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Amnesty Int'l wants U.S. to justify civilian deaths from drone hits

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are launched sometimes without legal justification and may amount to war crimes, according to a report released on the eve of President Barack Obama's meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Civilians are believed to have been killed indiscriminately in several of the 45 known drone strikes in North Waziristan from January 2012 to August 2013, Amnesty International said yesterday. It cited field research and 60 interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses and officials.

The Obama administration should fully disclose the facts and legal basis for each drone strike carried out in the program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency and investigate any "potentially unlawfully killings," the London-based human rights group said. The secrecy surrounding the drone campaign often prevents compensation for civilians and their families who are killed or injured, it said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that "we would strongly disagree" that the United States has acted outside of international law. Carney cited a May speech by Obama in which the president said the United States has a process to ensure that targets are selected carefully to avoid civilian casualties.

Sharif comes to the White House today, his first visit since taking office four months ago. The two countries are seeking to mend ties since their falling-out over the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Sharif has condemned the drone strikes.

An independent expert's report last week for the UN General Assembly said at least 400 civilians were killed in about 330 drone strikes carried out in Pakistan's tribal areas since 2004. That was an "underestimate," according to the report.

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