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Over the weekend, Heather Linebaugh wrote a powerful Op-ed in The Guardian newspaper lamenting the lack of public understanding regarding the American drone program. Heather should know what she’s talking about, she served in the United Stated Air Force from 2009 until March 2012. She worked in intelligence as an imagery analyst and geo-spatial analyst for the drone program during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here are some key excerpts from her article:
Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”
Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.
I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from the mosque.
What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited cloud and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.
Moreover, the many civilians being incinerated without a trial are not the only victims here. So are the actual drone operators themselves, many of whom end up committing suicide. Recall my article from December 2012: Meet Brandon Bryant: The Drone Operator Who Quit After Killing a Child. Of course, our so-called political “leaders” never get their hands dirty, other than to take a lobbyist bribe that is. Now more from Heather:
Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence, Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within a year of leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.
Full article here.
10 more years in Afghanistan|Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until “2024 and beyond.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He’d like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people’s doors at night. He’d like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He’d like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he’d like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai’s legacy — my own appraisal is unprintable — these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations’ concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai’s.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. We’re spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country — would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we’d favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn’t stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn’t get the aid that we favored.
We aren’t asked about the drone strikes. We aren’t asked about most military operations. And we aren’t being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven’t learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We’d have invented a new disease. They’d replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he’s “ending” out for another decade, establishing that there’s very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won’t allow them to roll right over us.
After a year of talks over the post-2014 US military presence in Afghanistan, the US administration announced last week that a new agreement had finally been reached. Under the deal worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US would keep thousands of troops on nine military bases for at least the next ten years.
It is clear that the Obama Administration badly wants this deal. Karzai, sensing this, even demanded that the US president send a personal letter promising that the US would respect the dignity of the Afghan people if it were allowed to remain in the country. It was strange to see the US president go to such lengths for a deal that would mean billions more US dollars to Karzai and his cronies, and a US military that would continue to prop up the regime in Kabul.
Just as the deal was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and ready to sign, however, Karzai did an abrupt about-face. No signed deal until after the next presidential elections in the spring, he announced to a gathering of tribal elders, much to the further embarrassment and dismay of the US side. The US administration had demanded a signed deal by December. What may happen next is anybody’s guess. The US threatens to pull out completely if the deal is not signed by the end of this year.
Karzai should be wary of his actions. It may become unhealthy for him. The US has a bad reputation for not looking kindly on puppet dictators who demand independence from us.
Yet Karzai’s behavior may have the unintended benefit of saving the US government from its own worst interventionist instincts. The US desire to continue its military presence in Afghanistan – with up to 10,000 troops – is largely about keeping up the false impression that the Afghan war, the longest in US history, has not been a total, catastrophic failure. Maintaining a heavy US presence delays that realization, and with it the inevitable conclusion that so many lives have been lost and wasted in vain. It is a bitter pill that this president, who called Afghanistan “the good war,” would rather not have to swallow.
The administration has argued that US troops must remain in Afghanistan to continue the fight against al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda has virtually disappeared from Afghanistan. What remains is the Taliban and the various tribes that have been involved in a power struggle ever since the Soviets left almost a quarter of a century ago. In other words, twelve years later we are back to the starting point in Afghanistan.
Where has al-Qaeda gone if not in Afghanistan? They have branched out to other areas where opportunity has been provided by US intervention. Iraq had no al-Qaeda presence before the 2003 US invasion. Now al-Qaeda and its affiliates have turned Iraq into a bloodbath, where thousands are killed and wounded every month. The latest fertile ground for al-Qaeda and its allies is Syria, where they have found that US support, weapons, and intelligence is going to their side in the ongoing war to overthrow the Syrian government.
In fact, much of the US government’s desire for an ongoing military presence in Afghanistan has to do with keeping money flowing to the military industrial complex. Maintaining nine US military bases in Afghanistan and providing military aid and training to Afghan forces will consume billions of dollars over the next decade. The military contractors are all too willing to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive sectors of the US economy.
Addressing Afghan tribal elders last week, Karzai is reported to have expressed disappointment with US assistance thus far: “I demand tanks from them, and they give us pickup trucks, which I can get myself from Japan… I don’t trust the U.S., and the U.S. doesn’t trust me.”
Let us hope that Karzai sticks to his game with Washington.Let the Obama administration have no choice but to walk away from this twelve-year nightmare. Then we can finally just march out.
US Atrocities in Afghanistan | DailyCensored.com – Breaking Censored News, World, Independent, Liberal NewsUS Atrocities in Afghanistan – DailyCensored.com – Breaking Censored News, World, Independent, Liberal News
US drones murder Afghan civilian men, women and children. American grounds forces do it up close and personal.
US inflicted death, torture and other atrocities reflect daily life. Ordinary Afghans suffer most. They struggle to survive. American aggression is one of history’s greatest crimes.
War criminals remain unpunished. Accountability is denied. Conflict persists. It’s Washington’s longest war. It’s longer than WW I and II combined. It shows no signs of ending.
Trillions of dollars go mass slaughter and destruction. They’re spent for unchallenged global dominance.
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Vital homeland needs go begging. Targeted countries are ravaged and destroyed. Imperial lawlessness operates this way.
Its appetite is insatiable. It ignores rule of law principles. It does whatever it wants. It does it where, when, by what means, and under whatever pretexts it contrives.
It does so unapologetically. It targets one country at a time or in multiples. It wages direct and proxy wars. It does so without justification. It lies claiming otherwise.
Atrocities are virtually de rigueur. All US wars are dirty. In March 2012, 20 US forces murdered 16 Afghan men, women, and nine children aged two to 12.
Children were massacred while they slept. Two women were raped before soldiers killed them. Pentagon officials and media scoundrels whitewashed what happened.
One soldier was blamed for crimes 20 US forces committed. Nineteen got off scot-free. Cold blooded murder and other atrocities persist. They do so with disturbing regularity.
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On November 12, Reuters headlined ” ‘Lack of US Cooperation halts Afghan probe into civilian killings,” saying:
“Afghanistan’s intelligence service has abandoned its investigation into the murder of a group of civilians after being refused access to US special forces soldiers suspected of involvement, according to a document obtained by Reuters.”
War crimes were committed. US forces raided Wardak province. They did so from October 2012 to February 2013.
Seventeen Afghan men were detained. They disappeared. Residents found 10 buried in shallow graves. They were several hundred meters from where US forces are based.
“In the report authored by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three US Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed,” said Reuters.
On September 23, NDS published its report. “Despite many requests (it made, America hasn’t) cooperated,” it said. “Without (its) cooperation, this process cannot be completed.”
Pentagon officials routinely whitewash serious war crimes. So do US commanders on the ground. Doing so is longstanding US policy. Rare exceptions prove the rule.
Under a decade long military agreement, Afghan officials can’t charge US forces with war crimes. Whatever they do, they’re immune.
Zakeria Kandahari is an Afghan translator. He works with US Green Berets. He’s done so for nine years.
Documents Reuters obtained explained how US interrogations are conducted. Kandahari witnessed Sayid Mohammed’s treatment.
He was murdered. Kandahari named three US Special Forces responsible. He kicked Mohammed,” he said. He beat him. He threatened him.
“I handed him over to Mr. Dave and Mr. Hagen, but later I saw his body in a black body bag,” he said.
Wardak residents accuse US forces of abducting Afghan men and boys. Interrogations involving torture follows.
Karzai is a US installed stooge. He’s done nothing to stop what’s persisted throughout his tenure. Failure to act responsibly reflects complicity.
Russia Today interviewed journalist Matthieu Aikins. He spent five months investigating the Wardak incident.
Local residents bore testimony. They supplied credible evidence. War crimes were committed. According to Aikins:
“The special forces team was deployed to an isolated valley west of Kabul, where the Taliban and other insurgents groups have a very heavy presence.”
“Over last winter, the locals started complaining that the forces team and their translators were murdering people, abducting them, trotting them, and disappearing them.”
“Just extraordinary allegations that at the time were essentially unproven.”
In November 2012, residents first complained about a so-called Special Forces ODA 3124 unit.
When it withdrew in April, human remains were discovered near America’s Nerkh district base.
Local authorities determined that ODA 3124 operations bore full responsibility.
Survivor testimonies confirmed it. Victims described being severely beaten and tortured.
ICRC representatives obtained more evidence. Because of an alleged US investigation, details weren’t disclosed.
According to Aikins:
“In the five months that I spent reporting this story, not a single one of the witnesses that I spoke to had ever been contacted by the US military investigator.”
“So it does really beg the question whether these investigators are actually going to be able to establish any sort of accountability of what happened.”
It bears repeating. Pentagon officials routinely whitewash serious war crimes. So do US commanders on the ground.
Unaccountability is standard practice. US forces guilty of rape, torture and murder go unpunished.
On November 6, Aitkins headlined his Rolling Stone article “The A-Team Killings.”
“Last spring,” he said, “the remains of 10 missing Afghan villagers were dug up outside a US Special Forces base – was it a war crime or just another episode in a very dirty war?”
Six months after US Special Forces arrived in Wardak province, allegations of torture and murder surfaced.
Locals said 10 civilians were abducted. They disappeared. US Special Forces were responsible.
They killed another eight Afghans during their operations. Perhaps more bodies remain to be discovered.
On February 16, “a student named Nasratullah was found under a bridge with his throat slit,” said Aikins.
Family members said US Green Berets abducted him. Other bodies were found. In July, Col. Jane Crichton lied, saying:
“After thorough investigation, there was no credible evidence to substantiate misconduct by ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) or US forces.”
According to Aikins:
“(O)ver the past five months, Rolling Stone has interviewed more than two dozen eyewitnesses and victims’ families who’ve provided consistent and detailed allegations of the involvement of American forces in the disappearance of the 10 men, and has talked to Afghan and Western officials who were familiar with confidential Afghan-government, UN and Red Cross investigations that found the allegations credible.”
“In July, a UN report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan warned: ‘The reported disappearances, arbitrary killings and torture – if proven to have been committed under the auspices of a party to the armed conflict – may amount to war crimes.”
Aikins recounted Gul Rahim’s killing. He spoke to three of his neighbors. They saw US Special Forces arrive.
They heard gun shots. When they left. They saw Rahim’s “bullet-ridden body lying among the apple trees, his skull shattered.”
A man identified only as Omar was targeted. He witnessed Rahim’s killing. He survived.
He was taken to America’s Nerkh base. He was put in a plywood cell. Interrogations began the next morning.
His hands were bound above his head. He was suspended and beaten. Afghan translator Zakeria Kandahari was involved.
Two Americans interrogated him. He said he knew nothing about Rahim and local Taliban commanders.
Beatings intensified. Sessions lasted for two days. “At one point,” said Aikins, “Kandahari held a pistol to Omar’s head and told him that he would kill him as easily as he had killed his friend.”
He was certain he’d die. At night, he was shackled in his plywood cell. Americans handed him over to Afghan forces. He realized he was being freed.
” ‘I promised that I would kill you,’ he says Kandahari told him, ‘and I don’t know how you’re getting away alive.”
Wardak is an intense battleground. It’s “littered with bomb craters and burned-out tanker trucks,” said Aikins.
Many disappeared Afghans “were rounded up by the Americans in broad daylight, in front of dozens of witnesses.”
Aikins obtained credible testimonies. Mohammad Hazrat Janan is deputy head of Wardak’s provincial council.
US forces terrorize people, he said. They do it “because they could not defeat the insurgents.”
People abducted weren’t Taliban, he explained. “(B)ut even if they were, no one is allowed to just kill them in this way.”
Nerkh district feels besieged, said Aikins. It’s a “hotbed of guerrilla resistance.” It’s close to Kabul. It’s a “staging ground for suicide attacks on the capital.”
US forces are stationed at Combat Outpost Nerkh. Green Beret units are called Operational Detachment Alpha, ODA, or A-Team. The Nerkha-based one is called ODA 3124.
It’s involved in counterinsurgency operations. They part of what’s known as “white” Special Forces. So-called “black” ones launch night raids.
CIA elements are involved in local operations. Insurgents control Nerkh rural areas. US forces are vulnerable to ambushes or roadside blasts.
Nerkh incidents didn’t occur in a vacuum, said Aikins. “Over the past 10 years human rights groups, the UN and Congress have repeatedly documented the recurring abuse of detainees in the custody of the US military, the CIA and their Afghan allies.”
According to Human Rights Watch Asia advocacy director John Sifton:
“The US military has a poor track record of holding its forces responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes.”
“There are some cases of detainee deaths 11 years ago that resulted in no punishments.”
Aikins said a former ODA 3124 interpreter named Farooq said he “routinely witnessed abusive interrogations during his time with the A-Team, involving physical beatings with fists, feet, cables and the use of devices similar to Tasers.”
When Obama begins drawing down US forces, Green Berets and CIA will remain. According to Aikins, they’ll be even less oversight than now.
Based on what he’s seen and gotten from witnesses, “the fight in Afghanistan may get even dirtier.”
Covert war may continue interminably. Afghans have enjoyed rare times of peace. They’ve had none for over three decades. Future prospects look grim.
For centuries, Afghans experienced what few can imagine. Marauding armies besieged cities. They slaughtered thousands. They caused vast destruction.
Imperial Britain and Czarist Russia vied for control. Local warlords exerted their own dominance. When Soviet Russia withdrew in 1989, a ravaged country remained.
Living Afghans can’t remember peace, stability and tranquility. Endless conflicts persist.
Post-9/11, America’s attack, invasion and occupation followed. Millions died. Countless others suffer horrifically.
It bears repeating. Nothing ahead looks promising. America came to stay. Permanent occupation is planned.
Afghanistan is strategically important. It straddles the Middle East, South and Central Asia. It’s in the heart of Eurasia.
Occupation projects America’s military might. It targets Russia, China, Iran, and other oil-rich Middle East states.
It furthers Washington’s imperium. It prioritizes unchallenged global dominance. It seeks control over Afghan’s untapped natural gas, oil and other mineral resources.
In June 2010, The New York Times headlined “US Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan,” saying:
They’re worth an estimated $1 trillion. Estimates are notoriously inaccurate.
Whatever they’re worth, they include “huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium – are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.”
An internal Pentagon memo calls Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” It’s a key material needed to produce “batteries, laptops and BlackBerrys.”
Years of development are needed. Huge potential exists. Heavy investment is likely. An economic bonanza awaits profiteers.
Don’t expect ordinary Afghans to benefit. Surviving concerns them most. Violence continues unabated.
Living conditions are deplorable. Vital services are lacking. Millions have little or no access to clean water.
Many don’t get enough food. Life expectancy is one of the world’s lowest. Infant mortality is one of the highest.
Extreme poverty, unemployment, human misery, and constant fear reflect daily life. Washington prioritizes conquest, colonization, plunder and dominance.
War without end rages. Human needs go begging. Wherever America shows up, death and destruction follow. So does unrelieved dystopian harshness. No end in sight looms.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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US Drones Taliban Leader; His Troops Vow Bloody Revenge; Pakistan Government Furious At America | Zero Hedge
Having done a bang up job in Syria, where Obama nearly started world war III so Qatar could send its natgas to Europe at a lower price than Gazprom’s, while alienating America’s legacy allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and ensuring its enemies see it even weaker in the international arena following Obama’s schooling by Putin, the US president continues to win friends abroad (while spying there, here and everywhere, namely the Pope) with the latest snafu coming from Pakistan, another former ally, where America just droned the leader of the Taliban fighters on Saturday, leaving his body “damaged but recognizable”.
In response the Taliban – once upon a time another close ally of the CIA and especially their one time leader, Osama bin Laden – quickly moved to replace him while vowing a wave of revenge suicide bombings: because what the US needed right now is even more potential terrorism. But not before the outraged Pakistani government, insulted that the US continues to take whatever liberties on its territory it chooses, summoned the US ambassador, although not for another instance of NSA spying, but due to America’s penchant for delivering not so targeted mass executions around the world by remote control.
The Pakistani government denounced the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud as a U.S. bid to derail planned peace talks and summoned the U.S. ambassador to protest. Some lawmakers demanded the blocking of U.S. supply lines into Afghanistan in retaliation.
“The murder of Hakimullah is the murder of all efforts at peace,” said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. “Americans said they support our efforts at peace. Is this support?”
Not really, although if Pakistan had read the Xinhua oped from Friday it would know that already.
Mehsud, who had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, and three others were killed on Friday in the militant stronghold of Miranshah in northwest Pakistan.
Mehsud’s vehicle was hit after he attended a meeting of Taliban leaders, a Pakistani Taliban fighter said, adding that Mehsud’s body was “damaged but recognizable“. His bodyguard and driver were also killed.
He was secretly buried under cover of darkness in the early hours by a few companions amid fears that his funeral might be attacked by U.S. drones, militants and security sources said.
And here is why the US globocop policy of droning anyone it chooses abroad always backfires.
“Every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber,” said Azam Tariq, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman. “America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood.”
Maybe not America, but its leaders who thrive on a culture of constant fear from “terrorism”, even when it is openly provoked, should. Especially when the target is Al Qaeda which is a strategic friend in some cases (Syria), and the worst foe when a Bogeyman is needed:
Mehsud took over as leader of the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban in 2009. The group’s two previous leaders were killed in attacks by U.S. missile-firing drones. Taliban commanders said they wanted to replace him with the movement’s number two, Khan Said, who is also known as Sajna.
Said is believed to have masterminded an attack on a jail in northwest Pakistan that freed nearly 400 prisoners in 2012 and a big attack on a Pakistani naval base.
But some commanders were unhappy with the choice and wanted more talks, several militants said, indicating divisions within the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of factions allied with the Afghan Taliban and battling the Pakistani state in the hope of imposing Islamist rule.
The Pakistani Taliban killed an army general in September, has beheaded Pakistani soldiers and killed thousands of civilians in suicide bombings. The group also directed a failed attempt to bomb Times Square in New York.
Hopefully all futures attempts to bomb Times Square will likewise be “failed” courtesy of the NSA’s undying vigilance.
And since every US action abroad has an immediate reaction, the Pakistani government has already clarified it will make US strategic intervention in the region that much more difficult:
The Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Saturday Mehsud’s death was “counter-productive to Pakistan’s efforts to bring peace and stability to Pakistan and the region”.
Shah Farman, a spokesman for the government of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said provincial lawmakers would pass a resolution on Monday to cut NATO supply lines into landlocked Afghanistan. A major one passes through the nearby Khyber Pass.
The supply lines through U.S. ally Pakistan have been crucial since the latest Afghan war began in 2001 and remain vital as the United States and other Western forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Finally, for those wondering just how big the US drone presence in the region is, the answer is: very.
Residents of Miranshah, the capital of the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, said Pakistani Taliban fighters were converging on the town and firing furiously at drones buzzing high in the sky.
About eight drones were seen overhead as well as a larger aircraft that seemed to be an aeroplane or a type of drone that residents said they had not seen before.
“We thought it was a C-130 aircraft but it was a special spy plane, bigger in size,” resident Farhad Khan said by telephone from Miranshah. “The militants fired from their anti-aircraft guns to hit it but couldn’t.”
The good news: for now the US is focusing its droning powers abroad. Hopefully that, too, doesn’t change any time soon.
- Pakistan Taliban secretly bury leader, vow revenge (worldbulletin.net)
- Pakistani Taliban chief killed in drone strike: sources (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Security fears after US drone strike kills Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud (express.co.uk)
- Revenge a concern after drone killing of Pakistani Taliban leader (sacbee.com)
A MOTHERBOARD PREMIERE: A NEW DOCUMENTARY BY MADIHA TAHIR
The drone war is obscure by design. Operated by armchair pilots from clandestine bases across the American west, the Predators and Reapers fly over Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas at invisible heights, where they are on orders from the CIA to kill “high value” targets with laser-guided “surgical” precision thousands of feet below. But because of where the Hellfire missiles land, and because the program is operated in secret, verifying their precision and their lasting effects isn’t easy.
For years, US officials have downplayed the number of civilian deaths in particular, even as a chorus of independent reports have offered their own grim estimates. The latest, according to new research by the United Nations and Amnesty International: 58 civilians killed in Yemen, and up to nine hundred in Pakistan. In a speech in May, President Obama finally broke his silence on drones, acknowledging that civilians had been killed—he didn’t say how many—and promising more transparency for the program. “Those deaths,” added the President, “will haunt us for as long as we live.”
For journalist Madiha Tahir, the numbers are important, but they’re not the whole story. Her documentary “Wounds of Waziristan,” which premieres above, features interviews with the people who live in the southern part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, bordering Afghanistan, under the eyes of the drones, and in the wake of their destruction. The film switches up the typical calculus that drives the drone debate at home. Tahir, who grew up between Pakistan and the U.S., points out that drone strikes aren’t just about the numbers of casualties, or the kinds of ethical arguments that arise around “just war” concepts like proportionality. The effects of the drone war have as much to do with the way those casualties rip apart communities and haunt the living, in distant places that exist on the fringes of law and order.
“Because drones are at a certain remove, there is a sense of uncertainty, a sense that you can’t control this,” Tahir says, describing the attitude among the people who live in Waziristan. Already haunted by the legacy of British colonialism and the laws it left behind, this part of the Tribal Areas is now ruled with a brutal fist by the Pakistani military and various insurgent groups. But the buzz of the drones, sometimes seven or eight overhead a day, signals another kind of indeterminate power. “Whether its true or not, people feel that with militants there is some degree of control. You can negotiate. There is some cause and effect. But there is no cause and effect with drones. It’s an acute kind of trauma that is not limited to the actual attack.”
For the operators of the drone program, who have launched more than 300 missile attacks in Pakistan since 2008, the semi-governed Tribal Areas are subject to their own kind of war-on-terror calculus. As the New York Times reported last year, the American government has been counting all military-age males in a strike zone as “militants,” which leads to skewed figures about who exactly has been killed. The Obama administration has executed “signature strikes,” drone attacks based on a so-called “pattern of life” analysis in which simply suspicious behavior is enough to qualify for an attack. And in a so-called “double tap” maneuver, a second attack follows an initial strike, killing those who have come to recover bodies from the scene.
“When an attack happens, the media claims to know how many militants were killed,” says Noor Behram, a journalist in the Tribal Areas who has been photographing the casualties of drone strikes for years. “Actually, you only find body parts on the scene, so people can’t tell how many have died.”
In one interview, Tahir speaks with a man from South Waziristan named Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike. “What is the definition of terrorism?” he asks her, and she returns the question to him. His tired eyes light up.
“I think there is no bigger terrorist than Obama or Bush,” he says. “Those who have weaponry like drones, who drop bombs on us while we are in our own homes, there are no greater terrorists than them.”
Despite the secrecy, independent reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, combined with a set of leaked cables detailing secret dealings between Islamabad and Washington and published in the Washington Post, have shed new light on the still-secret program. On October 29, a family injured in a strike that Amnesty International mentioned in its report is scheduled to testify before Congress (though their lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, who also appears in the film, has been denied a visa.)
In a separate report last week to the UN, which is due to be discussed before the General Assembly in New York on Friday, the special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson called for the US to declassify the program, which he said may be in violation of international laws—a claim that many officials and rights groups have echoed.
“By hiding behind arguments of secrecy and exploiting the difficulty in confirming details of specific strikes due to the lawlessness, remoteness and insecurity of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas,” Emmerson writes, “the USA is contributing to the litany of violations and abuses endured by a population that has been both neglected and assaulted by their own state and victimized by al-Qa’ida, the Taliban and other armed groups.”
Reports like these are an important start to making the drone debate more public, Tahir says, and pressuring the administration to change course. But there are deeper wounds to consider too, ones that are harder to calculate. “There need to be ways we can talk about drones beyond the legal discourse,” she says. “What are the ways we can think about what it means to experience life under drones, and about exactly what it means to be, as the President said, ‘haunted’ by the loss of life.”
For more, see the film’s website, Madiha’s website, and find her on Twitter.
- Amnesty: US must investigate alleged civilian drone casualties in Pakistan, compensate victims (foxnews.com)
- No explicit, implicit consent for drone strikes: Pakistan (rediff.com)
- Rights groups probe US drone strikes (bbc.co.uk)
- Life Under Drones in Pakistan (counterpunch.org)
- Six killed in US drone strike in North Waziristan (dawn.com)
New York, US – The Drones and Aerial Robotics conference – a weekend-long event highlighting innovations and uses in civilian drone technology – was a thing to behold.
A certain cognitive dissonance was necessary to ignore what many think of at the mention of the word “drone” (pilotless crafts used to kill thousands in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen). Instead, participants were urged to focus on how small, unarmed crafts carrying a camera and, perhaps, sensors could be used for educational and recreational purposes.
There were, of course, participants at the New York University conference who brought up the consequences of drone warfare, and others who questioned the legal issues surrounding the widespread use of civilian drones.
Woodrow Hartzog, an assistant law professor at Samford University in Alabama, was among those voices. He specialises in privacy, human-computer interactions and cyberlaw.
Al Jazeera: We’re at a conference where the focus seems to be on the whiz-bangery of this technology. What’s being lost in all this when it comes to privacy issues?
Woodrow Hartzog: There’s a fair amount of hand-wringing over drones and privacy, but I think in many instances it’s often dismissed because drones fly in public and they fly in public spaces and the law, as it’s traditionally been conceived, does not protect privacy when you’re walking out in the middle of the street. But I don’t think that’s entirely true….
- U.S. Drone Market Under Fire (thesleuthjournal.com)
- Civilian drones alarm rights groups (wikileaks-forum.com)
- Get Ready for the Invasion of the ‘Civilian-Owned Drone”‘ (thedronenews.com)
- FBI casually admits it uses drones to spy on citizens (dailydot.com)
- House Passes Bill Slashing $40 Billion From Food Stamps (ktla.com)
- Democrat Flaunts Vodka, Caviar To Protest Food Stamp Cuts (huffingtonpost.com)
- New Yorkers Respond To Proposed Food Stamp Program Cuts (ny1.com)
- House votes on bill to cut food stamps by $40 billion (huffingtonpost.com)
- Taliban bombers attack US base in Afghanistan (updatednews.ca)
- Taliban Fighters Attack US Supply Base in Afghanistan (theepochtimes.com)
- Afghan, NATO troops repel Taliban attack on US base near Pakistan border – CNN (edition.cnn.com)
- Cholera Outbreak in Northeast Afghanistan (abcnews.go.com)
- Cholera outbreak in north-east Afghanistan; almost 1,500 infected (straitstimes.com)
- 100 critical after cholera outbreak in Afghanistan (thehindu.com)