in Pakistan, but they are reportedly exempt from the playbook’s rules.

“There’s a sense that you put the pedal to the metal now,” the Washington Post reports an unnamed U.S. official as saying about the CIA’s continued killings.

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Massive Syrian Refugee Crisis Visible From Space

Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, March 2013. Click to explore. Image © DigitalGlobe 2013 © Google Earth

Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, March 2013. Click to explore. Image © DigitalGlobe 2013 © Google Earth

The massive displacement crisis stemming from Syria’s ongoing conflict is increasingly visible from space. Satellite images on Google Earth reveal the growth of what in some cases looks like the emergence of whole new cities over the last two years.

A new project published today by one of our volunteers, Richard Cozzens, presents some of the most compelling images, providing a grim snapshot of the dire humanitarian situation in and around Syria. The satellite images show camps in the countries that are most affected by the influx of refugees, such as Turkey and Jordan. For example, what was an empty spot in the desert in September 2011 is now the huge refugee camp Zaatari in Jordan.

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Will Anyone Answer Why a Wedding Party Was Blown to Pieces?

Incredibly, the White House is staying silent on yesterday’s news of an alleged drone strike in Yemen that reportedly killed 15 people traveling to a wedding.

"President Obama: End Your #GameOfDrones Now," University of Texas-Austin

“President Obama: End Your #GameOfDrones Now,” University of Texas-Austin

Even though President Obama called civilian casualties “heartbreaking tragedies” in a May 2013 speech, his Administration has been unwilling to acknowledge specific killings, let alone investigate and provide compensation or reparation to survivors and families.

This includes the family of grandmother Mamana Bibi, who was who was struck and killed by a drone’s Hellfire missiles while gathering vegetables in her family’s fields in October 2012. Though her grandchildren visited members of Congress earlier this year, the White House has never publicly recognized the killing or the family’s loss.

“I hope I can return home with a message,” Mamana Bibi’s grandson told members of Congress. “I hope I can tell my community that Americans listened.”

The White House can still change course and ends its policy of secrecy. We are calling on President Obama to publicly commit to investigating all credible reports of potentially unlawful killings, including those documented in our report.

It’s time to stop the silence, and start being accountable.

You can help, sign our petition.

The U.S. Government’s Dirty Little Secret About Drone Strikes

AI_DroneReport_Cover_101613By Pratap Chatterjee, executive director of CorpWatch and a member of Amnesty USA’s Board of Directors. He is the author of Halliburton’s Army and Iraq, Inc.

In October 2012, Mamana Bibi was killed in front of her grandchildren while gathering vegetables in her family’s large, vacant fields in Pakistan. She was blasted into pieces by a drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her.

Bibi’s death was just one of many cases of potentially unlawful killings documented in Amnesty International’s recent report, “Will I Be Next? U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.”

For this report, Amnesty International reviewed all 45 reported U.S. drone strikes that occurred between January 2012 and August 2013 in North Waziristan, a region in northwest Pakistan which has seen the vast majority of this type of targeted killings. The organization conducted detailed field research into nine strikes, based on rare access to the region and more than 60 interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, residents and officials.

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Little Known Link Between Militarism and Violence Against Women

Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront “sexual terrorism” (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images).

Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront “sexual terrorism” (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images).

By Tarah Demant, Amnesty International USA Co-Chair, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

It took Miriam Isaura López Vargas several weeks to piece together what happened to her after she was tortured and raped by Mexican soldiers. On February 2, 2011, the 30-year-old mother of four had just dropped three of her children at school in the city of Ensenada, in northern Mexico, when two men wearing balaclavas forced her into a white van and took her away.

“They tortured me. They repeatedly put wet cloth over my face and poured water over it so I couldn’t breathe. They gave me electric shocks,” she explained.

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A Quick Way to Take Action for Political Prisoners in Iran

Blogger and prisoner of conscience  Hossein Ronaghi Maleki.

Blogger and prisoner of conscience
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was a 24-year-old computer whiz and blogger when he was arrested in Iran in December 2009. After spending most of the last four years behind bars as a prisoner of conscience, he is now in a deplorable condition, in dire need of medical attention that he is not receiving.

After having one kidney removed because of a kidney disorder contracted in the filthy prison where he was kept, he now has a serious infection in his remaining kidney.

Incredibly, when he was re-arrested in August 2012 after spending a short period of time out of prison to get an operation, he was brutally beaten in the kidney area, causing his surgical wound to bleed.

Hossein Ronaghi Maleki has gone on hunger strikes to protest his mistreatment, but to no avail. He still has not been granted the medical furlough to which he is entitled.

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The Fight Isn’t Over: Keep Calling for An End to Obama’s #GameOfDrones

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This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour.Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.

As we unpacked the model drone for our last action, it was hard to ignore the biting chill in the mountain air in Salt Lake City. While we were preoccupied with the tour, winter had come. We’d pushed on as the days grew shorter and nights grew colder. We pushed on, feeling the presence and power of the thousands now standing with us around the country, and knowing that 9-year-old Nabeela Bibi’s call for justice for her grandmother, Mamana, must not be ignored.

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The Quick Way You Can Take Action for Syrian Women Facing Gender Violence

16_days_logo_englishTo get to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, Syrian women and girls had to face a gauntlet of deadly violence including extortion, trafficking and abuse. Once in the camps, they expected to find safety.

What they found, according to Amnesty International researchers, was more danger and the threat of gender violence.

A majority of the 2.9 million Syrian refugees are women and children. Having fled violence, and often surviving a treacherous journey across the Syrian desert, these refugees sought safety and shelter in the camps. More than 120,000 of them made their way to the Za’atri camp, making it the largest refugee camp in Jordan.

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