“Not a single collateral death”


Click on Six UN staff killed and nine wounded in Taliban rocket attack on Afghan guesthouse for the Daily Mail article.  I stand by the conclusions of the rest of this post, but I apologize for misstating the origin and subject of the above photograph.  The comments section explains how the error came to be made. [Added 8/21/12]

Last month John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, said that there has not been a single “collateral”—meaning civilian—death in Pakistan as a result of U.S. drone attacks.  He said the attacks are “exceptionally surgical and precise” and “do not put…innocent men, women and children in danger.”

I cannot understand why a public official would make a claim that is so obviously impossible, and so easy to disprove.  Assume that the CIA never makes a mistake in identifying an intended target.  Assume that the flying killer robots go exactly where intended.  How is it possible to set off high explosives in crowded villages, and not take the lives of bystanders?

An intrepid Pakistani photographer named Noor Behram has been going into Waziristan for three years, photographing the places where the drones hit.  He has well documented that civilian bystanders are indeed dying in the drone attacks.  Here are highlights of The Guardian’s report on his work.

Sometimes arriving on the scene just minutes after the explosion, he first has to put his camera aside and start digging through the debris to see if there are any survivors.  It’s dangerous, unpleasant work.  The drones frequently hit the same place again, a few minutes after the first strike, so looking for the injured is risky.  There are other dangers too: militants and locals are suspicious of anyone with a camera.  After all, it is a local network of spies working for the CIA that are directing the drone strikes.

But Noor Behram says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit.  The world’s media quickly reports on how many militants were killed in each strike.  But reporters don’t go to the spot, relying on unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials.  Noor Behram believes you have to go to the spot to figure out whether those killed were really extremists or ordinary people living in Waziristan.  And he’s in no doubt.

“For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant,” he said.  “I don’t go to count how many Taliban are killed.  I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed.”

According to Noor Behram, the strikes not only kill the innocent but injure untold numbers and radicalise the population.  “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike.  You can’t find bodies.  So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America.  They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.

“The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed.  Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack.  The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.”

Even when the drones hit the right compound, the force of the blast is such that neighbours’ houses, often made of baked mud, are also demolished, crushing those inside, said Noor Behram.  One of the photographs shows a tangle of debris he said were the remains of five houses blitzed together.

The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike.  The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child.  There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there.  A 10-year-old boy’s body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mothers last loving touch.

There are photos of burned and battered Qurans – but no pictures of women: the conservative culture in Waziristan will not allow Noor Behram to photograph the women, even dead and dismembered.  So he makes do with documenting shredded pieces of womens clothing.

via guardian.co.uk.

Noor Behram’s photographs are on exhibit in London.  Other people, including a British outfit called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, also has documented the killing of civilians.  And of course people in Pakistan don’t need documentation to know what is going on.  So Brennan’s statements are intended to deceive only the people of the United States.

Was Brennan a shameless liar?  Did he somehow believe what he was saying?  Or was he using a kind of Orwellian language, in which he privately defined anybody knowingly in the vicinity of a Taliban fighter as a terrorist?

I am sure CIA officials and drone operators do not intend to kill civilians.  They intend to kill Islamic militants, and the deaths of civilians are regrettable “collateral damage.”  I imagine they think of themselves as in a different category from fanatic Muslim suicide bombers, who kill civilians deliberately.  But in American law, there is a crime called “negligent homicide.”  It is a lesser crime than premeditated murder, but it it still a crime.  Someone guilty of negligent homicide did not necessarily plan to kill the victim, but acted with “depraved indifference” to human life.  That is what we have here.

Photo by Noor Behram.  Click to view.

The above photograph by Noor Behram shows three children surrounded by the debris of their former home, a few hours after it was reportedly obliterated by a Hellfire Missile fired from a Central Intelligence Agency drone in the early hours of August 23, 2010.  Their father and mother, and their 8- and 10-year-old brothers were killed in the blast.

They live in a small town in North Waziristan, a tribal area of Pakistan, which is also home to leaders of the Haqqani Network, a powerful local clan that is fighting a deadly war against US and NATO forces across the nearby border in Afghanistan.

After the August 23 attack, perhaps because of regret at what happened, U.S. forces have been more restrained and careful about firing killer drones into Pakistan villages.  That’s to the credit of whoever made this decision.  The claim about no civilian deaths applies to the period since August 23.   Probably civilian deaths have been fewer.  Yet, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, they still occur.  So long as war is waged by means of remotely-controlled flying killer robots, which is President Obama’s method of choice, civilian deaths will occur.

Click on the following for links to reports of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

U.S. claims of ‘no civilian deaths’ are untrue.

Drone strikes rise to one every four days.

Get the data: Twenty-five deadly strikes

The CIA drone strike that rewrote the rules.

Over 160 children reported among drone deaths  [added 8/16/11]

These Investigative Journalism reports give a different impression than Noor Behram’s comments about the number of civilians being killed.  The difference is between a careful investigator working from documents, who is careful not to go beyond what can be proved, and a person on the scene, who trusts his impression of what is happening.

Then again, it is not as if U.S. drones were the only source of violent death to Pakistani civilians.

A total of 957 Pakistani civilians were killed in American drone attacks in the country 2010, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its annual report … .

The report that focused on human rights violations in the country also laid an emphasis on terror attacks in 2010, according to Xinhua.

It said terrorist attacks in Pakistan left 2,542 people dead and 5,062 others injured in 2010.

‘Target killings’ in the country’s port city of Karachi saw the death of 237 political activists while in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, at least 118 people were killed, the report said.

At least 1,159 people, including 1,041 civilians, lost their lives in 67 suicide bomb attacks in the country.

During 2010, at least 12,580 people were killed in different incidents, including 791 honor killings. A total of 581 people were kidnapped for ransom.

The report, whose statistics were derived largely from media and other undisclosed sources, criticized the government for failing to protect the citizens, especially religious minorities.

It said the biggest terrorist incident took place in Lahore at a place of worship place of a religious minority. The attack left 99 members of the Ahmadi sect dead.

The commission officials, in the report, urged political parties to work together to improve the human rights situation in the country.

via Irish Sun.

To sum up, this report says 957 Pakistani civilians were killed by drone missiles in 2010, and 2,542 were killed by domestic terrorists.   U.S. missile attacks aren’t the people thing people in Pakistan have to fear.   But I don’t think any of this provides a permission slip to kill innocent people.  I don’t think comparative figures matter to people who have lost loved ones in U.S. missile attacks.

Click on Flying killer robots over Pakistan for an earlier post of mine about drone warfare.

[update 8/20/12[

Click on Rare Photographs Show Ground Zero of Drone War  for a gallery of Noor Behram’s photos in Wired magazine.

Click on Drone War in Pakistan and The Victims of the Drone War for an article and gallery of Noor Behram’s photos in Der Spiegel.

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14 Responses to ““Not a single collateral death””

  1. waseem Says:

    The photo showing the injured child was not by Noor Behram and was not of drone attack. IT was taken at scene of a devastating bombing carried out by militants at a market in Peshawar in Oct 2009. The picture belongs to AFP. I don’t know why some people are trying to mix up pictures of bombings with that of drone attack.


  2. Joyce Genari Says:

    First photo is from car bomb in Peshawar market 2009. It should be removed from this post.


  3. philebersole Says:

    I found 165 copies of the top photo on the Internet, all of them connecting it to U.S. drone attacks.

    I also did a Google image search on “Peshawar militants bombing 2009” and found some horrific photos of human victims of terror attacks, but not this particular photo among them.

    Now it is possible all this is wrong, and that the photo was misidentified. What I would need to convince me that this is so would be information as to the actual photographer and where the picture appeared.

    I condemn the killing of innocent people by religious-political militants, but I don’t think drone attacks will do anything to diminish these killings.


  4. Joyce Genari Says:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1223469/Six-UN-staff-killed-wounded-Taliban-rocket-attack-Afghan-guesthouse.html This is AFP/Getty Images property. The problem I am having is with a website & fb page owned by worldcantwait.net. They haved memed words over it to the affect “Obama’s drones” and after repeatedly, not just by me but other sources, asking them to remove it, they persist on using it. I am reporting them to Getty Images today. I highly recommend you remove the picture as soon as possible as they have listed your blog as their resource and have shared a link to this page.


  5. philebersole Says:

    I see that the World Can’t Wait web site has a lot of good links to information about drone warfare (none of it from me, however).



  6. philebersole Says:

    The more I think about the controversial photo, the more I doubt it was taken by Noor Behram. None of Noor Behram’s other photos have an AFP / Getty Archive label, which raises a red flag. In terms of style, it is different from the other photos, and resembles the other photos illustrating the Daily Mail article. So I guess it is a ringer. I don’t know.

    I should say that just as the U.S. drone attacks do nothing to curb senseless killings such as the one reported in the Daily Mail article, such killings of innocent people are not a response, legitimate or otherwise, to the drone attacks.


    • Joyce Genari Says:

      And yet you still have the picture posted. I just about choked when I saw you are a retired “journalist”. The first comment posted on this identifies it, August 9th. I would think a real journalist would first off, have complete knowledge and source on any picture posted, and secondly, when something is questioned, a real journalist looks into it further. I have notified Getty Images about World Can’t Wait’s use of this picture and they have removed it from their facebook page. However, they still are using it on their website, and if Getty gets involved, World Can’t Wait will most likely identify you as their source.


    • Joyce Genari Says:

      “Large companies have been known to brand photos theirs, that are not” Oh, please, Christine, I would love some examples. Are you saying the BBC News is fabricating the car bomb story? Or is in cahoots with AFP/Getty? This isn’t really a photo taked by Hasham Ahmed on Nov. 16, 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan? On your facebook page you mentioned you were contacting the photographer that didn’t take this picture (Noor Behran). Why don’t you try contacting the person that DID take it (Hasham Ahmed), if you still have any doubt about the authenticity of it. Yes, I am very busy all the time. The battle for truth is arduous. And is particularly frustrating when people are presented with the truth and still won’t change. Add the internet to that, where things go viral in no time and you can see how frustrating it can be. Both you and Phil Ebersole know this photo in question is not from a drone attack. Where is your integrity, people?


  7. christine stone/ wcw volunteer Says:

    Large companies have been known to brand photos theirs, that are not. These kinds of errors are expected and occur in photo sharing especially on the internet. Because we understand this we wanted to take the time to check resources. The reality of what people are enduring as a result of US “foreign policy” needs to be looked at no matter who claims to own an image of it and no matter who is president. This particular image of atrocity has been widely distributed by a wide array of groups and individuals., and not just this blog or WCW. Joyce will be very busy tracking them all down and turning them in.
    Further..I think it is important to think about why insurgent groups grow in number in occupied or invaded countries where their civilians are terrorized and butchered on a daily basis by silent drone attacks, apache helicopters, 360 degree rotational fire, night raids massacres and killing clubs.


  8. philebersole Says:

    I condemn the killing of civilians by U.S. killer drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan. I commend the photographer Noor Behram and the Center for Investigative Journalism for documenting the killings and the World Can’t Wait web site for disseminating the information. But I now realize that this particular photograph is done not of a drone attack.

    I ran the photograph at the top of my post in good faith, but it is clear from the link that Joyce Genari provided that it was not taken by Noor Behram and was not of a drone attack. Note that the galleries of Noor Behram photographs that ran in Wired and Der Spiegel (links above) did not include this photograph. Note, too, how different it is from the authentic Noor Behram photographs.

    That is why I have run a correction at the top of this post, and in a new post on my web log. I let the original photograph stand because corrections should always refer to the error is being corrected. Also, there are at least 165 other Internet sites in which this photograph is posted and described as a picture of a drone attack. I let the photograph stand in my post so that Internet browsers can make the comparison.

    None of this changes my mind about the criminality of the killer drone attacks, but the case against the drones should not be based on false information.


    • Joyce Genari Says:

      I love how you handled this, Mr. Ebersole. I want you to know that I have no problem with your message. In fact I hadn’t read the article until today, very informative and well-written. I understand what happened with using the photo, with so many sources claiming it to be a drone attack. Most likely Getty Images will do nothing about any copyright on it. – I think maybe you missed your intention on the last sentence of the first paragraph on above response.


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