President Obama will travel to Boston today to attend an interfaith memorial for the victims of Monday’s attack on the Boston Marathon. On Tuesday, he called the attack ‘heinous and cowardly’ and announced that the FBI were investigating an ‘act of terrorism… Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terrorism’, he continued. His words were picked up by global media outlets and relayed across the world as the insatiable appetite for immediate answers or failing that, prompt suspicion saw no sign of abatement.
The children in the picture above have not been afforded the same degree of sympathy as Martin Richard, the eight year old boy, so tragically killed on Monday. At the time of this writing, the reasons for the attack in Boston and the perpetrator(s) behind the attack are not known. In Pakistan, the perpetrators are known all too well. The children photographed were killed ten days before the attack on Boston by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) piloted from the opposite side of the world from where they played, and sanctioned by the President himself.
Barack Obama was correct to call the attack on the innocent people of Boston, ‘cowardly’ but then the President is no stranger to cowardice having – according to the London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism – presided over 315 of the 367 drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan since 2004.
Indeed, the numbers of strikes ordered by the present administration would almost certainly have been higher still but for the catastrophic strike on March 17, 2011 that brought tensions between the US and Pakistan to breaking point and saw a marked fall off in strikes that year and next. On that occasion a missile struck a gathering of 42 innocent men in Datta Khel.
38 civilians including maliks – tribal elders – and policemen were killed while attending a jirga, a formal gathering organised to resolve local disputes. The Pakistan military themselves had been informed about the jirga ten days previously and local government controlled Khassadar forces were present in an effort to resolve a disagreement between rival contractors over mining of chromite in the area.
Researchers interviewing those affected were told by one man that all he could do to bury his father was ‘gather pieces of flesh and put them in a coffin’.
The CIA continue to claim no civilians died in the attack, displaying a cowardice the President appears all to blind to.
The emergence of ‘double tap’ drone attacks might be considered even more cowardly still. The ‘double tap’ sees an initial missile strike followed by a second strike targeting rescuers as they attempt to pull the wounded from the rubble of what was once their homes or funeral mourners as they arrive to pay their respects to the dead.
More often than not, drone strikes are conducted 10,000 km away in an air conditioned container in Nevada in front of a bank of fourteen computer screens. This dehumanising of conflict is a worrying trend. Brandon Bryant spent six years in the Air Force operating Predator drones until his conscience could no longer countenance his continued involvement. In an interview in Speigel Online, Bryant talks about his post traumatic stress disorder and the events that led to his leaving.
There was a flat-roofed house made of mud, with a shed used to hold goats in the crosshairs, as Bryant recalls. When he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser. The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact.
“These moments are like in slow motion,” he says today. Images taken with an infrared camera attached to the drone appeared on his monitor, transmitted by satellite, with a two-to-five-second time delay.
With seven seconds left to go, there was no one to be seen on the ground. Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. Then it was down to three seconds. Bryant felt as if he had to count each individual pixel on the monitor. Suddenly a child walked around the corner, he says.
Second zero was the moment in which Bryant’s digital world collided with the real one in a village between Baghlan and Mazar-e-Sharif.
Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach.
“Did we just kill a kid?” he asked the man sitting next to him.
“Yeah, I guess that was a kid,” the pilot replied.
“Was that a kid?” they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
Then, someone they didn’t know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. “No. That was a dog,” the person wrote.
They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?
The use of the term ‘surgical’ to describe UAV attacks is a sickening misnomer that has shamefully crept into English usage, unchallenged. Drone strikes are no more surgically performed than an opthalmologist performing vitreo-retinal surgery with a garden shovel could be described as such. George Orwell wrote in 1946 that,
political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness… Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
An authoritative and comprehensive new study undertaken by Stanford and New York Universities has discovered that 49 people are dying for every terrorist killed by strikes. A surgeon with a similar success rate might better be described as a butcher.
The title of this blog comes from ‘Macbeth’. The line is uttered by Macbeth as he experiences yet another moment of mental frailty. Having just witnessed Banquo’s ghost return for a second time, and when he is finally left on his own once more, Macbeth’s guilty conscience warns him that bloodshed only leads to more blood being spilled and that the blood of the dead shall seek out those guilty.
In the previous act, Lady Macbeth admonishes her husband for his guilt and lack of courage. Ushering him to the sink she comforts him by declaring, ‘a little water clears us of this deed’. Of course, as the play progresses and she too descends into madness, she realises that some actions are not so easily undone.
President Obama’s campaign of terror in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia has resulted in vast swathes of the country living in fear that the person walking next to them in the market, or the car driving in front of them down the highway is someone on Obama’s Tuesday afternoon ‘kill list’. One can only imagine the outcry were China or Russia to conduct a campaign targeting American civilians they consider to be threats to their National Security on American soil. Not only are drone strikes illegal in the United States, (Executive Order 11905, Section 5(g), Executive Order 12333, Section 2.11) and under International Human Rights Law, they are also entirely counterproductive, serving only to promote militancy and engender hatred within the regions targeted.
I fear President Obama, like Lady Macbeth before him will discover all too soon that the blood on his hands is not so easily removed.
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