FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Living (and Dying) Under Drones

Last week, the Obama Administration argued in front of the First Circuit Court of Appeals that there is no official evidence we are waging drone warfare in northern Pakistan. The ACLU has sued under the Freedom of Information Act for details of the widely reported drone strikes and in response, the CIA simply stated that it could neither confirm or deny that they were happening at all. The government has of course released lots of information about the strikes, but always in the form of leaks, anonymous and self serving. According to the leakers, the strikes are a miracle of precision, waged with a concern for the protection of innocent bystanders that would have done credit to Mahatma Gandhi.

To a considerable extent the media has taken this story as given, dwelling instead on the political consequences of the strikes on our relationship with Pakistan, or other subsidiary issues. The actual effects of an escalating eight year bombardment of Hellfire missiles on a society living in mud houses on an average per capita income of $250 has attracted less scrutiny.

Living Under Drones, an exhaustively researched and documented study by the New York University Law School Global Justice Clinic and Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic released today, does much to explain the government’s reluctance to come clean.

The report makes it clear that there have indeed been many undeniably innocent civilian casualties — presenting an upper figure of almost 900 killed, many of them children. On March 17, 2011, for example, village elders and other local notables, including several officials appointed by the Pakistani government, were meeting in the bus depot at the town of Datta Khel in North Waziristan when a missile, presaged only by a brief hissing noise, slammed in their midst, killing at least 40 people, of whom four may have been low level members of the Taliban. An October 6, 2006 strike on a religious school in Bajaur killed over 80 people, including 69 children.

The authors note that not only do we not know the precise figure, even close neighbors of a targeted compound may not know. In this extremely conservative society, the number, let alone the names, of females living in a compound may be unknown to outsiders. Given that the missiles explode at temperatures high enough to utterly dismember or even vaporise bodies, it is often literally impossible to count the dead.

Far more disturbing even than the casualty figures is the portrait presented in the report of an entire society traumatized by the strikes. Interviews with over a hundred inhabitants of the kill zone — not easily conducted, given the Pakistan government’s policy of barring access to all outsiders — reveal many exhibiting classic symptoms of PTSD. The pervasive fear among Waziris that anyone can be a target at any time gives the lie to notions that only confirmed terrorists are targeted — if that were so, innocents would know they are safe and move freely accordingly. Instead they are all condemned to live in what a rare American observer, former hostage journalist David Rhode, described as “hell on earth.” Overall, thanks to U.S. drones, Waziris have been reduced to as bleak a social existence as even the most fanatical Taliban could desire.

Children and adults wake screaming in the night, others are reduced to a state of debilitating listlessness. Group meetings to settle disputes — Jirgas — have traditionally served as a social lubricant in Waziristan. No longer, since people know that any gathering beyond two people might draw the attention of the targeteers. The dead, even when there enough recognizable body parts to collect, must be buried without benefit of a proper funeral. Drivers necessary to transport people and goods are reluctant to take to the roads. Since schools have been targets in the past, few children are being educated. Wedding parties and other social gatherings have become too dangerous to celebrate. The death of so many adult male breadwinners has reduced many families to total destitution.

Furthermore, a widespread belief that the missiles home in on “chips”planted by informants in US pay, who therefore have the power to settle a domestic dispute, has led to mutual mistrust throughout the community. Those wounded in a strike can linger for hours for rescue thanks to the cruel “Double Tap” tactic of launching a second strike at first responders. At least one professional humanitarian relief organization now waits at least six hours before approaching a stricken site.

It seems unconscionable that our government should deny us access to any and all official information regarding this war being waged on our name. Not that such attitudes are new. In the early 1970s, Richard Nixon authorized the bombing of Cambodia and decreed that it be kept utterly secret. Back then, this was considered a serious matter, and so the secret bombing ultimately generated Article Five in the initial articles of impeachment drawn up against Nixon.

Obama might want to think about that.

Andrew Cockburn is the author of Duel: the Strangest Story of the Afghan War, available in Kindle format.. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press, now also available in Kindle edition. He can be reached at amcockburn@gmail.com

More articles by:

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino.  His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail