"They’re there twenty-four hours. Three or four drones in the sky, twenty-four hours, they don't even stop for a minute" - Local resident
Newly-re-elected US President Barack Obama celebrated his easy victory this week with a drone strike in Yemen. As with all drone strikes, this one was personally authorized by the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner via his 'kill list', now rechristened in pure Orwellian terms as a 'disposition matrix'.
Proponents of drone strikes will no doubt cheer at the news that an al-Qaeda commander and his bodyguards were allegedly killed, but note that the article says that 'at least three terrorists' were among the victims. This could mean more 'terrorists' were killed, or that there was perhaps, to invoke another Orwellian euphemism, some 'collateral damage'.
It is now standard establishment media orthodoxy to label a man a 'terrorist' or 'militant' before his being allowed to defend himself against such an accusation at a fair trial, a basic precept of any honest legal system. Readers of mainstream articles are now supposed to simply accept that government spokesmen tell the truth with complete accuracy, despite the fact that, to take a recent example, the US government itself lied blatantly to the public about WMDs in Iraq to justify the invasion, even utilizing a detailed presentation from a respected member of the administration (Colin Powell) before the United Nations Security Council. It should also be remembered that the Bush administration had willing enablers in the media, even at the so-called newspaper of record, The New York Times.
More insidious however is the media's standard tack-it-on-at-the-end approach with regard to civilian casualties. One major reason why, according to a Washington Post-ABC News survey, 83% of Americans support drone strikes is because they are misled by their own media into believing (read accepting uncritically) that their government is out there 'bug-splatting' the bad guys with their tax dollars. The mainstream media does not do complex reality and subtle nuances well at all, so actually informing the public of the precise details, as far as they exist, of drone strikes, will always be a non-starter.
The citizens of the world, Americans and Britons in particular (along with citizens of other NATO countries) urgently need to be informed of the human angle of this new form of slaughter by robots, and who better to ask than the people who actually live under this threat every day?
Rightsadvocacy.org provides a short list of heartbreaking stories:
It was after dinnertime. Three men were chatting and sipping ‘kehwa’ (local/tribal version of green tea) after dinner in the ‘hujra’ (male compartment) of Karim Khan’s house, a local journalist. Suddenly 3 hellfire missiles were fired on the hujra. Karim Khan was not present at the time of attack but it killed the 3 kehwa-sipping tribals. The first victim of this atrocity was Karim’s eldest, 18-year-old son named Zainullah Khan. Zainullah was an employee of the Education department and worked at a girls’ school in Mirali Tehsil in NWA as helping staff. There are only a few girls schools in tribal areas of Pakistan and even those which exist face acute shortage of qualified teachers. The second casuality was Asif Iqbal, Karim’s brother who, like his nephew Zainullah, was working in the Education department and was English language teacher in a government secondary school of Dattakhel (another town in NWA), in NWA. Asif Iqbal held a Masters in English Literature from National University of Modern Languages (NUML) in Islamabad. After completing his education in the capital, he preferred going back to his village to teach.
Drone apologists like to cite the Taliban's opposition to education for girls as a reason to wipe them out, often raising the case of Malala Yousafzai, the very brave and admirable young girl shot by a Taliban member, as an example. First, one needs to take issue with the fact that simply wiping out an extremist Muslim group would lead to a satisfactory education for girls in Afghanistan - while the absence of the Taliban would certainly be a positive factor for women, the issue is in fact far deeper and more complex, one with societal and historical roots. Second, as we can see from the above story, a drone just killed a completely innocent worker at a girls school.
Sanaullah Jan, aged 17 was an 11th-grade pre-engineering student in Government Degree College Mirali. On 26th November 2010, after college, he and couple of friends from college decided to go to Miranshah, a nearby city. It was a nice day and driving to another town with friends was quite enjoyable. It was on road to Miranshah that a missile fired from a drone burnt the car down. No one survived. Khairullah Jan, Sanaullah’s elder brother reached the scene after he heard about the attack. All that was left was his dead brother’s half-burnt college ID. Khairullah not only lost his brother but a classmate as both were in same class. Sanaullah was the bright one of the family and use to help Khairullah in his studies, but not anymore.
Today Khairullah is pursuing his brother’s legal action against those who wrongfully executed his brother and he is determined to get justice one day.
Sanaullah was a 17-year-old student. He was neither a militant or a terrorist. He was a living, breathing young man. It is pleasing that Khairullah is pursuing legal action. Good luck with that.
Fahim Qureshi was only 13 years old when on one evening in January 2009, his house was attacked by a CIA-operated drone. The house is situated in Zeraki village in NWA. That day there were about 8 family members gathered in Fahim’s family house and as usual the male members were in the hujra. Some of their friends were present in the hujra as well. Fahim was living in a joint family house, so all his father’s brothers were staying together along with their respective families.
The missile fired killed 7 people present in the hujra, including Muhammad Khalil (Fahim’s uncle), Mansur-ur-Rehman (Fahim’s uncle), Azaz-ur-Rehman (Fahim’s cousin), Khush Dil Khan (Fahim’s uncle), Obaid ullah (local shopkeeper and family friend), Rafiq ullah (neighbor), and Siffat ullah (neighbour). Fahim was severely injured and was immediately moved to a hospital in Peshawar (approx. 200 kms). His injuries were complicated though as shrapnel cut through his stomach so he was transferred to the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi (another 200 kms) where he was treated for next 6 months. Fahim lost his left eye as well but he is continuing his education and wants to be an engineer. His elder uncle Muhammad Khalil, who was killed in the same attack, was his mentor and a retired teacher from the village school.
This is a testament to the courage and strength of character of a young boy who has fought through trauma and heartbreak as well as life-threatening injuries and the permanent loss of an eye. Was this mentioned by any of the major media outlets, or was he just another 'civilian casualty'? Imagine how many of the 83% who support drones might begin to question their judgment if they had a media which informed them of such vital information with regard to the consequences of the drone bombing campaign. If this were the plot of a Hollywood movie, how many of the 83% would now despise the perpetrators of this crime and want justice for young Fahim?
Livingunderdrones.org also provides harrowing accounts and sourced quotes from victims:
Tahir Afzal’s brother died in a drone strike.
“It was in the afternoon around two o’clock and he was on his way to work. They were in a car. A drone struck and four people died in it, including children who were walking on the road. . . . There were lots of drones wandering over that day. They were wandering all over, and as the car passed by, it was targeted.” Tahir told our team, “He was my older brother, and I miss him a lot.”
“[Before, e]verybody was involved in their own labor work. We were all busy. But since the drone attacks have started, everybody is very scared and everybody is terrorized. . . . People are out of business, people are out of schools, because people are being killed by these drone attacks.” Tahir emphasized, “It’s not a [fictional] story. It’s brutality that we are undergoing and that needs to be stopped.”
Ismail Hussain’s cousin was killed in a drone strike.
“We were sitting together and my mother said Sajid did not come home. She said there was [a] drone [attack] and so my mother said to go ask about Sajid. . . . When I came to know that the drone [attack] had happened in the other village, I took my motorcycle to go to that village. . . . When I reached that village, people told me Sajid and some others were injured and were taken to the hospital. They didn’t want to make me sad. Then I went to Miranshah hospital. I didn’t meet with him because before I arrived he died. The body of my uncle’s son was put into a box. I took it to my village. I placed it in the house of my neighbor during Fajr [dawn] prayers. At the time of Fajr, I took it to my home.” Ismail informed us, “His mother hangs his picture on the wall. She looks at it 24 hours [a day] and cries.”
Hisham Abrar’s cousin was killed in a drone strike.
“When the weather is clear, three or four [drones] can be seen . . . . They are in the air 24 [hours a day], seven [days a week], but not when it’s raining. Every time they are in the air, they can be heard. And because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed—women, men, and children. . . . When there were no drones, everything was all right. [There was] business, there was no psychological stress and the people did what they could do for a living.”
“[The drone strikes have caused many problems:] [f]irst, it’s psychological. Diseases that people have—psychological, mental illnesses. And that’s a huge issue. Secondly, a lot of men have been killed, so they’re the wage earners for the house, and now the kids and the families don’t have a source of income because of that.” Hisham noted that “[others in the community help sometimes, but [i]n Waziristan, there are poor people, and [victims] usually rely on . . . daily wage earning. That’s only sufficient for themselves, so it’s hard to help others. But whenever they can, they do.”
Firoz Ali Khan is a shopkeeper in Miranshah.
“I have been seeing drones since the first one appeared about four to five years ago. Sometimes there will be two or three drone attacks per day. . . . [We see drones] hovering [24 hours a day but] we don’t know when they will strike.” Firoz explained, “People are afraid of dying. . . . Children, women, they are all psychologically affected. They look at the sky to see if there are drones. Firoz told us, “[The drones] make such a noise that everyone is scared.”
These stories are all obviously tragic, but they raise another issue as well. Readers of this blog are now challenged to close their eyes and imagine drones circling over your local area 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with their distinctive buzzing noise a constant factor in your lives. Envisage also the fact that you live there in the knowledge that any of these machines can suddenly swoop and blow you and your children into the next world simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that even being in your house does not make you necessarily secure. The psychological effects must be (and indeed are, as we can see from the testimonies) devastating.
The only way to describe such an imposed scenario is terrorism, both physical and psychological. Were this to happen against any Western ally at the hands of, say, Russia or China, the Western establishment media would without doubt rush to label it so...and quite rightly. Why, therefore, is it not described in these terms in Waziristan, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Palestine?
Further reinforcing this, Obama now presides over so-called 'double-tap' strikes: drones strike a target, often a 'signature strike', namely one based on patterns of behavior rather than hard intelligence, and then return to the same scene later to target rescuers. Even the most rabid supporter of drone attacks would have trouble labeling this as anything other than a grotesque, despicable and inhuman act of terror, one that is clearly illegal under any possible interpretation of relevant international law statutes.
Many of those who voted Obama back in for four more years have used that old chestnut about him being the 'lesser of two evils'. Romney would be much worse, they say. That may be true for some, but asking the innocent victims of Obama's drone bombing campaign may bring a different reply. From the article:
"Any American, whether Obama or Mitt Romney, is cruel," Warshameen Jaan Haji, whose neighborhood was struck by a drone last week, told Reuters on the eve of the election. "I lost my wife in the drone attack and my children are injured. Whatever happens, it will be bad for Muslims."
To these people, it makes no difference. The drones will be overhead 24/7 whoever the president is, and they'll continue to swoop down and extinguish more innocent lives.
What does one call an official campaign that targets a single group (based on religion, ethnicity or whatever) for killing, particularly when one man decides who lives or dies in a process shrouded in secrecy and devoid of transparency and accountability?
What is the word for that?
Written by Simon Wood