ISLAMABAD -- CIA drone strikes on targets in Pakistan violate its national sovereignty and have resulted in far more civilian casualties than the U.S. government has recognized, a special U.N. human rights envoy reported after a secret investigation in Pakistan this week.
Ben Emmerson, the United Nations' special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, met with Pakistani government officials for three days and came away supporting their long-stated view that they do not consent to the remote-fired missile campaign that is the centerpiece of U.S. strategy to eliminate a wide range of Islamic militants.
This contradicts Washington's position that the Pakistani military and intelligence services have at least tacitly supported the strikes, which began in 2004 and have significantly escalated since President Barack Obama took office. At one point earlier in the campaign, the two nations shared intelligence on militant targets, but Pakistani officials vehemently that they are still doing so.
The drone campaign "involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent, and is therefore a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty," Mr. Emmerson said in a statement released Thursday that only gained wider notice Friday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration had "seen [Mr. Emerson's] press release" but would not comment on classified information.
For years, the Obama administration has asserted that its covert, targeted killings with unmanned aircraft hovering over Pakistan and elsewhere are proper under U.S. and international law. Targets are chosen under strict criteria, and civilian deaths and injuries are rare, the CIA has said.
Mr. Emmerson, a British lawyer, said Pakistani officials have confirmed that at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of drone strikes, and that another 200 individuals killed were "probable noncombatants."
Estimates of total militant deaths and civilian casualties vary widely. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that at least 411 civilians were among 2,536 to 3,577 people killed in the CIA strikes in Pakistan.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings last month that confirmed new CIA director John Brennan, put the number of civilian deaths considerably lower. "The figures we have obtained from the executive branch ... confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits," she said.
Mr. Emmerson conducted talks this week with senior civilian Pakistani officials as well as representatives of tribal areas where the remotely piloted vehicles operate. He reviewed 25 case studies of drone attacks dating to 2005, compiled by a Pakistani research group, and heard from tribal leaders who said innocent residents were targeted simply because their clothing is the same as that of Taliban militants. Tribesmen also carry guns at all times, leading to other erroneous targeting, the statement said.
Imtiaz Gul, an author who worked on the case studies and heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said militants are known to demand food and shelter from families against their will, leading to women and children in those homes being killed in a strike. And militants who know they are being hunted park their cars next to homes of innocent people, then hide a few houses away, so the drone operator ends up targeting the wrong house, he said.