Posts Tagged ‘Drone attacks in Pakistan’

Body counts and the new normal

May 1, 2015

Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report issued several weeks ago, estimated that more than 1 million people died in Iraq during the past 15 years as a result of U.S.-led military operations, and more than 300,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m not certain these numbers are accurate.  I do think they are as close to being accurate as is humanity possible.  I don’t find them unbelievable.  They’re partly based on verified reports, partly on statistical sampling methods most Americans find credible when applied to everyday subjects.

The worst thing to me is not the number, but the indifference of the American public.  We as a nation don’t care about bystanders, except when American citizens happen to be among those accidentally killed.

Somebody might argue that people were killed in larger numbers, and more indiscriminately, in World War Two.  But the war against the Axis powers had a definite purpose and came to a definite end.  There is no expectation of when the so-called long war on terror might be won, or exactly what winning would consist of.

We talk about the moral breakdown of society.  When I think about the moral breakdown of society, I don’t think about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.   I think of the President of the United States drawing up a weekly list of assassination orders, as if this were the most normal thing in the world


Why the U.S. “war on terra” is a fraud by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Body Count by Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The full 80-page report.

Victim’s grandchild: ‘I no longer love blue skies’

October 31, 2013

The video above is from a documentary film called Unmanned about drone strikes on civilians in Pakistan.  The Rehman family, shown in that video, also is shown below when they came to Washington, D.C., this week to testify before Congress.

The family of a 67-year-old midwife from a remote village in North Waziristan told lawmakers on Tuesday about her death and the “CIA drone” they say was responsible. Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.

Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher who appeared on Capitol Hill with his children, Zubair, 13, and Nabila, 9, described his mother, Momina Bibi, as the “string that held our family together”.  His two children, who were gathering okra with their grandmother the day she was killed, on 24 October 2012, were injured in the attack.

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman said, through a translator. “Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.”

Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: “Not a militant but my mother.”


Nabilia, the 9-year-old girl, said she is afraid to go to school because of drones overhead.  Good for Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) for arranging for this testimony to be heard.  It’s too bad that only four other members of the House of Representatives heard it.

Killer drones are justified on the grounds that they are a more precise method of killing than the alternatives—dropping napalm or cluster bombs from airplanes, or invading with ground troops.  But the issue is not the method of killing.  The issue is the killing of civilian bystanders in nations with which the United States is not at war.  The significance of drone technology is that it makes killing so easy and so seemingly free of consequences.

It would be interesting to know whether this 67-year-old grandmother was killed because a drone went astray, or because of mistaken identity, or because some drone operator simply didn’t care.   No matter which is these possibilities is the correct one, they indicate something seriously wrong with the U.S. use of drones.


Life under the flying killer drones

September 26, 2012

Faculty of the New York and Stanford university law schools have come out with a report, Living Under Drones, about the use of flying killer drones in the border area of Pakistan, where members of the Taliban are believed to hide out.  Based on interviews with eyewitnesses and people familiar with the region, they concluded that the drones have (1) killed a lot of civilians, including children, (2) killed very few identifiable leaders of the Taliban or Al Qaeda and (3) made a lot of new enemies for the United States.

President George W. Bush initiated the use of flying killer drones to kill people identified as leaders of Al Qaeda or the Taliban.  President Barack Obama has stepped up the use of such “targeted killings” and initiated the use of “signature strikes,” which kills people whose patterns of behavior are suspicious.  Another Obama practice is the “double tap,” where a second strike is used to kill rescuers or mourners.

Drones as such are not worse than other weapons of war.  They are a more precise means of killing than carpet bombing or napalm bombing or dropping of land mines or a full-scale invasion.  The problem with drones is that they make killing all too easy.  They make it easy to commit acts of war by creating an illusion that this can be done with impunity.

I don’t know anything about the people who live in the drone kill zones of Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.  I’d guess that the majority of people in those areas are more concerned about living their lives and going about their business than they are about the conflict between the United States and its far-flung enemies.  I suspect that there are a lot of people in these areas who don’t necessarily support Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “militant Islam” (whatever that is), but are still friendly with relatives and neighbors who do.

What is the intended end result of the drone strikes?  Does somebody in Washington think that that some point flying killer drones will have killed all the enemies and potential enemies of the United States, and we Americans will then be safe?  When U.S. forces leave Afghanistan, they will leave behind more sworn enemies of the United States than there were at the time of the invasion.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats object to President Obama’s use of flying killer drones.  We Americans complain about the deadlock in our government caused by extreme partisan conflict, but our worst policies have bipartisan support and are never discussed.

Click on Drone attacks on Pakistan are counterproductive, report says for an article in The Guardian about the report.

Click on ‘Every Person Is Afraid of the Drones’ for Conor Friedersdorf’s discussion of how people in the kill zones live in constant fear.

Click on Living Under Drones for the web site for the report.

Click on Living Under Drones: Stanford / NYU Report for the text of the report.

Hat tip to Oidin.

Correction: Photo’s terrorist, not drone, killing

August 21, 2012

About a year ago, I put up a post about the killing of innocent people in Pakistan by U.S. flying killer drones.  I linked to photos by Noor Behram, an intrepid Pakistani photographer who traveled to the tribal areas of Pakistan and documented the deaths caused by the drones.  But the photograph with which I led the post was apparently not taken by Noor Behram and was not of drone victims, but was a news photo of innocent victims of a terrorist attack in the city of Peshawar.

Click on “Not a single collateral death” for the post with correction.

“Not a single collateral death”

July 27, 2011


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.”