In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.
To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.
The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in order to make it a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites.
The project is a collaboration of artists who made use of the French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement. Reprieve/Foundation for Fundamental Rights helped launch the effort which has been released with the hashtag #NotABugSplat
The child featured in the poster is nameless, but according to FFR, lost both her parents and two young siblings in a drone attack.
The group of artists traveled inside KPK province and, with the assistance of highly enthusiastic locals, unrolled the poster amongst mud huts and farms. It is their hope that this will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives.
Reprieve | February 22, 2015
The Home Office is refusing to disclose the part played by UK counter-narcotics funding in facilitating executions in countries such as Pakistan – even though a number of Brits have been revealed to be on that country’s death row.
The UK provides counter-narcotics funding to organisations such as Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force – which has cited the number of death sentences it secures as a key ‘prosecution achievement.’ Reprieve has warned ministers that the funding amounts to public funds being used to support executions overseas, at odds with the UK’s long-standing policy of opposition to the death penalty.
In recent correspondence with legal charity Reprieve, which supports British citizens and others facing the death penalty abroad, the Home Office recently stated that the issue of counter-narcotics aid doesn’t fall under their remit, but rather that of the Foreign Office. However, in a Parliamentary answer earlier this month, minister Lynne Featherstone admitted that the Home Office has “lead responsibility” for international counter-narcotics policy.
Twenty-four people have been executed in Pakistan since December 2014, when the authorities began a new wave of executions. There are now fears that drug offenders on the country’s 8000-strong death row, among them a number of British citizens, are directly at risk of being executed.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Pakistan has the largest death row in the world, and is now actively executing prisoners – placing a number of Brits at risk. The UK Government has given a series of flaccid excuses for continuing to support anti-drug raids in Pakistan, which very often see drug offenders sentenced to death. Now that the Pakistani authorities are once again carrying out executions, the lives of these people and many others are in grave danger. If the UK is committed to ending the death penalty worldwide, why is British anti-narcotics aid supporting these drug convictions – and why won’t the Home Office admit responsibility?”
Legitimizing Torture, Lies and Killer Drones
The Screen Actors Guild has nominated Claire Danes of “Homeland” for its Best Actress Award. It has also nominated Danes, Mandy Patinkin and the rest of the “Homeland” cast for the Outstanding Ensemble Award.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Danes for its Golden Globe Award. Danes did not win, but the nomination was a valuable honor for her, and for “Homeland.”
In addition, “Homeland” will be a strong candidate for Emmy nominations, in several categories (Best Drama, writer, director, etc.) in June.
“Homeland” dramatizes the actions of a fictional Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA is pleased with the way it is portrayed on “Homeland.” The Agency invited the show’s cast and producers to come on a friendly visit to its headquarters in Virginia. CIA Director John Brennan gave actor Mandy Patinkin (Brennan’s fictional counterpart) a tour of his office. USA Today reported, “Patinkin … was struck by the CIA director’s sincerity. ‘I thought he had a wonderful heart,’ [Patinkin] said.”
Later, CIA officials attended a screening of “Homeland”‘s third season premiere at D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The C.I.A. likes “Homeland.”
“Homeland” likes the C.I.A.
The problem is that the C.I.A. has a long history of incompetence and, what is more disturbing, a long history of criminal activity.
I believe that most creative endeavors in film and television have a moral dimension.
Specifically, I believe there can be a powerful connection between real-world government criminality and the mass entertainment which we, the people, consume.
Well-crafted dramas can promote our tolerance of immoral behavior.
Actors physically embody the moral implications of the story they help to tell. For two years, beginning in 2001, I acted in a CBS series, “The Agency.” It showed glimpses of the darker side of the CIA, but each episode implied that the Agency’s morally questionable actions were necessary to safeguard the American people, and therefore, not immoral. Not evil. Taking money for spreading that lie plagued my conscience.
The greatest shame of my career was a fall 2002 episode which dramatized, convincingly, the proposition that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was actively engaged in the development of nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration was warning Americans that the WMD “smoking-gun” could appear in the form of “a mushroom cloud.” And on “The Agency,” we were confirming Bush’s lies in the minds of viewers in at least 13 million households. Members of Congress were nervously contemplating a resolution giving Bush the power to invade Iraq, and more than 13 million of their constituents were seeing persuasive dramatic “proof” that an invasion was indeed necessary. That hour of television drama was one effective salvo in the larger propaganda war. We all know what followed. I’ll always regret that I didn’t have the courage to quit “The Agency.”
The dismissive cliché, “It’s just a TV show,” just isn’t true.
“Homeland” is more popular and highly esteemed than “The Agency” was. “Homeland” is produced by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. The show is a continuation of the flattering posture which they adopted toward the CIA, as producers of Fox’s “24.” Gordon and Gansa are masterful at playing on the audience’s post-9/11 paranoia. They employ outstanding skills to keep us in suspense, and our fears incline us to tolerate crimes we’d ordinarily find inexcusable.
As the recent Senate Intelligence Committee Report makes clear, one of the C.I.A.’s most atrocious crimes has been the routine torture of detainees. Kiefer Sutherland and the producers of “24” succeeded where Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld struggled: they made torture morally acceptable in Bush’s America. And, thanks to the Senate Report, we now have some idea of how wantonly the C.I.A. exploited that popular tolerance.
In Gordon and Gansa’s new show, Claire Danes follows in Sutherland’s footsteps, as C.I.A. officer Carrie Mathison, and “Homeland” is even more openly friendly to the C.I.A. than “24” was.
“Homeland” makes a hero of Mathison who orders Predator drone attacks from her new post in Pakistan. It shows that she is guilty of the murder of innocents, but, in the end, “Homeland” justifies and condones the real-life CIA practice of murder-by-drone, and its horrific “collateral damage.” Despite her crimes, Danes’s Mathison remains sympathetic and admirable.
Under Barack Obama, the CIA has dramatically expanded its drone-homicide program, the perfect expression of malice and cowardice. Obama has revealed that “Homeland” is one of his favorite television shows.
It’s troubling to me that The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Danes for a Golden Globe, and that the Screen Actors Guild, has nominated her and the cast of “Homeland,” including Patinkin, for SAG Actor Awards.
I can only express the hope that SAG and Emmy voters will consider the voice of their consciences, as well as their personal artistic standards, when they cast their ballots. Whatever their final conclusions may be, I hope they will allow the moral dimension to have a place in their own, private evaluations.
I myself would expect to be judged, not only on my performance in a project, but also on the moral values of the film or TV program in which I choose to exercise my skills. I received favorable reviews for my performances on “The Agency,” but the last thing I would have expected was any kind of award for the use of my craft in a deceitful project that condoned grievous crimes, including a catastrophic war of aggression.
The goodness or evil of a fictional character is not the issue. The moral stance of the movie or TV program is what matters. “Homeland”‘s Mandy Patinkin skillfully portrays a sympathetic and upright C.I.A. chief, Saul Berenson, who tries to discourage the misdeeds of his subordinates. Unfortunately, Patinkin’s Good Guy contributes to “Homeland”‘s false portrayal of the CIA as a benevolent, self-correcting institution.
I believe that writers, directors and actors all share responsibility for the world-view and the moral values a film or TV show promotes.
In my opinion, giving members of the “Homeland” cast a Screen Actors Guild Award would be tantamount to rewarding them, and their show, for promoting the C.I.A. and its criminal practices.
I do not advocate censorship. I just don’t think the legitimization of torture, disinformation, drone-killings, and other crimes should be rewarded.
Dave Clennon is a long-time actor and political agitator, probably best known for portraying the advertising mogul Miles Drentell on ABC’s thirtysomething. His more recent projects include: Syriana, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, Weeds, and The Mentalist.
Drones and Targeted Killing
Imagine living in a town or neighborhood where a serial killer is on the loose. The killer’s primary weapon is a pipe bomb filled with small metal projectiles like BBs and nails. The bombs are designed to kill and maim those in the vicinity of the explosion. The killer’s weapons are usually aimed at male targets, but quite often several others in the vicinity are also killed, including women and children. Oftentimes, a note is sent to the media after the attacks warning of future attacks unless the people being targeted give in to the killer or killers’ demands. The fact of the attacks’ unpredictability has created a perennial fear in the region, leaving every resident uncertain of their future and their family’s safety.
Now imagine the killer is the United States military and CIA. The pipe bombs are armed drones packing explosives powerful enough to kill everyone within a few hundred meters. Although the drones are not randomly aimed, the appearance to those targeted on the ground is that they are. In other words, nobody in the targeted vicinity knows when or exactly where the drone will hit and who it is intended to kill. In response, the local residents of the targeted area stay inside, not sending their children to school or going to work all the while hoping their families will not be murdered in the next attack. Then the drone strikes, killing at first a man and his fellow tea drinkers. The screams of the wounded and dying attract his neighbors, who go to retrieve the wounded. Some approach quickly while others much more tentatively, knowing of the likelihood of a second drone strike designed to kill the rescuers. Then, the silence.
Since the use of killer drones by the United States began, more than 3500 people have been killed. Many of those killed were civilians. The number of civilians killed depends on how one counts civilians. The US government tends to consider every male in a targeted area over the age of fourteen to be a militant (itself a rather ambiguous term) and does not count their deaths as civilian deaths even when it is clear they were not involved in hostilities. If we were to apply this metric to the deaths that occurred when the planes flew into the WTC on September 11, 2001, then it seems safe to assume that the number of civilian deaths in that event would drop quite a bit. I am not suggesting that we do this, merely pointing out that the statistics regarding deaths by drone published by the US government (and related corporations) are self-serving and, at best, only somewhat truthful when it comes to the numbers of civilian dead.
Marjorie Cohn is an attorney who teaches both international human rights law and criminal law. She is a former head of the National Lawyers Guild and the editor of the recently released book Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. This text includes entries written by attorneys, religious leaders, antiwar activists and others. The writers, while predominantly from the United States, also include (among others) Bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa and human rights activist Ishai Menuchin from Israel. As the title indicates, the essays cover the topic of assassination by drone and Special Forces hit squads through a variety of prisms. However, the primary prism is the prism of international law. The unanimous consensus of every writer is that these killings are illegal by virtually every measure and precedent that exists in the field of international law. […]
In short, this book is a rapid-fire attack on the US policy of targeted assassination by drone or other means. It is also a look at the origins of this policy in Tel Aviv’s onslaught against the Palestinians and its assassination of Palestinian leaders by missile strike and commando. Most importantly it is a reasoned and legalistic addition to the demand that this policy end now and forever. After reading this book, the best words I could come up with to describe the nature of the US policy of targeted killing and assassination by drone or other means are the same words spoken by Barack Obama in the wake of the recent murders of twelve journalists in Paris by men quickly labeled terrorists. To quote the US president, these killings are “cowardly, evil attacks.”
Western pundits who blithely assert that the Islamic Republic of Iran can or will cooperate with the United States in Iraq against ISIL ignore a basic problem; how can the US be a serious partner in fighting a terrorist movement that Washington may have played a critical role in creating?
When US Vice-President Joe Biden told an American university audience in October that Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are responsible for arming al-Nusra, ISIL, and other al-Qaeda-rooted extremists in Syria and that there is no “moderate middle” in the country, there was (as most non-Americans expected) little coverage of this stunning admission in the US mainstream media.
Indeed, what little coverage there was focused on Biden’s subsequent apologies to Turkish, Emirati, and Saudi leaders for having made such comments in the first place.
Predictably, there was no follow-up reporting in The New York Times reminding Americans that the US is itself complicit in funding and arming extremists in Syria.
CIA producing weapons
In early 2013, the newspaper reported what many in the region already knew; that since the beginning of 2012, the CIA had been deeply involved in procuring weapons for anti-Assad forces, airlifting arms to Jordanian and Turkish airports, and “vetting” rebel commanders – all to help US allies “support the lethal side of the civil war”. Other reports pointed out that these shipments were actually paid for by US allies, at the bidding of the Obama administration.
But, after the Biden revelation, the so-called “newspaper of record” made no reference to how the US, in violation of international law, helped to facilitate the Syrian civil war – and, in the process, to enable the rise of ISIL.
Western-backed extremism is neither a new nor regionally-bound concept. Whether it is the “Contra” rebels in Nicaragua or al-Qaeda-like groups in Afghanistan, the objective has always been to achieve strategic objectives through the infliction of mass suffering – for, in the “free and civilised world” of the US and its allies, the utopian end too often justifies the Mephistophelean means.
More recently, an important footnote to the Libyan civil war was the involvement of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, previously the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group as well as an al-Qaeda member.
He was one of many Libyan militants influenced by a takfiri (apostate) ideology; the groups with which he was affiliated were designated as terrorist organisations by the US State Department.
Nevertheless, he, along with other like-minded militants, became central components in the efforts of western and Arab-backed anti-Gaddafi forces to capture Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
Western willingness to cooperate with al-Qaeda (or “former” al-Qaeda) militants in Libya was a major turning point. Even the subsequent death of the US ambassador to Libya did not change US policy in this regard. Belhaj became the representative of Libya’s interim president after Gaddafi’s overthrow (before the complete ruin of the country).
More importantly, the willingness of the US and European and “Middle Eastern” allies to embrace al-Qaeda-like militants took US and western foreign policy in the region back to what it had been before the September 11, 2001 attacks – a policy of cooperation with violent extremists to undermine regional actors the West considers problematic.
Monster they created
This policy quickly expanded from Libya to Syria and the repercussions are being felt today in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Australia, and China.
After Gaddafi’s overthrow, Turkey – a NATO member – allegedly helped Belhaj to meet with leaders of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” in Istanbul and along the Syrian-Turkish border. In the meetings the former al-Qaeda leader discussed supporting the FSA with money, weapons, and fighters, at a time when the CIA was a major conduit for the transfer of weapons from Libya to Syria.
While Belhaj was just one of many al-Qaeda affiliates involved in violent anti-government campaigns in both Libya and Syria, his openly acknowledged role underscores how the supposedly “moderate” FSA was, from early on in the Syrian civil war, as Iran repeatedly warned, deeply associated with and infiltrated by extremists.
US arms sales hit record levels
Over time, the problem grew so large with ISIL’s rise that it became impossible to hide the monster that the US and its allies had created. And so, Washington launched yet another chapter in its never-ending post-9/11 “war on terror”.
Notwithstanding Washington’s professed determination to degrade and, ultimately, to destroy ISIL, Iran remains profoundly skeptical of US intentions.
Even after dramatic gains by ISIL in Iraq and the formation of a US-led coalition of the guilty to fight it, this coalition has, on average, carried out just nine airstrikes per day in both Iraq and Syria.
In comparison, western reports indicate that, in the same period, the Syrian air force alone has at times carried out up to 200 strikes in 36 hours. Even as these largely inconsequential US-led airstrikes are carried out in Iraq and Syria, some regional players continue to provide extensive logistical support to ISIL; along Syria’s borders with Jordan and the Israeli regime, the Nusra Front continues to collaborate with other extremist militias backed by foreign (including western) powers.
In light of these realities, Iranians – who have been indispensable in preventing the fall of Damascus, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Erbil – simply do not buy the argument that a repentant US is now waging a real war against ISIL, the Nusra Front, and other extremist organisations in Iraq and Syria.
Rather, Iranians see the evidence as pointing to a complex (yet foolish) policy undertaken by Washington and its allies for the purpose of “containing” the Islamic Republic.
What, then, would be the justification – under such circumstances and as Iranian allies are successfully pushing back extremists in Iraq and Syria – for the Islamic Republic to cooperate with the US in Iraq?
No matter how much some may try to tempt it, Iran will not play Faust to America’s Mephistopheles.
Seyed Mohammad Marandi is professor of North American Studies and dean of the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Reprieve | December 29, 2014
Previously secret documents obtained by Der Speigel – including a ‘Kill List’ that included both Pakistani and Afghan targets – have raised new concerns about British complicity in the US’s covert drone war in Pakistan.
The documents, detailed in an article published yesterday evening, show that NATO and British forces in Afghanistan planned to target and kill individuals that were located across the border in Pakistan. The UK government has consistently denied that it has taken strikes outside of Afghanistan and has refused to confirm whether and to what extent it is involved in the CIA’s covert drone war in Pakistan.
Other documents reportedly show that those included on the ‘kill list’ were limited not just to key Al Qaeda leaders, but extended to hundreds of other individuals. In some instances, nothing more than a cell phone intercept was need to initiate a strike. The list also targeted alleged drug dealers, the inclusion of whom potentially constitutes a violation of international law.
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, Staff Attorney at human rights NGO Reprieve, said: ‘Today’s revelations offer the most damning evidence to date of UK complicity in the covert drone war in Pakistan. The UK can no longer dodge questions by claiming the drone wars in Pakistan are a ‘matter for the states involved.’ These documents clearly show the UK is one of those states. The UK now needs to come clean about its role in executing a ‘kill list’ that goes far beyond targeting only militant leaders.”
The attack on the Peshawar school is a tragedy that sends senses reeling, an enormity that confounds the senses. It does not help however, to dismiss the people who committed this foul atrocity as ‘inhuman’, or to say they were not really Muslims. It is a convenient fiction that implies a most frustrating unwillingness and inability to understand how human beings are dehumanized and desensitized so they commit such dastardly acts under the moral cover of a perverted religiosity.
This unwillingness and inability to understand is deeply distressing because it shows how far away we are from even identifying what went wrong, and where- and hence, how far we are from any solution.
The international media has reflected — not surprisingly — a superficial, flat and ludicrously shallow grasp of the issues in Pakistan. The CNN (and other channels) repeatedly portrayed the incident as ‘an attack on children for wanting to get an education. ’ In fact, the UK Prime Minister himself tweeted: “The news from Pakistan is deeply shocking. It’s horrifying that children are being killed simply for going to school.” It actually reeks of how the media’s portrayal and use of Malala’s story has shaped a rather inaccurate narrative on Pakistan.
Years ago shortly after 9/11, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer had lamented Western politicians’ dim-witted understanding of terrorism and the motives behind it. Scheuer highlighted how dishonestly and dangerously Western leaders portrayed that the terrorists were ‘Against Our Way of Life’; that they were angry over the West’s progress as some deranged barbarians battling a superior civilization out of rank hatred. This rhetoric from Western politicians and the media ideologized terrorism and eclipsed the fact that terror tactics were actually a reaction to rapacious wars in Muslim (and other) lands often waged or sponsored by Western governments. It diverted focus from the heart of the problem and created a misleading and dangerous narrative of ‘Us versus Them’, setting global politics on a terrible ‘Clash of civilizations’ course.
Today, I remembered Scheuer again, browsing through responses to the Peshawar tragedy both on local social media as well as from people in positions of power; most reflected a facile understanding of the motives of terrorism.
The Taliban spokesman Umar Khorasani states: “We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females. We want them to feel the pain.”
Certainly, this is twisted and unacceptable logic. What is most outrageous is his attempt to give religious justification to it by twisting religious texts.
Certainly, the leadership of the TTP is guilty of a criminal abuse of religious sources to legitimize its vile motives and sell it to their conservative Pashtun following who are on the receiving end of Pakistan’s military offensive in the tribal areas. The TTP leaders have hands drenched in innocent blood. Even the Afghan Taliban have rejected the use and justification of such means by the TTP as unacceptable by any standards in an official statement.
But I wonder at those human beings chanting Arabic religious expressions who blew themselves up for the ‘glorious cause’ of taking revenge from innocent unsuspecting school children. I wonder how they had gone so terribly, terribly wrong in their humanity, their faith. Certainly, they were taken in with the TTP’s malevolent ideological justification for the rank brutality they committed. Certainly, they allowed themselves to be taken in because they perceived their miserable lives had no intrinsic worth except in being given up in order to exact vengeance.
I understood too when I heard a victim student writing in pain, vowing revenge. ‘I will grow up and make their coming generations learn a lesson’, he said. In that line, I understood so much about human psychology and the psychology of victimhood, and the innate need for avenging wrongdoing.
The problem with the public perception of the war in Pakistan is that we see only part of it: we see the heartrending images from Peshawar and elsewhere in the urban centres where terrorists have struck. But there is a war that we do not see, hidden from public view. This is the war in the tribal north. The familiar images we see from the war divide the Pakistani victims of this war into Edward Herman’s ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ victims — both, however, are innocent victims — the ones we see and the ones we do not. But because some victims are unworthier than others, the unworthy victim claims worth to his condemned life in dying, misled into thinking that death by killing others can be a vindication.
But sometimes the ones we are not allowed to see, make themselves visible in horrible, ugly ways; they become deafeningly loud to claim notice. And in the process, they make other victims — our own flesh and blood… And so it is our bloody burden to bear for fighting a war that was not ours, which has come to haunt us as our own.
The work of some independent journalists has highlighted the war we do not see in Waziristan; their work, however, has not made it to mainstream news. Such work has brought to light enormous ‘collateral damage’ figures. Some independent journalists have also focused on the plight of IDPs who feel alienated and forgotten by the Pakistani state and nation. It must be noted, however, that there is no access to the media in the areas where the army’s operation is going on. The news we get from the war zone is solely through the Pakistan Army; there is, hence, absolutely no counter-narrative from Waziristan. And hence our one-sided vision eludes a genuine understanding.
This unwillingness and inability to understand reflects in our uninsightful militarist approach to the problem in Waziristan. While the necessity of using military means to combat a real and present danger is understood, the need for it to be precisely targeted, limited in scope and time, and planned to eliminate or at least substantively minimize collateral damage is equally important. The need to efficiently manage the fallout of such an operation and rehabilitate affectees cannot be overemphasized. On all these counts, we need to have done more.
But perhaps the most vital understanding is that military operations are never the enduring solution. They may be needed to achieve specific necessary targets, but only with the aforementioned conditionalities to minimize the fallout. Moreover, the bigger, deeper problems have to be dealt with through a wider, more insightful non-military approach: listening and understanding, dialogue, mutual compromise and reconciliation, rehabilitation and peace-building. There are numerous examples in the past — even the recent past — of how war-ravaged communities drenched in the memory of oppression and pain, seething with unrelenting hate, have successfully undertaken peace-building. There have been temporary respites in this war in Pakistan whenever the two sides agreed to a ceasefire. That spirit ought to have lasted.
I understand that this sounds unreasonable on the backdrop of the recent atrocity, but there is no other way to give peace a chance. Retributive justice using force will prolong the violence and make more victims.
Since religion is often appealed to in this conflict, its role in peace-building has to be explored and made the best of. To break this vicious, insane cycle, there has to be a revival of the spirit of ‘Ihsan’ for a collective healing; that is, not indiscriminate and unrelenting retributive justice but wilful, voluntary forgiveness (other than for the direct, unrepentant and most mala fide perpetrators). This must be followed by long-term, systematic peace-building in Pakistan’s war-ravaged tribal belt in particular and the entire nation in general. Such peace-building will involve religious scholars, educators, journalists, social workers and other professionals. Unreasonable as it may sound, it is perhaps the only enduring strategy to mend and heal and rebuild. The spirit of ‘Ihsan’ has tremendous potential to salvage us, and has to be demonstrated from both sides. But because the state is the grander agency, its initiative in this regard is instrumental as a positive overture to the aggrieved party.
But this understanding seems to have been lost in the frenzy, just when it was needed most pressingly. I shudder to think what consequences a failure to understand this vital point can bring. The Pakistani nation has already paid an enormously heavy price.
Maryam Sakeenah is a student of International Relations based in Pakistan. She is also a high school teacher and freelance writer with a degree in English Literature. She is interested in human rights advocacy and voluntary social work and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five years on from President Barack Obama scooping a Nobel Peace Prize, and the White House has taken anything but a Zen approach to foreign policy under his watch. Here are the top 5 not-so-peaceful moves the laureate has made in the past half-decade.
1. Afghan Surge
Obama didn’t start the war gin Afghanistan, but he certainly took a page from his predecessors playbook in trying to finish it. He recognized his precarious position at prize time.
“But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the commander-in-chief of a nation in the midst of two wars,” he said after accepting the Nobel Prize in Oslo, Norway, on December 9, 2009.
While he said the war in Iraq was “winding down,” things in Afghanistan were just starting to heat up. A week before accepting the prize, Obama announced he was sending 33,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of his “surge policy,” intended to beat back the Taliban and train Afghan security forces to take the country into their own hands. The following years would become the deadliest for both US troops and Afghan civilians. Again, it wasn’t Obama’s war. But then came…
2. Military strikes in Libya
Following UN Resolution 1973 on March 17, 2011, which called for “an immediate ceasefire” in Libya and authorized the international community to set up a no-fly zone to protect civilians, Obama, along with his NATO allies, would soon launch military strikes to turn the tide of the 2011 Civil War in the North African state. NATO conducted 9,700 strike sorties and dropped over 7,700 precision bombs. A Human Rights Watch report would go on to detail eight incidents where at least 72 Libyan civilians died as a result of the aerial campaign.
But the real damage to overthrowing the Gaddafi regime came in the ensuing years, with the country descending into a civil war between Islamist forces and the weak post-revolutionary government. In August, Obama admitted his Libyan policy was a failure, but not because he chose to intervene militarily. Rather, he says the problem was that America and its European partners did not “come in full force” to take Gaddafi out. Although his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to rejoice in his death, wryly noting “We came, we saw, he died.”
3. Drone Wars in Yemen, Pakistan
Since the US first started targeting Yemeni militants in 2002, Obama has launched all but one of the 15 airstrikes and 101 drone strikes in the country. According to the web portal New America.net, which has meticulously complied data on the strikes, up to 1,073 people have been killed in the strikes. An estimated 81-87 of those killed were civilians, while the identity of another 31-50 remains unknown. But Yemen was just one prong in Obama’s so-called Drone War, though, as we shall see, it was the site of a game-changing incident.
Unlike in Yemen, drone strikes in Pakistan were in favor long before Obama came to power. A report conducted by Stanford and New York Universities’ Law schools found that between 2,562 and 3,325 people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September 2012. Anywhere between 474 and 881 of those were civilians, and 176 were children. While Obama didn’t start the Pakistani drone war, he aggressively expanded it.
Between 2004 and 2007, only 10 drone strikes were launched in Pakistan. The following year saw 36 such strikes, and 54 were launched in 2009.
But 2010 would be the deadliest year by far, with 122 strikes launched and 849 people killed. He would go on to authorize 73 and 46 strikes in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Following widespread opposition at home and abroad, in May 2013, Obama promised a new era of transparency to protect civilians, saying control of the program would be transferred from the CIA to the Pentagon. But…
4. Obama has a secret kill list
In February 2013, the Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating US citizens abroad came to light for the first time. According to the Justice Department document, the White House has the legal authority to kill Americans who are “senior operational leaders,” of Al-Qaeda or “an associated force” even if they are not actively engaged in any active plot to attack the US.
In September 2011, a US drone strike in Yemen killed two American citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. The following month, a drone strike killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who was born in Colorado.
The concept of the US president exercising the right to kill US citizens without the benefit of a trial has resonated throughout American culture.
In the comic-book-inspired film ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, the issue of targeted killings and “kill lists” features prominently in the plot.
5. Redrawing red lines
President Barack Obama drew a red line around Syria’s use of chemical weapons, pushing the international community to punish Damascus with military strikes following the August 21 Ghouta Attack.
But US-led airstrikes on Syria were only postponed. On August 8, 2014, the United States started bombing so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq to protect embattled Kurds. The following month, the US would launch airstrikes against IS militants in Syria as well. Of all the US military interventions in recent years, the battle against the IS has been met with widespread approval. Still, Syria was the seventh country Obama has bombed in six years.
Quite a feat for a Nobel Peace Prize-winner.
A rights group says many civilians have been targeted and killed in US drone attacks in Pakistan and other countries where such raids are carried out, Press TV reports.
The UK-based rights group Reprieve revealed that civilians have been killed in Pakistan and other places before militants were targeted by US assassination drones.
Reprieve has presented several cases on how ruthlessly the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has killed civilians but declared them militants through dubious reports in the media, which regularly cite anonymous Pakistani and US officials.
In one such case, the CIA killed 221 people, including over 100 children, in Pakistan in search of just four militants. This is while three of the militants are reportedly still alive and the fourth one has died of natural causes.
In another example, the report pointed out that on average each militant was targeted and reported killed more than three times before they were actually killed.
To kill one militant, sometimes “more than 300 people have been killed,” said Mirza Shazad Akbar, Reprieve’s representative in Pakistan.
“A former US drone operator said that by looking at the monitor and looking at people’s movement, he could actually tell who is a bad person and who is a good person… This is the extent of… the [US] flawed intelligence,” Akbar added.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the scale of tragedy in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where more than 3,800 people have been killed with the same pattern of the so-called precise surgical drone strikes.
The US carries out targeted killings through drone strikes in several Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants, but local officials and witnesses maintain that civilians have been the main victims of such raids over the past few years.
The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the US as the world’s number-one user of “targeted killings,” largely due to its drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Reprieve | November 19, 2014
A High Court judge has said that a victim of UK rendition and torture can proceed with his claims against the British Government.
In a judgment handed down today, Mr Justice Leggatt found that the court would be “failing in its duty” if it did not deal with the claims of Yunus Rahmatullah, from Pakistan. Mr Rahmatullah was seized by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 and tortured before being handed over to the US and rendered to Bagram prison in Afghanistan, via the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He suffered a further decade of secret US detention before he was finally released in June this year.
The UK long denied any involvement in rendition, before being forced to correct the record in Parliament in 2008, when then-Defence Secretary John Hutton publically admitted that the rendition of Mr Rahmatullah and another man, Amanatullah Ali, had taken place.
The judgment by Mr Justice Leggatt, published this morning, confirms he was unconvinced by the Government’s ‘Foreign Act of State’ argument – the theory that a British court cannot hear cases where the UK has cooperated with another state, in this case the US, in wrongdoing. Mr Leggatt wrote: “If it is necessary to adjudicate on whether acts of US personnel were lawful… in order to decide whether the defendants violated the claimant’s legal rights, then the court can and must do so.”
Today’s judgment follows a recent Court of Appeal ruling that a separate renditions case – Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and anor v Jack Straw and ors – should be heard, despite similar claims by the British Government that doing so would damage US-UK relations.
Kat Craig, legal director at charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Rahmatullah, said: “Yunus Rahmatullah suffered some of the most shocking abuses of the ‘war on terror’ – now we know the Government’s attempt to avoid accountability for his ordeal is without merit. The fact is that victims of British rendition and torture, like Yunus, deserve their day in court – the Government must accept this, and be prepared to answer for its past actions.”
Sapna Malik, Partner at Leigh Day said: “The High Court has rightly stated that it would be failing in its duty if it refused to adjudicate upon the allegations made in these claims just because it may be required to make findings about the conduct of US personnel. It is now high time for the British government to abandon its attempts to evade judicial scrutiny of its conduct in operations involving the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that justice may finally be served for what has passed and lessons learned for the future.”
A new confidential document of Pakistani security agencies reveals that a US security company, formerly known as Blackwater, has been involved in fostering unrest and instability in the restive southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, Press TV reports.
“The revelations were made by paramilitary forces in a briefing given to the chief minister of Balochistan that the American private company [formerly called] Blackwater, operating from neighboring Afghanistan, is involved in Balochistan’s unrest… They are supporting anti-state elements in the province,” said Zahid Gishkori, a Pakistani journalist, who has seen the classified report.
The newly-leaked document confirms earlier Pakistani media reports in 2011 that the US security company of Blackwater had launched a grand-scale operation to instigate insurgency and turmoil in Balochistan in an attempt to destabilize the country.
The report casts serious doubts over the veracity of the so-called US war on terror. Thousands of Pakistanis have so far lost their lives in bombings and other militant attacks since 2001, when Pakistan entered an alliance with the US in the so-called war on terror.
Pro-Taliban militants and some Baloch insurgent groups often carry out attacks against security forces as well as civilians in the country’s violence-ravaged province of Balochistan and have also managed to spread their influence in various regions of the country despite frequent offensives by the Pakistani army.
A number of Baloch militant groups say they want greater political autonomy and a share of the province’s natural resources.
Blackwater is a military company which provides the US federal government with security services. The company changed its name to Xe Services in 2009 and Academi in 2011.
The company is also notorious in Iraq for using aggressive tactics when defending American diplomats and visiting officials. Blackwater agents were involved in a series of deadly shooting incidents that infuriated Iraqi citizens and government.
In September 2007, Blackwater guards killed several Iraqis at Baghdad’s Nisour Square, prompting the Iraqi government to expel the infamous security firm.
Drones Kill So Malala Can Live.
Sign at a vigil, Pakistan, noted in The Nation, October 10, 2014
There were two recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize this year – the rather less known Kailish Satyarthi and near celebrity cherished Malala Yousafzai. In awarding the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee deftly ignored the perceived frontrunner, Pope Francis. Il Papa will have to wait his turn.
Those getting it will always be marred by the contradictions any peace prize suggests. The greatest of all remains the fact that the dynamite guru – Alfred Nobel himself – did as much for the cause of war as he decided his profits would supposedly do for peace. Peace was a sentimental afterthought. Many winners of the prize have since kept this legacy alive: that of war maker turned peace maker; a fair share of hypocrisy, with a good share of feigned sincerity.
Satyarthi doesn’t seem to suffer those problems. He made his name targeting the persistent use of child-labour in India. In the business of freeing slaves, it is hard not to admire efforts that saw the freeing of over 80,000 children from a state of servitude.
In contrast, the photogenic seventeen-year old Pakistani, Malala Yousafzai, is both the prop of an agenda, and the cause of a program. In 2012, she received life threatening wounds to the head from the Taliban for her stance on girls’ education in the SWAT valley. In suffering those injuries, she gave a problem a face and voice. She is also the perfect poster girl for Western middle-class anxieties, one which Zeynep Tufekci has described as “finding a young woman we admire that we all want to take home as if to put on a shelf to adore.”
What of, argues historian Sarah Waheed, the Malalas you do not see? They are very much the victims of a dysfunctional relationship between Pakistan and the United States, one that is all too brutally characterised by the continued use of drone strikes and bundles of US aid. “Unlike Malala Yousafzai… Madonna did not dedicate a song to them, nor has Angelina Jolie spoken out on their behalf.” They are the faceless ones, the sort that celebrities so conspicuously resist. Malala, on the other end, is ideological candy for the morally outraged in Hollywood and beyond. She did, after all, survive.
The congratulatory tone is invariably gushing, and the Malala cheer squad is both heavily staffed and noisy with inspirational snippets. Dominique Mosbergen, writing in The Huffington Post, gives eight reasons why Malala “is an inspiration to us all.” What are some of them? Bravery, for one. Another: tremendous compassion. Importantly, Malala has to be seen as a universal figure, rather than one with particular aptitude in dealing with problems of education in her own country. “Malala advocates for young women everywhere.”
Malala may well strike fear into the gun men of the Taliban. She may well terrify, in her own specific way, the theocrats who stand guard over jaundiced traditions and archaic law. “Armed men run scared of an unarmed girl.” But something else is at work in what seems to be a form of witting, and unwitting deification. It ignores, for instance, that she is being perceived in some quarters of her country as a symbol of Western sponsored interference. (This takes the form, most blatantly, in the charge that she is a product of the CIA doll factory.)
Malala, in what is becoming something of a sanctification project, risks falling into the role of a moral cipher for a range of other causes in a global battle that is both political and cultural. She is a moral reminder, but also an alibi for actions taken under the cover of improvement. She has become a politicised Shirley Temple, a child politician of the developing world. Her life under Taliban rule – which she no longer experiences by virtue of her move to Britain – is becoming the cudgel to use, be it in her statements against the Taliban, or her general pronouncements on the BBC reflecting on those harrowing experiences under their rule.
This is the tragedy of politics and morality – at a certain point, manipulation is unavoidable, be it through its own self-justifying propaganda, or basic sloganeering. The public relations watchers have quickly noted the “important binary” of selecting “a Pakistani Muslim” and “an Indian Hindu”. “Their joint selection,” argues Elias Groll in Foreign Policy, “is an obvious nod towards the ongoing efforts to bring a peaceful end to Pakistan and India’s long-standing conflict with one another”.
Weapons get sharpened in the name of what perceived justice is – even some of Pakistan’s liberal elite have allied their interests with US drone strikes aimed for a higher good. The funding institutes get busy. The think tank circuits issue invitations. A drooling press corps, and a hyperventilating blogosphere, finds in Malala another child crusader. Her quotes are tweeted like a bestselling manual of self-help instructions – “12 powerful and inspiring quotes”. Editor of the Pakistan Observer, Tariq Khattak, sees the crudest form of branding at work. In his words to the BBC Newshour, Malala’s “father is a good salesman, that’s it. And the daughter has also become a salesgirl. And they are dancing on the tunes of the West.”
There is the other side of the peace and education crusade. It is the political mettle that is coming to the fore, a cool yet discerning sense that she is becoming a figure in the folds of a contradictory history. Malala, over time, has matured into a moving advertiser of causes, even telling CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that she intends leading Pakistan. “Through politics, I believe I can serve my whole country.”
That maturity, however, is in an ever problematic dance with Malala the emblem – one that European and American voices can use in their cultural causes against other states even as villages get struck by the lethal work of drones. Sainthood and martyrdom tend to be poor tools for measuring actual change.