FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Meeting the Victims of a U.S. Drone Strike

by JUDY BELLO

First thing in the morning I’ll board the bus heading for South Waziristan. Thirty five westerners will be heading for Dehr Ismail Khan and on to the border town of Kotkai, including Clive Stafford Smith of the London based organization Reprieve, who started our defending prisoners in Guantanamo, and is now focused on mounting lawsuits for the survivors of drone attacks and the families of those who did not survive and other members of Reprieve; including about 30 members of the colorful American antiwar group, CodePink and their intrepid leader, Medea Benjamin, who organized this mission; including representatives of the Christian Peacekeepers, Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars and the United National Antiwar Coalition in the United States and many others.

Our hosts for this mission are Shahzad Akhbar and the three lovely Maryams (all lawyers) on his staff at the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a sister organization to Reprieve, conveniently based in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan which happens to be located in the north of the country, not for from the rural home of the Pakhtuns. Besides hosting us, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights invites the injured parties to come to Islamabad and tell their stories, then prepares lawsuits to bring before the high court of Pakistan for them against the Pakistani government and American authorities in Pakistan. It was the Foundation for Fundamental Rights that sued the American CIA chief in Pakistan some time last year, thereby causing him to make a quick exit from the country.

Our sponsor or the Delegation is Imran Khan, leader of PTI, the Pakistan Tehreekh-e-Inshaf party, a rightist, leftist, populist party that has a surprising number of women and young people among it’s supporters. Khan has adopted the anti Drone campaign, and supports ending American military presence in Pakistan and ending American abuses of Pakistani sovereignty as a prelude to true friendship between our countries. Earlier this evening we went to a rally with PTI Youth. We gathered with them in a large ‘Super Market’, which is something like a cross between a traditional bazaar and a modern mall, and marched through the streets chanting and singing. We were shouting “Stop! Stop! Drone Attacks! and singing “We are Maaaarching to Waziristan; Marching to Waziristan”. Then, “Bandkro! Bandkro! Drone Humlah Bandkro!” and “Jarub, Jarub Waziristan. Jarub!” [1] Nice symmetry in the messages, I thought.

I opened the newspaper when I got home and saw a little back page article saying that the Taliban had denied ever giving permission to Khan for a march into their territory. It’s a push pull. Yesterday, he gave a big press conference and we got lots of coverage. Today a little nip of a backlash. When I first arrived, PTI had a press conference for us to talk about our intention to go to Waziristan with Imran, and the next day there was a front page article stating that the Taliban were determined to block us. Shahzad said the information was a week old. Khan’s stance is that we are free people and have a right to travel where we will. Furthermore, the tribesmen whose land we will travel through have invited us and will treat us as guests.

Wow! We will be guests of of the Mehsud tribe. I think a couple of generations of their leadership have been primary targets of Drone strikes. Yesterday Richard Hoagland, the Charges d’ Affairs of the US Consulate in Islamabad, came to call at our hotel. He was preceded by a contingent of Pakistani military men bearing weapons, who checked the place out and stationed guards at strategic points before he arrived. He gave a little talk, inviting us to avail ourselves of embassy services, and then had his security liaison say a (surprisingly) few words about the dangers of going into the Tribal Areas. Then we had some Q&A. I felt that we asked some good questions, but got little in the way of answers. Others were satisfied with tidbits and hints.

***

This afternoon, some members of the victims of Drone strikes families came to meet with us, along with one of their tribal leaders Malik Jalal Khan, who spoke for them, and a translator and Noor Behram, the photographer who has taken most of the photos we have of the victims and post attack wreckage in the villages of North Waziristan in Pakistan. Noor says that he has photographed the bodies of 100 children, and has seen more. Whenever he hears of an attack he goes to the location immediately, but even so he sometimes arrives too late and the child has already been buried. Sometimes there is nothing left to photograph.

Malik Jalal Khan is a handsome man with a big turban, a big beard and a twinkle in his eye. He’s a guy whose cellphone rings during the meeting and his business has precedence. According to Jalal Khan, women killed in the strikes are often not reported as missing or dead. Women are part of the private space and their lives and deaths are not appropriate subjects for public discourse. It’s a cultural context that seems very alien to us, but it is their way of life. He said that in many cases, the missiles strike while the women are working in a kitchen, just off the main room where men may be meeting and drinking their tea. He seems to find this detail particularly disturbing; women murdered while doing housework; women killed while caring for their families. Is that worse then women killed while sleeping; women killed while having a conversation among themselves?

I always remind people that the compounds we hear about in the news, the compounds that are the most likely targets of drone strikes are actually people’s homes. Shahzad explains to us that these homes which are compounds, house extended families with as many as 50 or 60 people. It told him it appears to me that the strikes are in a very small area. The translator, at this point, became very agitated, and after a lively discussion in Pashto, he asserted that the strike were not confined to a small area, but rather they are everywhere. Shahzad followed up by pointing out that one person’s small area may not seem so small to another.

In any case, the vision is that the drone strikes are everywhere in their world, and anyone who reads a newspaper anywhere in the world knows that they occur pretty regularly 1 or 2 a week, or perhaps every other week. Someone asked if the strikes caused people to leave the region. Jalal Khan said that some do leave, and others just retreat into the mountains when they are feeling unsafe, then return to their lands. He said that he himself does this at times. When asked how the constant threat affects their lives, he said that their culture is being undermined because people no longer congregate in large numbers for public functions, weddings, funerals. Children don’t go to school. Jirgas are threatened so leaders don’t meet in large groups.

When asked whether he supports terrorists, Jalal Khan said that they don’t go to fight in Afghanistan because the border is no longer open the way it was before the war on terror. He said they lived open and dignified lives then, before they became the target of our wars. But now they can’t even visit their relatives in towns a few miles away on the other side of the Afghan border. People have become isolated, anxious and depressed. According to Shahzad, there are increasing numbers of people taking Zantac and other anti-anxiety drugs to get through the day.

***

Yesterday we met with Acting Ambassador Richard Hoagland, Charge d’Affairs at the American Embassy in Islamabad. Ambassador Hoagland came to our hotel to welcome us to Pakistan, and to warn us of the dangers of pushing the boundaries there. Here are some samples of the following Q&A with Ambassador Hoagland.[2]

CodePink: Can you provide an estimate of civilian casualties?

A Hoagland: Since July 2008, “in the two figures”.

CodePink: 10-99?

A Hoagland: Can’t answer. There are hardly any, if any at all.

The Ambassador first gives an estimate of civilian casualties due to drones that may be up to 100, a number considerably less than the number that emerged from actual research in the region, and through the work of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. He then dismisses even that figure as ‘hardly any, if any at all’. Since we have seen the photos of 100 dead children and heard the stories of family members of other victims, this response seems not only inaccurate, but calloused.

CodePink: Is there compensation for drone victims in Pakistan?

A Hoagland: it has to be set up, but it’s not impossible.

CodePink: Is the Pakistani government at highest level complicit in drone strikes?

A Hoagland: I can’t answer that, ask the Pakistani Government.

The latter is an open question discussed at great length on the street in both Pakistan and the US. My take is that the drone strikes were far less prevalent during the Musharraf period when the ISI was directly involved in selecting targets. Since the Obama administration began, the Pakistani military has been excluded from decision making and any official complicity is superficial. Given the massive rejection of the strikes within large segments of the civilian population of Pakistan, recent public protests against the drone strikes by their government would appear to be sincere, if inexcusably weak.

CodePink: What can we do to stop the drone attacks?

A Hoagland: Maybe bring the issue of drones to the International criminal courts.

Shahzad Akhbar: Unfortunately it’s the Pakistani Government that has to do that.

Shahzad Akhbar: What does Pakistan have to do to get the US to pay attention to how bad the drone program is?

A Hoagland: Address the issue through legal mechanisms.

CodePink: How does the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty affect diplomacy?

A Hoagland: The government of Pakistan has lodged official protests against US Drone Program.

CodePink: Is it true the US ambassador signs off on every drone strike.

A Hoagland: Can’t comment

It’s tough to sort this out, but it looks like it is the Pakistani Government’s responsibility to file a complaint, and they have done so. However, no one is interested. And drone victims are only the tip of the iceberg in this context. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Pakistani nationals have been detained by or at the request of US officials during the War on Terror. There are men sold to the Americans or picked up by accident along the border, who have been incarcerated without charges at Bagram for as many as 10 years. We met their relatives last night. Apparently they have a process, but the process doesn’t necessarily lead to any resolution of their status. Worse, they have been deliberately silenced. If they talk about the details of their treatment during incarceration, or how they came to be there, they are threatened and punished.

And then there are the men in Guantanamo, and those in Pakistani prisons. I met with the relatives of some of the latter a couple of days ago. And there are the ones like Aafia Siddiqui who somehow ended up with more than a life sentence in the US. An American citizen with a PhD in cognitive neurology and 3 small children, Aafia was snatched from the streets of Islamabad and spent 5 years in Bagram before being extradited to the US. We’ll never know why this bright, passionate woman was picked up in the first place because, by the time she was accused of an actual crime she had already been in detention under the worst of conditions for 5 years.

And it would be worth remembering that just as Aafia Siddiqui is an American Citizen, Pakistan is an American ally. Aafia Siddiqui’s family has been threatened for speaking out just as the families of the Bagram detainees have. And it appears that the government of Pakistan dare not defy the US hegemon either. This is how we treat our friends and those who freely choose to join our society. Jalal Khan said, “Once we were Mujahedin. Now we are Terrorists.”

CodePink: Will there be Drone strikes during march?,

Hoagland: “I can assure you with 100% certainty; the march will not be targeted.

Well, that’s a relief. Too bad all the citizens of Waziristan won’t be under our umbrella.

Today, a busload of CodePinkers went to visit the American Embassy in Islamabad. They were denied entry. But tomorrow we are going to Waziristan, to stand under a pristine sky that has been darkened by drones, with a people whose lives have been dismissed in the name of our freedom. Pakistanis are saying, if we will go, then they have to go. We all have to go to Waziristan or none of us can be free.

[1] My sincere apologies to Urdu speakers for abusing your language

[2] Based on CodePink Twitters during the meeting, along with some clarifications.

Judy Bello is currently a full time activist thanks to the harsh and unforgiving work environment in the Software Development Industry. Finally free to focus on her own interests in her home office, she is active with The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, and with Fellowship of Reconciliation Middle East Task Force and often posts on their blog at http://forusa.org. She has been to Iran twice with FOR Peace Delegations, and spent a month in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya in 2009. Her personal blog, Towards a Global Perspective, is at http://blog.papillonweb.net and she is administers the Upstate anti-Drone Coalition website at http://upstatedroneaction.org. She can be reached at: jb.papillonweb@gmail.com

Judith Bello is a long time peace and justice activist who blogs at The Deconstructed Globe.     She is a charter member of  The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which is a statewide organization that is in a confrontation with Hancock Air National Guard Base to end their piloting of Reaper drones over Afghanistan and the use of  weaponized drones for targeted killing around the world.   She administers the website for the Upstate Coalition, along with the websites for several other peace and justice organizations.  Offline, she lives in a suburb of Rochester, NY.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail