June 15, 2012
America’s drone war has countless silent victims. Since President Barack Obama massively expanded his reliance on the weapon from 2009, the number of civilians killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen have sky-rocketed, but we rarely hear about these murders.
The Western corporate media is content rehashing White House press releases about "militants" and "terrorists" being extinguished. Chris Wood, an award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, recently told Democracy Now! that support for al-Qaeda is rising in the countries hit by Washington’s drones. It’s something Iraqi-born journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad confirmed first-hand when reporting from the Arabian Peninsula.
The New York Times disclosure of Obama’s "kill list" merely heightened concerns over policy transparency. The US President is judge, jury and executioner over the individuals who are killed, allegedly as terrorists. But serious questions remain, not least the revelation that civilians are guilty unless proven innocent. The Times wrote:
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top al-Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. "Al-Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbours don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs," said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
It is an Orwellian understanding of international law and a clear continuation of the Bush administration’s global "war on terrorism" after September 11. Obama has merely extended executive power to its outer reaches. Obama has killed far more civilians by drone attacks than Bush did in his eight years in office.
Independent American journalist Jeremy Scahill caused faux outrage for suggesting on MSNBC that Washington’s "targeted" drone strikes in Yemen were "murder". But he was right and said so because he’d been to the country and witnessed the reality:
If you go to the village of Al-Majalah in Yemen, where I was, and you see the unexploded cluster-bombs and you have the list and photographic evidence, as I do – the women and children that represented the vast majority of the deaths in this first strike that Obama authorized on Yemen – those people were murdered by President Obama, on his orders, because there was believed to be someone from al-Qaeda in that area.
There's only one person that's been identified that had any connection to al-Qaeda there. And 21 women and 14 children were killed in that strike and the US tried to cover it up, and say it was a Yemeni strike, and we know from the WikiLeaks cables that David Petraeus conspired with the president of Yemen to lie to the world about who did that bombing. It's murder - it's mass murder - when you say, 'We are going to bomb this area' because we believe a terrorist is there, and you know that women and children are in the area. The United States has an obligation to not bomb that area if they believe that women and children are there. I'm sorry, that's murder.
This indiscriminate killing is occurring in a number of war zones. During a recent reporting trip to Pakistan, I spoke to local journalists who confirmed the brutal nature of America’s drone war in the tribal region along the border Afghanistan.
Ihsan Tipu is a Pakistani New York Times employee. He’s from Waziristan, the heart of FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]. Urbane and around 30-years-old, he and a journalistic colleague explained in detail what was really happening in this area.
He said that al-Qaeda remained strong and was growing. There were hundreds of recruits, including many from overseas training camps – he said at least 80 French Muslims were present – and they were then sent back for missions in the West.
"If you visit markets in Waziristan you will see many white, Western, Muslim men carrying AK-47s, from Germany, Britain and beyond," Tipu told me. "You never make eye-contact with them, just look down and move on."
The only time drones aren’t in the sky, he said, is during cloud cover but otherwise people are fearful the entire time that they will be hit. "After a drone strike, within a matter of 10 minutes, bodies are removed from the site by militants", Tipu revealed.
America’s drone war was until recently in the realm of science fiction. But today, according to one of the finest reporters on its expansion, Nick Turse, the Terminator Age is upon us:
At the turn of this century, the Department of Defense had 90 drones with plans to increase the inventory by 200 over the next decade, according to Dyke Weatherington, a Defense Department deputy director overseeing acquisitions of hardware for unmanned warfare. As 2012 began, there were more than 9,500 remotely piloted aircraft in the US arsenal.
The last ten years have seen the mainstream media embrace the drone war as effective, silent and deadly. But in reality it is anything but, wilfully murdering civilians with barely a whimper from corporate reporters. How many more wedding parties in Pakistan need to be slaughtered before there are legal ramifications for drone "mistakes"?
The drone war isn’t just a political issue, it’s a media challenge. When virtually no Western reporters are able to get access to remote areas of Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, editors should acknowledge this. When "militants" are supposedly killed, press releases have replaced real, reported news. Having just spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and met a number of competent local journalists, it is beyond comprehension why Western news outlets don’t rely on such people to get first-hand accounts of the drone strikes.
The psychologically embedded mainstream news rarely questions the post 9/11 expansion of American military power. The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill revealed that the US Joint Special Operations Command have operated during the Obama administration in Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan), the Philippines, Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain.
Such news disappears down the memory hole almost as soon as it’s published. The greatest irony of America’s drone and special-forces war is that Washington hasn’t become any more secure or confident of its place in the world. Its military budget still massively dwarfs every other country on the planet, but new technology has merely unveiled new spaces to colonize.
Despite Israel being the original masters of drone technology – new revelations outline Australian forces in Afghanistan relying on Israeli-owned drones to fight Taliban militants – other countries are developing their capabilities, such as Iran, China and even Australia.
If drone warfare is here to stay, accountability is essential. History teaches us to never trust the military or government to use weapons responsibly.
Antony Loewenstein in an independent journalist and author and co-editor of the forthcoming book with Ahmed Moor, After Zionism.