41 posts tagged drones
Oct. 30 2013
“I wasn’t scared of drones before, but now when they fly overhead I wonder, ‘Will I be next?’” That is the question asked by 9-year-old Nabila Rehman, from northwest Pakistan. She was injured in a drone attack a year ago, in her small village of Ghundi Kala. She saw her grandmother, Mamana Bibi, blown to pieces in the strike. Her brother Zubair also was injured. Their case has become the latest to draw attention to the controversial targeted killing program that has become central to President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and global war-making.
“We really just have a very simple message to the U.S.: How do you justify killing a grandmother? How does that make anyone safer?” Mustafa Qadri posed the question on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. Qadri authored a new Amnesty International report titled “‘Will I Be Next?’ U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.”
Nabila and Zubair are unique among the growing number of drone-strike victims: They were able to appear before Congress, along with their father, Rafiq ur Rehman, to testify about the strike and the devastation it brought to their family. They are featured in a new documentary being released for free on the Internet this week, “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars,” by Brave New Films. In it, Rafiq, a primary-school teacher, describes that day:
“People enjoyed life before the attacks. It was 2:45 on October 24th of 2012. After school finished I went into town to buy school supplies.” When he returned home, they told him his mother was dead. There was a crater where her garden was. She was picking okra with the children. “That’s where my mother was killed,” Rafiq continues. “My family has been destroyed since my mother was killed.” Nine children in all were injured, as this drone strike fit a typical pattern, with one initial strike, followed closely by another to hit the rescuers.
13-year-old Zubair testified before Congress: “When the drone fired the first time, the whole ground shook and black smoke rose up. The air smelled poisonous. We ran, but several minutes later the drone fired again. People from the village came to our aid and took us to the hospital. We spent the night in great agony at the hospital, and the next morning I was operated on.”
Attacking rescuers is a war crime. Mustafa Qadri from Amnesty International explained: “For example, some laborers in a very impoverished village near the Afghanistan border, they get targeted, eight die instantly in a tent; those who come to rescue or to look for survivors are themselves targeted. In great detail, eyewitnesses, victims who survive, tell us about the terror, the panic, as drones hovered overhead. … There’s a very high threshold for proving [war crimes]. With the secrecy surrounding the program, the remoteness of this area, we can only get the truth once the U.S. comes clean and explains what is the justification for these killings.”
President Obama himself consistently defends the accuracy and legality of the targeted killing program. He was directly challenged on it recently, though, by his own 16-year-old human-rights hero, Malala Yousafzai. She is the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for her outspoken support for educating girls and women. Many thought she would win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. While the White House did not publicize her comments, Malala released a separate statement about her visit with the Obamas, saying, “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
Resistance to Obama’s drone wars is growing. In upstate New York, in a surprise ruling, five anti-drone activists were acquitted after being tried for blocking the gate of Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse. Code Pink is organizing a national conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16-17, called “Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance.” And at least one drone pilot, Brandon Bryant, a former sensor operator for the U.S. Air Force Predator program, has now spoken out about the horrors of killing innocent civilians and the post-traumatic stress disorder that followed.
While only five members of Congress (all Democrats) came to hear the Rehman family testify, the words of young Zubair are now on the record, a painful testament to Obama’s policy of so-called targeted killing with drones:
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray. And for a short period of time, the mental tension and fear eases. When the skies brighten, though, the drones return, and so, too, does the fear.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.
“Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts … These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Every parent can connect with what President Barack Obama said about the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. There can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people of that town.
It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute analysis of what happened and why.
If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as “bug splats”, “since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed”. Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back”.
Science writer John Horgan’s feature on the many ways drones will be used in coming years is interesting throughout, and terrifying in the passage where he describes an effort to build micro-drones that are, as the U.S. Air Force describes them, “Unobtrusive, pervasive, and lethal.”
Air Force officials declined a request to observe flight tests at a “micro-aviary” they’ve built, he reported, but they did let him see a video dramatization “starring micro-UAVs that resemble winged, multi-legged bugs. The drones swarm through alleys, crawl across windowsills, and perch on power lines. One of them sneaks up on a scowling man holding a gun and shoots him in the head.”(at 3 minutes in)
Full Story: The Atlantic
Here are just a few of the reviews:
- "Whether your violating constitutional rights at home, or bombing children abroad, this toy’s perfect for all clandestine missions! Double tap strike to triple your pleasure and casualties!"
- “The coolest detail about this toy are the small body fragments you can litter around your target area following a drone missile strike on a wedding party. THEN (this is where the real fun begins) you circle back in an hour and fire MORE missiles at the people rescuing survivors and mourning the dead! Sure if another country did such a thing we’d decry it as heinous terrorism, but when good Ol’ Uncle Sam’s finger is on the joystick, you can bet that we call what we hit our target, no matter what.”
- “Nothing teaches your kids about the fact that they may one day be the target of an extra-judicious execution by executive order via a flying death robot from the movie Terminator, then this beautiful piece of replica toy war crimes.”
- “I really wanted to show my toddler that it’s okay to murder people and still come out a “hero” as long as you’re in an air conditioned trailer remotely operating a Predator Drone 10,000 miles away in Pakistan.
I mean, if the government sanctions murder, it must be ok, right?”
- "… I bought ten of these for my boy because, as he so rightly says, “So many countries, so little time”. He hasn’t played with his Matchbox V2 Buzz Bomb once since he became a “Drone Operator”. It’s given him a real grasp of imperialism, murder of innocents, the art of war and the complex geography of the Middle East. Thank You Maisto, we look forward to your Cluster Bomb, Land Mine and Gas canister multi pack with anticipation hitherto unseen in the world of play.”
The United States has carried out more drone strikes this year in Afghanistan than it has during its eight-year-long air war in Pakistan, launching 447 strikes and killing thousands while also reducing its air surveillance.
At a time when the US is transitioning military power to the Afghan government and planning its 2014 withdrawal, it broke a new record with the 447 drone strikes it launched in the war-torn country in 2012. Not only did the US launch more drones this year than ever before, but it carried out more strikes in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan in the past eight years, which is how long the CIA has been conducting such strikes. About 338 drone strikes have been launched in Pakistan.
The data, which was released by the US Air Force, shows that drone strikes have been steadily increasing in Afghanistan, even after former terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 and the conflict has been winding down. Last year, the US carried out 294 drone strikes in Afghanistan, which was up from 278 in 2010.
The average number of drone strikes per month has also been on the rise. This year, the average was 33 drone strikes, while last year, it was 24.5 At the same time, drone strikes have been increasingly criticized by both legislators and the American public.
A soldier sets out to graduate at the top of his class. He succeeds, and he becomes a drone pilot working with a special unit of the United States Air Force in New Mexico. He kills dozens of people. But then, one day, he realizes that he can’t do it anymore.
For more than five years, Brandon Bryant worked in an oblong, windowless container about the size of a trailer, where the air-conditioning was kept at 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) and, for security reasons, the door couldn’t be opened. Bryant and his coworkers sat in front of 14 computer monitors and four keyboards. When Bryant pressed a button in New Mexico, someone died on the other side of the world.
The container is filled with the humming of computers. It’s the brain of a drone, known as a cockpit in Air Force parlance. But the pilots in the container aren’t flying through the air. They’re just sitting at the controls.
Bryant was one of them, and he remembers one incident very clearly when a Predator drone was circling in a figure-eight pattern in the sky above Afghanistan, more than 10,000 kilometers (6,250 miles) away. 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?
When Bryant left the container that day, he stepped directly into America: dry grasslands stretching to the horizon, fields and the smell of liquid manure. Every few seconds, a light on the radar tower at the Cannon Air Force Base flashed in the twilight. There was no war going on there.
Modern warfare is as invisible as a thought, deprived of its meaning by distance. It is no unfettered war, but one that is controlled from small high-tech centers in various places in the world. The new (way of conducting) war is supposed to be more precise than the old one, which is why some call it “more humane.” It’s the war of an intellectual, a war United States President Barack Obama has promotedmore than any of his predecessors.
In a corridor at the Pentagon where the planning for this war takes place, the walls are covered with dark wood paneling. The men from the Air Force have their offices here. A painting of a Predator, a drone on canvas, hangs next to portraits of military leaders. From the military’s perspective, no other invention has been as successful in the “war on terror” in recent years as the Predator.
The US military guides its drones from seven air bases in the United States, as well as locations abroad, including one in the East African nation of Djibouti. From its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the CIA controls operations in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
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(Photo Credit: Gilles Mingasson/ DER SPIEGEL)
The seventeen named in the order were all arrested in October following an attempt to block several entryways onto the base. Though this was just the latest in a series of protests directed at the US drone program which operates out of Hancock, the group interprets the order as an escalation against their efforts and a direct assault on their right to peaceably assemble and voice grievances to their government for acts they deem illegal under domestic and international law.
The seventeen activists are forbidden to do the following:
…assault, stalking, harassment, aggravated harassment, menacing, reckless endangerment, strangulation, criminal obstruction of breathing or circulation, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, intimidation, threats or any criminal offense or interference with the victim or victims of, or designated witnesses to the alleged offense and such members of the family or household of such victim(s) or witness(es) as shall be specifically named Earl A Evans.
This is completely absurd.
The roars celebrating the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama on television give Mohammad Rehman Khan a searing headache, as years of grief and anger come rushing back.
The 28-year-old Pakistani accuses the president of robbing him of his father, three brothers and a nephew, all killed in a U.S. drone aircraft attack a month after Obama first took office.
“The same person who attacked my home has gotten re-elected,” he told Reuters in the capital, Islamabad, where he fled after the attack on his village in South Waziristan, one of several ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border.
“Since yesterday, the pressure on my brain has increased. I remember all of the pain again.”
In his re-election campaign, Obama gave no indication he would halt or alter the drone program, which he embraced in his first term to kill al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan without risking American lives.
Drone strikes are highly unpopular among many Pakistanis, who consider them a violation of sovereignty that cause unacceptable civilian casualties.
“Whenever he has a chance, Obama will bite Muslims like a snake. Look at how many people he has killed with drone attacks,” said Haji Abdul Jabar, whose 23-year-old son was killed in such a bombing.
Analysts say anger over the unmanned aircraft may have helped the Taliban gain recruits, complicating efforts to stabilize the unruly border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. That could also hinder Obama’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Obama authorized nearly 300 drone strikes in Pakistan during his first four years in office, more than six times the number during the administration of George W. Bush, according to the New America Foundation policy institute.
Since 2004, a total of 337 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,908 and 3,225 people.
He would’ve turned 17 two months ago.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Western imperialist states with the support of the United Nations Security Council are preparing for a full-scale military intervention in the West African state of Mali. Since March the country has been in a severe political crisis with the advent of a military coup and the effective partitioning of the north and south of the country.
France under the government of Francois Hollande has moved surveillance drones to West Africa and is engaging in secret talks with the United States officials in Paris. Mali, which was colonized by France in the 19th century, won its independence in 1960.
Although the French and the U.S. claim that any military involvement must be led by a regional African force, both Paris and Washington have strong ties with the security apparatus in Mali. Prior to the coup that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure in March, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) had established training programs and joint operations with the Malian army.
This planned intervention is being carried out under the guise of fighting al-Qaeda in North and West Africa. The Tuareg people represented by several organizations in northern Mali, have been at odds with the central government in Bamako in the south for many years.
In the aftermath of the U.S.-NATO engineered war of regime-change in Libya, many Tuaregs re-located back to northern Mali where they have had a presence for many centuries. The Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is credited with leading the campaign for the seizure of several major cities in the north of the country earlier this year and the declaration of a separate state of Azawad.