The more closely one looks at the attacks by US drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere the more ghastly and counterproductive they become. One of the latest reports in the mainstream media is a Mail Online piece for Sunday 20 October which, under the headline CIA chiefs face arrest over horrific evidence of bloody ‘video game’ sorties by drone pilots, begins:
The Mail on Sunday today reveals shocking new evidence of the full horrific impact of US drone attacks in Pakistan.
A damning dossier assembled from exhaustive research into the strikes’ targets sets out in heartbreaking detail the deaths of teachers, students and Pakistani policemen. It also describes how bereaved relatives are forced to gather their loved ones’ dismembered body parts in the aftermath of strikes.
The dossier has been assembled by human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who works for Pakistan’s Foundation for Fundamental Rights and the British human rights charity Reprieve.
Filed in two separate court cases, it is set to trigger a formal murder investigation by police into the roles of two US officials said to have ordered the strikes. They are Jonathan Banks, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Islamabad station, and John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s former chief lawyer. Mr Akbar and his staff have already gathered further testimony which has yet to be filed.
The paper goes on to say
According to a report last month by academics at Stanford and New York universities, between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed since the strikes in Pakistan began in 2004.
The report said of those, up to 881 were civilians, including 176 children. Only 41 people who had died had been confirmed as ‘high-value’ terrorist targets.
Read the full report here.
The US certainly doesn’t learn fast how easily the capability of its drones can be misused and how counterproductive it can be. In No way to win a war (May 2011) I reported on the tragic tale of how an American Predator drone crew working out of an air force base in Nevada managed to convince itself that a convoy of three Afghan vehicles and a pickup truck heading along a dirt road in a remote region 200 miles southwest of Kabul was a group of insurgents, deploy Kiowa helicopters onto the convoy, and carry out a lethal assault on the vehicles.
It was a tale of a disastrous lack of cultural awareness: when the convoy stopped at dawn for the participants to disembark for prayer, this was taken as a key indicator that the members were Taliban. It was also, to my mind, a tale of a desperate desire for this to be a Taliban convoy, born perhaps of the sheer boredom of driving a surveillance drone day after day, looking for something out of the ordinary that might be a legitimate target.
That episode ended with General Stanley McChrystal, then the top US commander in Afghanistan, apologizing to President Hamid Karzai and issuing letters of reprimand to four senior and two junior officers in Afghanistan, and the Air Force visiting undisclosed punishment on the Predator crew, but none of that brings the dead back to life and it does not seem that the basic problem of over-reliance on technology, accompanied by an attendant capacity to shrug off “collateral damage” in the form of loss of non-American life, has ever been or will ever be addressed.
Unfortunately the legal process in contemplation depends upon an international arrest warrant being issued against the two Americans through Interpol, based upon a judgment in a Pakistani court. I find it hard to imagine them ever facing a day of reckoning; they will be regarded in their own country as patriots doing their duty, and I am sure their Commander-in-Chief, who says he personally approves all the targets, will find a way to protect them. It seems inevitable that the “War on Terror” will blunder on in its bloody, hyper-technical, counterproductive way.