FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Ghost and the Machine

Fazillah, age 25, lives in Maidan Shar, the central city of Afghanistan’s Wardak province.  She married about six years ago, and gave birth to a son, Aymal, who just turned five without a father. Fazillah tells her son, Aymal, that his father was killed by an American bomber plane, remote-controlled by computer.

That July, in 2007, Aymal’s father was sitting in a garden with four other men. A weaponized drone, what we used to call an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UAV, was flying, unseen, overhead, and fired missiles into the garden, killing all five men.

Now Fazillah and Aymal share a small dwelling with the deceased man’s mother.  According to the tradition, a husband’s relatives are responsible to look after a widow with no breadwinner remaining in her immediate family. She and her son have no regular source of bread or income, but Fazillah says that her small family is better off than it might have been: one of the men killed alongside her husband left behind a wife and child but no other living relatives that could provide them with any source of support, at all.

Aymal’s grandmother becomes agitated and distraught speaking about her son’s death, and that of his four friends. “All of us ask, ‘Why?’” she says, raising her voice. “They kill people with computers and they can’t tell us why. When we ask why this happened, they say they had doubts, they had suspicions.  But they didn’t take time to ask ‘Who is this person?’ or ‘Who was that person?’  There is no proof, no accountability.  Now, there is no reliable person in the home to bring us bread.  I am old, and I do not have a peaceful life.”

Listening to them, I recall an earlier conversation I had with a Pakistani social worker and with Safdar Dawar, a journalist, both of whom had survived drone attacks in the area of Miran Shah, in Pakistan’s Waziristan province.  Exasperated at the increasingly common experience which they had survived and which too many others have not, they began firing questions at us.

“Who has given the license to kill and in what court?  Who has declared that they can hit anyone they like?”

“How many ‘high level targets’ could there possibly be?”

“What kind of democracy is America,” Safdar asks, “where people do not ask these questions?”

One question Fazillah cannot answer for her son is whether anyone asked the question at all of whether to kill his father.  Forbes Magazine reports that the Air Force has sixty-five to seventy thousand analysts processing drone video surveillance; A Rand review states they actually need half again that number to properly handle the data.  Asked to point to the human who actually made the decision to kill her husband, she can only point to another machine.

In June 2010, Philip G. Alston, then the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, appeared before the UN Human Rights Council and testified that “targeted killings pose a rapidly growing challenge to the international rule of law … In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated.”

“Such an expanded and open-ended interpretation of the right to self defense comes close to destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the United Nations Charter.  If invoked by other states in pursuit of those they deemed to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”

This past week, on February 23, the legal action charity” Reprieve” spoke up on behalf of more than a dozen Pakistani families who had lost loved ones in drone strikes, and asked the UN Human Rights Council  to condemn the attacks as illegal human rights violations.

“In Pakistan, the CIA is creating desolation and calling it peace,” said Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith. “The illegal programme of drone strikes has murdered hundreds of civilians in Pakistan. The UN must put a stop to it before any more children are killed. Not only is it causing untold suffering to the people of North West Pakistan – it is also the most effective recruiting sergeant yet for the very ‘militants’ the US claims to be targeting.”

The lawyer representing the families, Shahzad Akbar of Pakistan’s “Foundation for Fundamental Rights”, said:

“If President Obama really believes the drone strikes have ‘pinpoint’ accuracy, it has to be asked where the deaths of kids like Maezol Khan’s eight-year-old son fit into the CIA’s plan.  If the US is not prepared to face up to the reality of the suffering the strikes are causing, then the UN must step in.  The international community can no longer afford to ignore the human rights catastrophe which is taking place in North West Pakistan in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.”

Drone warfare, ever more widely used from month to month from the Bush through the Obama administrations, has seen very little meaningful public debate.  We don’t ask questions – our minds straying no nearer these battlefields than in the coming decades the bodies of our young people will – that is, if the chaos our war making engenders doesn’t bring the battlefields to us. An expanding network of devastatingly lethal covert actions spreading throughout the developing world passes with minimal concern or comment.

So who does Fazillah blame?  Who does one blame when confronted with the actions of a machine?  Our Pakistani friend asks, “What kind of a democracy is America where people do not ask these questions?”  Becoming an actual democracy, with an actual choice at election-time between war and peace rather than between political machines vying for the chance to bring us war, seems to many Americans, if some of the less-reported polls are to be believed, a near-unachievable goal.  The U.S. has become a process that churns out war – today Afghanistan and (in any real sense) Iraq; tomorrow Iran and Pakistan, with China securely, however distantly, on the horizon – and for those of us with any concern for peace, a principled opposition to war ultimately requires a determination to make the U.S. at long last into a democracy, striving as Dr. King enjoined us, in “molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”

It must begin with compassion  – powerless compassion perhaps,  perhaps only the ghost of dissent, but compassion for people like Fazillah and Aymal, – and with deciding to be human, maybe only the ghost of a human, but alive in some way and alive to what our assent,  and perhaps especially our silence are accomplishing in the world.  Humanity is the first thing to be won back – and then, if we have the strength, relentlessly defended – against indifference, complacency, and, above all, inaction.  If enough of us refuse to be machines, if enough of us refuse enough, can democracy, and even peace, not be at last achieved?  But first comes the refusal.

Fazillah wants a peaceful life. She doesn’t want to see any more people killed, any more ghosts like that of her husband.  Any more bodies, burned (as she recalls) so charred that they are almost unrecognizable one from another.

“I don’t want this to happen to anyone,” says Fazillah. I don’t want any children to be left without parents.”

And,” she adds, “I want the U.S. troops to leave.”

Research by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

Kathy Kelly  co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She’s a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

 
More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
Ron Jacobs
Presidential Papers
Robert Hunziker
The Flawed Food Dependency
Dave Lindorff
Defeating the Trump Administration’s Racist, Republican-Rescuing Census Corruption
Martha Rosenberg
Pathologizing Kids, Pharma Style
Kathleen Wallace
Too Horrible to Understand, Too Horrible to Ignore
Ralph Nader
An Unsurpassable Sterling Record of Stamina!
Paul Tritschler
Restricted View: the British Legacy of Eugenics
John Feffer
Trump’s Bluster Diplomacy
Thomas Knapp
Did Jeffrey Epstein “Belong to Intelligence?”
Nicholas Buccola
Colin Kaepernick, Ted Cruz, Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of Patriotism
P. Sainath
It’s Raining Sand in Rayalaseema
Charles Davis
Donald Trump’s Fake Isolationism
Michael Lukas
Delisting Wolves and the Impending Wolf Slaughter
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Shaking Off Capitalism for Ecological Civilization
Julian Vigo
North America’s Opioid Addiction Problem and the Institutional Machinery Keeping It Alive
Russell Rickford
Lights of Liberty Vigil Remarks
Stansfield Smith
Bernie Sanders’ Present Fight against Corporate Rule vs. the Bernie of 1989
Steve Early
A Plant Closing War, Viewed From Inside
Jill Richardson
The Good News About Trump’s Very Bad Environmental Speech
John Kendall Hawkins
The Language of Languishing: One Kurd’s Journey Into Mythopoesis
Monika Zgustova
Russia and the Manipulation of the Past
Binoy Kampmark
Out of Kilter: National Security and Press Freedoms in Australia
Robert P. Alvarez
Return of the Poll Tax
David Macaray
A Hideous Ending
David Barsamian
The Slide to War with Iran: An Interview with Nader Hashemi
Graham Peebles
Breaking the Spiral of Hate and Intolerance
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail