In the category of “the sky is blue,” “fire is hot” and “the sun rises in the east,” the Guardian reports on a new study showing that Washington’s murderous drone killing campaign in Pakistan is “counterproductive.”
The sarcasm above is not meant to cast aspersions on the report itself — which is detailed, devastating, and very productive — but on the prevailing mindset in the ruling circles of the West (the self-proclaimed “defenders of civilization”) that makes such a study even necessary, much less ‘controversial.’
For of course even the denizens of the many secret services and black-op armies and intelligence agencies that make up America’s world-straddling security apparat have said, repeatedly, that Washington’s policy of murdering, torturing, renditioning and indefinitely detaining innocent people all over the world — day after day, week after week, year after year — is in fact creating the very extremism and anti-Americanism the policy purports to combat.
Thus the new report, by the law schools of New York University and Stanford (a famously if not notoriously conservative institution) should be, in a sane and rational world, a case of carrying coals to Newscastle or selling ice to the Inuit: an exercise in redunancy.
But instead, sadly, the report, “Living Under Drones,” is a very, very rare instance of speaking truth to the power that is waging a hideous campaign of terror — there is no other word for it — against innocent people all over the world.
The personal testimonies gathered by the researchers — on the ground, in Pakistan — are shattering … at least for those who actually believe that these swarthy foreigner are actually human beings, with “hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions .. fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is.” You can be sure — you can be damned sure — that the Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House has never and will never read these stories of the ones he is terrorizing, night and day. These testimonies will never appear beside the scraps of rumor, conjecture and brutal prejudice that constitute the “reports” he sees each Tuesday — “Terror Tuesday” — when he meets in the Oval Office with his death squad team to decide who will be assassinated that week.
The Guardian gives a good overview of the report:
The CIA’s programme of “targeted” drone killings in Pakistan’s tribal heartlands is politically counterproductive, kills large numbers of civilians and undermines respect for international law, according to a report by US academics. The study by Stanford and New York universities’ law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of “signature strikes” in which groups are selected merely through remote “pattern of life” analysis.
Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, it says, in case US ground operators guiding drones misinterpret them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants.
“The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killings’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false,” the report, entitled Living Under Drones, states. …
The “best available information”, they say, is that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The figures have been assembled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which estimated that a further 1,300 individuals were injured in drone strikes over that period. …
“US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning,” the American law schools report says. “Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.
“These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.”
The study goes on to say: “Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best … The number of ‘high-level’ militants killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2% [of deaths]. Evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks … One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.”
A powerful story, setting out the lineaments of the report with admirable concision. But then the Guardian correspondent, Owen Bowcott [or his inserting editors], betray heartbreaking naivete:
Coming from American lawyers rather than overseas human rights groups, the criticisms are likely to be more influential in US domestic debates over the legality of drone warfare.
The truth, of course, is that regardless of its “Homeland” provenance, this report will have no influence whatsoever on the non-existent “debate over the legality of drone warfare” in the United States. For beyond the rare, isolated op-ed, there is no “debate” on drone warfare in American political or media circles. The bipartisan political establishment is united in its support of the practice; indeed, both parties plan to expand the use of drones on a large scale in the future. This murderous record — and this shameful complicity — will be one of the Peace Laureate lasting legacies, whether he wins re-election or not.
As the story notes:
Reprieve’s director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: “An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. George Bush wanted to create a global ‘war on terror’ without borders, but it has taken Obama’s drone war to achieve his dream.”
Stafford Smith gives more detail of the reality of Washington’s terror campaign in his own Guardian piece on the report:
However, there can be no sensible disagreement over certain salient facts: first, the US now has more than 10,000 weaponised drones in its arsenal; second, as many as six Predator drones circle over one location at any given time, often for 24 hours a day, with high-resolution cameras snooping on the movements of everyone below; third, the Predators emit an eerie sound, earning them the name bangana (buzzing wasp) in Pashtu; fourth, everyone in the area can see them, 5,000ft up, all day – and hear them all night long; fifth, nobody knows when the missile will come, and turn each member of the family into what the CIA calls a “bugsplat”. The Predator operator, thousands of miles away in Nevada, often pushes the button over a cup of coffee in the darkest hours of the Waziristan night, between midnight and 5am. So a parent putting children to bed cannot be sure they will wake up safely.
Stafford Smith also speaks of his mother, who lived through the attacks by Adolf Hitler’s drones — the V1 and V2 rockets — toward the end of World War II, and he notes:
So little changes. Current RAF doctrine tells us, euphemistically, how “the psychological impact of air power, from the presence of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] to the noise generated by an approaching attack helicopter, has often proved to be extremely effective in exerting influence …” Perhaps they mean “terror”, as described by David Rohde, a former New York Times journalist kidnapped and held by the Taliban for months in Waziristan. Rohde, quoted in Living Under Drones, describes the fear the drones inspired in ordinary civilians: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”
Again — and we’ve said here over and over, for months, even years: when you vote for one of the factions in the imperial power bloc — Democrat or Republican — this is what you are supporting. You are empowering, enabling and associating yourself with an extremist regime that visits bin Laden-like terror on innocent people, day after day, night after night: killing them, traumatizing them, deranging their lives, destroying their families, their hopes and dreams. This is what you are voting for, you stalwart Tea Party patriots. This is what you are voting for, you earnest humanitarian progressives. This and nothing else but this: terror, murder, fear and ruin, in a never-ending, self-perpetuating, all-devouring cycle.