FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Droning On and On

I’m struck by contrasting public views on the US drone warfare program. In the United States, where the public has long been aware of the program, drone strikes have received increased critical attention in recent months because of the disclosure that an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been targeted for attack. Al-Awlaki, a radical cleric now based in Yemen, is alleged to have helped al-Qaeda organize terrorist plots against the US.

In the wake of news about al-Awlaki’s reported targeting, the US Congress for the first time held hearings on the drone program, examining the legal issues the program implicates and, specifically, the legality of carrying out strikes against American citizens. As the chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearings acknowledged in introducing the second hearing, in April, “accounts of the recent addition of an American citizen to the target list have received widespread attention.”

The hearings were long overdue. In recent years, the US has carried out drone strikes in several parts of the world–Pakistan, above all, but also Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia–and US use of drones has been increasing.

But because it is the CIA that is responsible for strikes outside of declared war zones, the program is highly classified and the US government has been reluctant to confirm even basic information about the program. Most of the press reporting about drones relies on anonymous administration sources for its key claims.

Both critics and supporters of drone warfare agree that the US government needs to do a better job of engaging with the public about the drone program. State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh’s recent legal defense of the program was, from this standpoint, an important contribution.

But US views are only part of the picture. Not a single drone attack has taken place on US soil; the US is the source of drone strikes, not their recipient. What of the countries in which the attacks occur; what kind of debate is occurring there?

In Pakistan

If Americans have been roused by the possibility of their co-nationals being targeted for drone strikes, Pakistanis have faced this question from the beginning. Some 1,000 Pakistanis have been killed by US drone attacks on Pakistani soil since 2004. Lately, in the border states of North and South Waziristan, drone strikes have been a weekly, or even more frequent, occurrence.

Pakistani views of the US drone program are strikingly negative. A Gallup-Al Jazeera poll from August 2009 concluded that only 9 percent of Pakistanis approved of drone strikes, while 62 percent opposed them. Indeed, a just-issued survey carried out by a Pakistani think-tank found that three-quarters of the people surveyed, in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan, believed that US drone attacks have increased support for the country’s militants.

Pakistanis are angered by what they view as a violation of their country’s sovereignty (though it is an open secret that the Zardari government in Pakistan has allowed the strikes), and by excessive civilian casualties.

While the numbers of civilians vs. militants killed in these attacks are unclear–and hotly disputed–there is little doubt that the Pakistani public believes that the civilian costs are high.

The Pakistani press is replete with articles about drone attacks. Many set out high civilian casualty figures, while describing how women and children have been killed. (A typical headline: “60 drone hits kill 14 al-Qaeda men, 687 civilians.”)

Different Worlds

Pakistanis and Americans live in different worlds when it comes to US drone strikes. This is true both in reality–Pakistanis actually face the strikes–and in terms of perception–Pakistanis are much more cognizant of the strikes’ negative costs.

Americans are not accustomed to feeling vulnerable to another country’s military might, and may not easily understand the extent to which Pakistanis dislike being in the another government’s cross-hairs. But they should gain at least the beginning of insight into Pakistani views when they consider their own heightened sensitivity to the US decision to target an American citizen.

Now take that concern and multiply it by 1000. Then imagine that another government is behind the trigger, and that Americans are being killed on US soil. The outrage isn’t hard to imagine.

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York City.

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York and Paris.

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail