FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Are Pakistanis People?

Do only American deaths matter?  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence thinks so.  During last Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan as CIA Director the Committee’s exclusive focus was on American deaths from drones.  Not one Committee member asked about the hundreds of innocent Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and Somalis, many of them children, who have lost their lives as “collateral damage” in U.S. drone strikes.

U.S. execution of its own citizens is a serious matter.  Keep in mind, though, that only three Americans have been killed by drone strikes.  The best-known is the American-born radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, a member of Al-Qaeda who was killed in Yemen in September 2011.  Al-Awlaki was referred to repeatedly on Thursday.  (Al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son, also killed in a drone strike, went unmentioned.)

The most charitable explanation for the Committee’s failure to ask about foreign deaths is that the Committee members accept assurances by the President and Brennan that the U.S. has done its best to keep civilian casualties low.  The United States paints drones as surgically precise weapons which kill terrorists while taking few civilian lives.  Speaking publicly in June 2011, Brennan said that no civilians had been killed by drones for nearly a year.  When that claim raised eyebrows, Brennan backpedaled, telling the New York Times a few days later that there had been no “credible evidence” of civilian casualties for the past year.  (The independent Bureau of Investigative Journalism contends that at least 45 civilians were killed by drones during that period.)  What does Brennan think now?  All Brennan would say on Thursday, in answer to a question from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), is that Administration use of drones is “very judicious” and that drones are used only as a “last resort” to save lives when capture is impossible.

Drone strikes have killed a few high-ranking members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  On August 5, 2009, a U.S. drone killed Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban.  Mehsud is believed to have been behind the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.  However, the drone which killed Mehsud and his wife also obliterated the entire building they were in, killing nine other people.  According to Medea Benjamin, this was the United States’ fifteenth attempt to kill Mehsud.  Along the way, U.S. drones killed between 204 and 321 people.  Were all of them terrorists?

The White House refuses to say how many civilians have been killed by drones.  Instead, the White House inflates kill figures by deeming every male of military age in a target area a militant.  Conflicting figures on civilian deaths abound.  The New American Foundation think tank which monitors drone attacks estimates that 16% of those killed by drones are noncombatants.  Many victims are children:  176 children in the period from 2004 to mid-September 2012 according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Estimates from within Pakistan are considerably higher:  as high as 90%, according to the Pakistani government.  The independent Pakistani NGO Pakistan Body Count claims civilian casualties of from 75% to 80% since the drone strikes began.

High numbers of civilian casualties are to be expected given how U.S. drone strikes are conducted.  Hellfire missiles are fired into wedding parties and funerals.  “Secondary” strikes are launched on rescuers who rush to aid the injured following an initial drone strike.  The Senate Intelligence Committee asked about none of these practices.

Drones have killed so many Pakistanis that they have become the number one recruiting tool for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  Anti-American feeling in Pakistan runs high.  Asked why, Pakistani Foreign Minister Rabbani Khar’d answered with one word:  “Drones.”

I know several Pakistanis and have learned this:  Pakistanis are human beings.  Earlier, I offered one explanation of why the Committee may not have asked about civilian deaths among Pakistanis (and among Yemenis, Afghans, and others):  the Committee believes the Administration when it says that civilian deaths have been kept low.  That’s the charitable explanation.  An alternative, ugly explanation, is that the Senate and the Administration don’t believe foreigners are human beings.  Or maybe they just don’t believe Muslims are.

There’s an exchange in Huckleberry Finn where Huck tells a woman a fabricated story about a boiler explosion on a riverboat.  “Was anyone hurt?” the lady asks.  “No, ma’am,” Huck says:  “Killed a nigger.”  “Well, I’m glad no one was hurt,” the lady says.  Twain’s point was that to White Southerners Blacks did not count as people.  The death of a Black isn’t the death of anyone:  it doesn’t even register.  The same psychopathology was at work in the Nazis’ extermination of Jewish untermenschen—subhumans.  It was at work at My Lai.  And I am afraid that it is at work every time a drone hits.

Are Americans more important than non-Americans?  This is an odd position to take in a nation which can’t stop gassing about how Christian we are.  Philosopher Richard Rorty talks about a “circle of sympathy.”  At the lowest level of moral development we care only about our own family or tribe.  As conscience develops, we are able to extend our concern to also encompass our nation, race, or co-religionists.  That’s the stage Americans are stuck at now.  When Al-Qaeda and the Taliban take innocent lives we rightly condemn them.  Yet we ourselves have yet to move on to the highest moral stage where every human being receives our respect.  It’s well past time we made that leap.

Charles Pierson can be reached at: chapierson@yahoo.com.

More articles by:

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail