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Wedding Crashers Who Kill

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“In Turkey, Even Joyous Wedding Can Be a Target,” ran the headline in the August 22, 2016 New York Times. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber had struck at a Kurdish wedding celebration in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, close to the Syrian border. The bomber, a boy about 14 years old, killed more than 50 wedding guests, many of them children, and wounded 100 others. Gaziantep was the deadliest bombing in Turkey this year.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames the Islamic State (IS) for the attack. Turkish military forces entered Syria on Wednesday, ostensibly, to drive IS and the fighters of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) away from the Turkish border. Gone are the days of Erdogan’s allowing budding jihadists to cross Turkey into Syria to join IS.

As of late Wednesday, IS had not taken credit for the Gaziantep bombing. However, it’s not IS that I want to discuss. You would never know it from the Times account, but US armed drones and other aircraft have “crashed” weddings in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. I am not suggesting that the US was behind the slaughter at Gaziantep. Instead, I want to ask a question. Why do we condemn IS for attacking a wedding and not the US for doing the same thing?

“The US Has Bombed at Least Eight Wedding Parties since 2001” according to the title of an article by Tom Engelhardt in the December 20, 2013 Nation. Engelhardt comments: “If the Taliban or the Iranians or the North Koreans had piled up such figures … [w]e would classify them as barbarians, savages, evildoers.” Yet US media gives these deaths a pass.

There are too many incidents to discuss separately. The following will be enough to sicken any reader.

On July 6, 2008, US aircraft bombed a wedding procession in the Afghan district of Deh Bala. Forty-seven civilians were killed, including the bride and 39 women and children.

On November 3, 2008, a US airstrike on a wedding party in the village of Wech Baghtu in Afghanistan killed 37 civilians. This time 26 Taliban were also killed.

A drone attack on a wedding procession in Yemen on December 12, 2013 killed 12 civilians. The New York Post gave the story the sidesplitting headline “BRIDE AND BOOM!”

Another drone strike in Yemen took place the day after a wedding while guests were still celebrating. A few days earlier, one of the guests, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, an Imam, had delivered a sermon against the killing of innocents by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP did not overlook Salem’s defiance. On August 29, 2012, three AQAP members came calling. Salem asked his nephew Waheed, a police officer, to join him for protection while he met with the three.

Whatever harm AQAP intended, they didn’t get the chance. Four Hellfire missiles fired from a US drone killed the three Qaeda along with Salem and Waheed. The three AQAP enforcers were probably the intended targets. Salem and Waheed were just “collateral damage.”

A relative of the men, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, has been tireless in seeking justice for Salem and Waheed. Faisal offered to drop litigation against the US in exchange for an apology and an explanation for the drone strike which killed the two men. The US rejected Faisal’s offer.

President Obama did apologize for the deaths in January 2015 of two hostages taken by Al-Qaeda: Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. The American businessman and Italian aid worker were killed when a US drone struck the Al-Qaeda compound where they were being held. Faisal’s attorney, Joe Pace with the British human rights NGO Reprieve, says that “the only time [Obama] apologizes for a drone strike is when it kills white people.”[1]

Faisal is also suing the German government for allowing the Americans’ Ramstein Air Base to coordinate drone attacks from German soil. (In June, 5000 German peace activists demonstrated at Ramstein, calling for the base to be closed.)

Whether in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, or Syria no one has been held accountable for the lives destroyed by US drones. Sometimes the US pays restitution. Restitution was made openly to relatives of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. Other families have been been paid on the sly, allowing the US to deny responsibility for their relatives’ deaths. Yemeni officials handed Faisal bin Ali Jaber a plastic bag containing $100,000 in cash, telling him it was from the US.

Hawks will object that I do not distinguish inadvertent from intentional killing. The attack in Gaziantep was intentional. When the US obliterates wedding parties it’s unintentional.

Tell it to the dead. US criminal law includes the concept of “depraved indifference.” Conduct can be so reckless that it does not matter whether the defendant wanted anyone to die.

The US knows that its drones kill innocent civilians. US stalling in revealing the number of dead betrays a guilty conscience. Not until July of this year—just before the Fourth of July weekend—did the US release figures of civilians killed by drones. The 116 civilians the Obama Administration claimed had been killed by drones was suspiciously low. The British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism claims there have been at least 800 noncombatants killed by drones. Nor do the Obama Administration figures include deaths in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.

The US may not want civilians to die. But if you heave bricks off the top of the Empire State Building it doesn’t matter whether you wanted anyone to die.

Notes.

[1] Ta-Nehisi Coates refers in passing to US drones bombing wedding parties on page 131 of Between the World and Me (2015). Coates connects the breaking of Brown bodies overseas with the breaking of Black bodies in American cities like Ferguson, Missouri.

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

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