“We always knew that drone strikes were wrong, that they encroached on Pakistan’s sovereign territory. We knew that innocent civilians had been killed. However, we did not realize how callous and cruel it could be. The community is now plagued with fear. The tribal elders are afraid to gather together in jirgas, as had been our custom for more than a century. The mothers and wives plead with the men not to congregate together. They do not want to lose any more of their husbands, sons, brothers and nephews. People in the same family now sleep apart because they do not want their togetherness to be viewed suspiciously through the eye of the drone. They do not want to become the next target.”
The words above, taken from an article in the June edition of Harper Magazine entitled “Eye of the Drone,” have haunted me since I initially read them.
Imagine that the United States government has invented a weapon that discourages togetherness and community. Ironically, the country that encourages rugged individualism while allowing its ruling rich to work as a group to bankrupt the rest of us has come up with a weapon to make that a reality in foreign Islamic lands.
And imagine being so intimidated by something you can’t see that you are afraid to gather together. Whole tribes in Pakistan and elsewhere have been rendered ineffective and dysfunctional because they fear they don’t have the ability to come together to make decisions.
Read the Harper paragraph again. “People in the same family now sleep apart because they do not want their togetherness to be viewed suspiciously through the eye of the drone.”
Some astute person will probably say, yeah but they are the enemy, they are Al Qaeda or the Taliban. In some cases the drones actually attack and kill the declared enemy. However, it’s not clear based on international rules of engagement that any of this is really legal.
No one is really taking them to task because, let’s face it, our country is a bully; it gets its way through force and intimidation. In reality, it appears that Al Qaeda is a rogue criminal operation and should be brought to justice in that way. The air strikes invade and encroach on sovereign territory, which is illegal internationally.
And for those unclear about what national sovereignty means, let me ask what your response would be if France decided it had enemies residing in the U.S. and decided to send unmanned aircraft over U.S. airspace, fired weapons from them, and killed not just those they were supposedly trying to murder, but also many folks who had nothing to do with the crime or the criminals.
You wouldn’t like it! Americans would scream bloody murder! Yet in the U.S., according to the U.S.-based Pew Global Pollster, 62 percent of Americans somehow think this okay. The rest of the world, according to the poll, overwhelmingly sees this as problematic. Some have called the U.S. criminal for the drone assaults on sovereign territory.
Just as important, the U.S. is not at war with Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia, the countries in which drones are primarily used outside of the declared war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. And even more disturbing about this drone warfare, as the article indicates, is that lots of innocent people are being killed, and in the most gruesome way.
The aptly named hellfire missiles fired from the drone deliver a payload that often includes a lethal combination of napalm and cluster bombs. What is not burnt up or burnt away is simply ripped to shreds, which is why oftentimes victim’s loved ones only recover pieces of flesh.
In the aftermath of drone attacks, loved ones have reported finding only an arm or a foot of the victim and having to bury that as if they were burying the entire body. In the Harper story, the tribal leader tells the reporter that his brother brought only pieces of his son home to bury.
Children are afraid to attend school because they are afraid the gatherings will draw the unwanted attention of the American killers from the sky.
Drone warfare is no joke, yet President Obama thought it was funny enough to joke about it at the president’s press dinner two years ago. At the time, Obama jokingly told the Jonas brothers that if they tried to hit on his daughters he had two words for them: Predator Drone.
Not only is there nothing laughable about the drones, but Americans just learned that they will be patrolling our skies very soon. Drones are already patrolling the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, and according to a recent article we can expect thousands to be used domestically.
The sky is the limit on how these killing machines will be used; it’s a good bet that at some point they will be used to spy on U.S. citizens and ultimately kill those citizens proclaimed to not be sufficiently patriotic. Make no mistake: The chickens are indeed coming home to roost.
In the meantime, the U.S. military continues to insist that the drones are accurate while admitting that about 10 percent of those killed are innocent civilians. Only the callous would think that killing of innocents on any level is somehow acceptable.
Human rights groups and the victimized — as attested by the Harpers article — say that a much larger percentage of collateral damage results from the bombing. The Pakistanis think Americans simply don’t care, as evidenced by this quote from an editorial in the Pakistani Frontier Post newspaper:
“So long as the American lives and limbs are not at stake, the American people give two hoots if their militarists mow down even the innocent people abroad like flies with their naked adventurisms. It is only the American lives that come precious to them. Others’ come dirt cheap to them.”
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.