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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Murder by drone: the U.S. terror war in Pakistan Part 1

8 October 2012.
As American drones occupy the skies across Pakistan's North Waziristan, the U.S. is continuing to lie about the many hundreds of ordinary people blasted to pieces or incinerated and the terrorizing of the entire population.
Most recently, an American embassy official in Pakistan insisted that protests against the drone strikes were unjustified in light of "the extreme process that is undertaken to avoid what is very sadly called 'collateral damage.'" Although not allowed to reveal classified information, he said, the number of civilian casualties is "quite low" – "in the two figures." (Guardian, 7 October) This statement was meant to counter international news coverage of a convoy of  hundreds of people from all over Pakistan and dozens of Western antiwar activists (including women from the U.S. group Code Pink) heading for a town in South Waziristan to demonstrate against the drone attacks and the Pakistani government's complicity.
The report Living Under Drones issued by two U.S. academic research groups in September paints a very different picture.
"[F]rom June 2004 through mid- September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children... These strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals" (According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit news reporting agency based at City University in London whose data and methodology the report reviewed and found valid.)
The discrepancy is partially explained by the fact that "for the purpose of tracking civilian casualties, the [U.S.] government presumes that all military-age males killed in drone strikes are combatants." The report demonstrates that this is not true. Yet even the most narrow interpretation of Washington's claim, that it has recorded a "quite low" number of civilian casualties, may be a lie within a lie, since the exact figures, the identities of the human beings they represent and the circumstances of their death are all cloaked in secrecy.
Who was killed and how they died was the aim of an investigation project by law clinics at the Stanford Law School in California and the New York University Law School. Their report (available at was based on "nine months of intensive research – including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and  review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting".
Their conclusions are moderate to a fault. Instead of calling for an end to the drone war, "this report recommends that the U.S. conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits."  
"Costs and benefits" for who and for what goals? By arguing on this basis, the report ignores the question of the purpose and legitimacy of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and the drone war in neighbouring North Waziristan that is a consequence and adjunct to that occupation. It also avoids the broader question of the ensemble of open and covert wars that the U.S. ruling classes are waging or threatening to wage throughout the "Greater Middle East" to protect and extend their global empire, no matter which party is in office.
By way of analogy, if someone were to reason that strikes on civilians in the West go against Al-Qaeda's overall (also reactionary) aims, this would be considered a cynical calculation and few people would be impressed by its moral stance.
But whether those involved in this report really believe in this "costs and benefits" approach or just feel that this is the only way their arguments will have impact, their careful review of the facts and first-hand accounts provide not only a damning account of the cruelty of U.S. conduct, but also evidence that this cruelty has a political purpose – that these deaths are not just "collateral damage" but rather part of a war-fighting strategy based on terrorizing the people of an entire region with no distinctions among them.
Living under drones describes a 2006 drone attack on a religious school in Bajaur that killed more than 80 people, 69 of them children. In another section, it reveals what really happened in what authorities described as a strike against a militant "house" where "a group of some three dozen alleged Taliban fighters were meeting".
"According to those we interviewed, on March 17 [2011], some 40 individuals gathered [in an open-air bus depot] in Datta Khel town centre. They included important community figures and local elders, all of whom were there to attend a jirga – the principal social institution for decision-making and dispute resolution in [the region]... convened to settle a dispute over a nearby chromite mine. All of the relevant stakeholders and local leaders were in attendance, including 35 government-appointed tribal leaders known as maliks, as well as government officials, and a number of khassadars (government employees administered at the local level by maliks who serve as a locally recruited auxiliary police force). Four men from a local Taliban group were also reportedly present, as their involvement was necessary to resolve the dispute effectively. Malik Daud Khan, a respected leader and decorated public servant, chaired the meeting... 

Pix from Pakalert.

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