The Predators: Where is Your Democracy?
This article was originally published online by Kathy Kelly on May 9, 2011.
On May 4, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law. Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.
World attention has been focused, however briefly, on legality issues regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected “high value targets” in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by US military forces have become the new norm.
Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed 15 people in Pakistan and wounded four. CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half since the March 17 drone attack which killed 44 people in Pakistan’s tribal region. There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.
I’m reminded of an encounter I had, in May 2010, when a journalist and a social worker from North Waziristan met with a small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation in Pakistan and described, in graphic detail, the drone attacks which they had personally witnessed: the carbonized bodies, burned so fully they could be identified by legs and hands alone, the bystanders sent flying like dolls through the air to break upon walls and stone, with shattered bones and sometimes-fatal brain injuries.
“Do Americans know about the drones?” the journalist asked me. I said I thought that awareness was growing on University campuses and among peace groups. “This isn’t what I’m asking,” he politely insisted. “What I want to know is if average Americans know that their country is attacking Pakistan with drones that carry bombs. Do they know this?”
“Truthfully,” I said, “I don’t think so.”
“Where is your democracy?” he asked me. “Where is your democracy?” Ideally, in a democracy, people are educated about important matters, and they can influence decisions about these issues by voting for people who represent their point of view.
Only a handful of US officials have broached the issue of whether or not it is right for the US to use unmanned aerial vehicles to function as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in the decision to assassinate anyone designated as a “high value target” in faraway Pakistan or Afghanistan….
Fully informed citizens might be invited to consider the Golden Rule, but they would certainly be involved in the debate over how we will be treated in future years and decades when these weapons have proliferated. In 1945, only one country possessed the atomic bomb, but within decades, the “nuclear club” had expanded to five declared and four non-declared nuclear-armed states in a much less certain world. Besides the risk of nuclear war, this weapon proliferation has consumed resources that could have been directed toward feeding a hungry world or eradicating disease or easing the effects of impoverishment.
As of now, worldwide, 49 companies make 450 different drone aircrafts. Drone merchants expect that drone sales will earn $20.2 billion over the next 10 years for aerospace war manufacturers. Possibly, one day drones may be aimed at us.
Also worth noting is the observation that drones will make it politically convenient for any country to order military actions without risking their soldiers’ lives, thereby making it easier, and more tempting, to start wars which may eventually escalate to result in massive loss of military and civilian life.
Voices for Creative Nonviolence believes that standing alongside people who bear the brunt of our wars helps us gain needed insights. Where you stand determines what you see.
Twice, in 2010, while in Afghanistan, I met with a large family living in a wretched refugee camp. They had fled their homes in the San Gin district of the Helmand Province after a drone attack killed a mother there and her five children. The woman’s husband showed us photos of his children’s bloodied corpses. His niece, Juma Gul, age 9, had survived the attack. She and I huddled next to each other inside a mud hut on a chilly December morning. Juma Gul’s father stooped in front of us and gently unzipped her jacket, showing me that his daughter’s arm had been amputated by shrapnel when the US missile hit their San Gin home. Next to Juma Gul was her brother, whose leg had been mangled in the attack. He apparently has no access to adequate medical care and experiences constant pain.
It’s impossible to conjecture what would have happened had Osama bin Laden been apprehended and brought to appear before a court of law, charged with crimes against humanity because of his alleged role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks. But, I feel certain beyond doubt that Juma Gul posed no threat whatsoever to the US, and if she were brought before a court of law and witnesses were helped to understand that she was attacked by a US unmanned aerial vehicle for no reason other than that she happened to live in proximity to a potential high value target, she would be vindicated of any suspicion that she committed a crime. The same might not be true for those who attacked her.
SPC activist Ed Kinane is currently in Afghanistan with another Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation. Look for an article from Ed in the October PNL—coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the US invasion.