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Forum Post: Afghan Families Want Accountability, Not Apologies

Posted 10 years ago on Oct. 21, 2013, 4:05 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Afghan Families Want Accountability, Not Apologies

Monday, 21 October 2013 09:44 By Giuliano Battiston, IPS News | Op-Ed


The dusty cemetery in Saracha village hosts three new graves: small hills of soil shielding the bodies of Sahebullah, Wasihullah and Amanullah, three of the five boys and young men killed by an ISAF-NATO airstrike on late Friday, Oct. 4.

According to the first ISAF-NATO reports, the five were “enemy forces”, “insurgents”, killed with a “precision strike”. According to the white banner overlooking their graves, they are “martyrs”: innocent people killed by error.

Wasihullah and Amanullah were brothers. They used to live in a house not far from the cemetery in Saracha village in the district of Beshud at the door of Jalalabad, the main city in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Their father, Qasim Hazrat Khan, shows IPS the place where they were killed, just behind his house.

Amanullah was about 21 years old (civil registries here are not common), and had a wife and three daughters. Khan produces a card showing that Amanullah was working for the Afghan government forces since March this year.

His brother Wasihullah was 10 years old, a student in fifth class in Samarkheel’s high school, not far from Saracha. Friday evening they were with Sahebullah, 14, who “was an apprentice in a metalworkers shop in Jalalabad,” his brother Nader Shah, 35, told IPS.

Asadullah Delsos and Gul Nabi were the other two boys with them. Asadullah, “a 14-year-old boy, was still waiting to have his first whiskers,” said Khan. Gul Nabi “was a 15-year-old boy, whose family comes from Pachir in Khogyani district. He worked as a carpenter in Kabul, but he used to come here whenever his parents needed his help.”

Khan said the five boys were sitting in the open space behind his house “after they went hunting for birds with badì (air guns).” Around 10 pm he heard “the first of three long-lasting shooting-sequences. When it stopped, I reached the roof and saw at least two helicopters and, far from here, some planes without pilots.”

When the shooting started again, he waited inside the house until he heard someone screaming: “Brother, your kids have been killed.” He came out and tried to reach them, he said, “but the American soldiers told me to keep away.” The bodies were carried to the main Jalalabad hospital “only at 1.40 am,” said Nader Shah. “We were able to have them back in our hands after 2.30 am.”

Early Saturday morning Asadullah’s father Dagarwal Khan Agha, a logistics officer in the city jail, received a call. He had thought his son was sleeping in his parents’ house in Saracha. “They said I had to go to the hospital. Once there, I was told my son was in the morgue.” The elder brother of Dagarwal Khan Agha, Malim Said Agha, still cannot understand “how those young boys could be confused with insurgents. They were just kids. The Americans killed innocent people. This was confirmed by the Afghan authorities,” he told IPS. Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesperson for the governor of Nangarhar province, told IPS by phone: “The Nangarhar deputy governor, Mohammed Hanif Gardiwal, sent an envoy to Beshud, together with an envoy sent by President Hamid Karzai: their inquiry states the five boys had no links with insurgency.”

ISAF-NATO have not yet publicly admitted the airstrike was an error. Contacted by IPS, Lieutenant-Colonel Will Griffin, chief of the press desk at the headquarters of ISAF Public Affairs, said “the incident is still under investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”

According to the victims’ families, ISAF-NATO representatives acknowledged the mistake privately. “One of the foreign commanders of the Jalalabad airfield invited me to his office on Tuesday Oct. 8. He accepted the error and apologised for it. The same happened the day after at the governor’s palace,” Khan told IPS.

The meeting on Wednesday Oct. 9 was confirmed to IPS by Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesperson for the governor of Nangarhar. Former Nangarhar governor Gul Agha Sherzai (he resigned a couple of weeks ago to run for the next presidential elections), his deputy Mohammed Hanif Gardiwal, several representatives of the Afghan security forces, including Colonel Sahib Khan, head of security in Beshud district and General Abdul Rahman from Kabul, a representative of the interior ministry, took part in the meeting. In addition there were some tribal leaders, the relatives of the five killed boys and “two foreign envoys”, whose name is not known. “The two Americans apologised, admitting they have killed innocent people,” Agha told IPS.

“In front of all the participants they said they made an error,” said Khan. Abdulzai said “the Americans offered their apology in front of the victims’ families and Nangarhar’s authorities.”

All the victims’ relatives this IPS correspondent met said they had received some offers from the “foreign envoys” as a form of ‘compensation’.

“The Americans said they would help us, now and in future,” said Agha. “They did not offer any amount of money, but when we left the palace we found some cars with sacks of food. We all agreed to refuse that offer: we are poor but we do not sell our own blood.” “Our request is clear,” Khan told IPS. “Give us the pilots of the two helicopters. We will handle them according to our culture, to the Holy Quran and to what the Hadith prescribes. Then, we will give them back to the U.S., saying ‘we are very sorry’, as they did with us.” “Over the past years the Americans have killed many innocent people, also children and women,” said Agha. “They just say ‘we apologise’. It’s time for them to be accountable for their wrong actions.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Drone Victims Tell Empty US House Their Story; Is America Listening?

Friday, 01 November 2013 10:41 By Rania Khalek, Truthout | News Analysis


"We do not kill our cattle the way the US is killing humans in Waziristan with drones." - Rafiq ur Rehman

"I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey." - Zubair Rehman, 13 "Now, I am always scared." - Nabila Rehman, 9

Pakistani school teacher Rafiq ur Rehman traveled over 7,000 miles with his children - 13-year-old Zubair and 9-year-old Nabila - from a small, remote village in North Waziristan to tell lawmakers about the US drone strike that killed his 67-year-old mother, Mamana Bibi. It was a harrowing tale that brought many in the room to tears, including Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who was responsible for inviting the family to Capitol Hill for the briefing.

In the end, only five members of the US House of Representatives bothered to attend. Grayson was joined by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D- Ill.), Rush Holt (D-NJ), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).

Meanwhile, President Obama, according to his October 29 schedule, was meeting with the CEOs of Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, both of which manufacture drones. More importantly, Lockheed Martin manufactures hellfire missiles, the very weapon fired from the drone that killed Mamana Bibi.

Though Obama did not publicly acknowledge the briefing, his actions the next day suggest he was either unmoved or did not tune in. Just one day after the Rehman family addressed Congress, a US drone strike killed three people and injured at least three more in North Waziristan. The identities of the dead have yet to be confirmed, but Pakistani intelligence officials say they were suspected militants, the same claim made in the aftermath of Mamana Bibi's death.

In Their Own Words

"On October 24, 2012, a CIA drone killed my mother and injured my children," Rehman said, speaking through a translator. And so began the first time members of Congress heard a drone victim tell their story.

"Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day," he continued. "Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother's house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day. "She was the string that held our family together. Since her death, the string has been broken, and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost."

Rehman was returning from buying groceries when he learned his mother had been killed. "When I heard this news, all the groceries - the fruits and sweets I had bought - just fell from my hands. It was as if a limb had been cut from my body to hear the news of my mother's death," he told Truthout.

"All my neighbors and relatives were telling me to come immediately to the mosque because they were going to start the prayers. But I said no, I want to go to my house, I want to see my mom's face before they bury her to rest. They were telling me that no, you don't want to see the condition she is in," said Rehman. "Later, I realized that because she was blown to pieces, they collected whatever they could and put it in a box. I wanted to see my mom's face for the last time but they had taken her remains and put it into a box."

The day before, Eid and Rehman's mother was outside with eight of her grandchildren picking okra. Both Zubair and Nabila said they noticed a drone overhead but, as Zubair explained, "I wasn't worried because we are not militants."

Nabila described to Truthout what happened next. "All of the sudden I heard this 'dum dum' noise, and I saw these two white lights come down and hit right where my grandmother was. Everything had become dark, and it was smelling weird. I was really scared and didn't know what to do so I started to run, and I just kept running and running," she said.

"I felt some pain in my hand. When I looked, it was bleeding. I tried to bandage it and wipe it with my scarf to stop the bleeding but the blood just kept coming out. I had lost a lot of blood. Next thing I know I ended up in a hospital and it was evening time."

Zubair's experience was equally as horrific. "My grandmother was blown up into pieces, and I got injured in my leg," he told Truthout. "At the funeral, everyone was trying to console me, saying, 'We all lost a grandmother.' There was no one else like her. She would always make sure that we would have something to eat, and she would always make our favorite meals or buy our favorite fruits from the market."

Zubair has since undergone multiple surgeries to have shrapnel removed from his leg. Medical costs have piled up, forcing Rehman to borrow money and sell his land to pay for treatment. In the meantime, the US government has yet to provide an explanation for the strike or offer any compensation to the family for their loss, which appears to be a widespread problem. The peace group Codepink recently discovered that over the last four years, not a single dime of the $40 million allocated by Congress for that purpose has gone to Pakistani victims of drone strikes.

Rep. Grayson told Truthout he was unaware of the problem but promised to have his office look into it.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Since the briefing, Rehman says no one from the US government has approached him about compensation, though he stressed, "That's not the reason why I came here. I wasn't looking for any compensation in any way. What I was coming here to do is tell the truth, to share my story. This is about humanity. This is about the truth. This is about justice."

The briefing came one week after the release of several scathing reports by human rights organizations and the UN criticizing the US drone program as a violation of international law. The Obama administration responded to the UN by defending the program as "necessary, legal and just."

Amnesty International, which investigated 45 drone strikes carried out in Pakistan's North Waziristan region between January 2012 and August 2013, accused the United States of "exploiting the lawless and remote nature of the local region to evade accountability for violations of the right to life." Amnesty was particularly concerned about "signature strikes," where drone operators fire on unidentified groups of people based on patterns of behavior that signify militant activity. A signature strike is believed to have killed 18 laborers and injured 22 others in July 2012, according to the report, which also documents several double-taps or follow-up strikes targeting rescuers and mourners. Amnesty concluded that up to 900 civilians have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan in "unlawful killings that may constitute . . . war crimes."

Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, the White House has insisted that the president requires "near-certainty" that civilians will not be harmed before approving a drone strike, adding that there is a "wide gap" between the administration's casualty numbers and those of the nongovernmental organizations. Unfortunately, it is impossible to compare the two because the White House refuses to release its data. That being said, if the president's numbers are significantly lower, it might be related to his definition of the term "militant." Obama tallies "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," a counting method that surely lowers the casualty number.

Shahzad Akbar, the Rehman family's attorney who was refused a visa to attend the briefing, told Truthout that Obama administration claims about low civilian casualties are absurd. "Either [Obama] is lying or he is being lied to," he said.

Akbar is a legal fellow with the British human rights group Reprieve and the director of the Pakistan-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights, where he represents over 150 drone strike victims. "I didn't expect this from Obama," he said. "I liked him. I thought that he was the hope of East meets West. He turned out to be the biggest disappointment." Akbar continued, "Obama's first drone strike hit a house filled with civilians, and he was informed of this fact. But what does he do? He escalates the drone strikes."

At the briefing, the lawmakers were asked repeatedly whether certain drone strikes constituted war crimes, as suggested by Amnesty International. All deflected the question except for Grayson, who argued that US drone strikes are not war crimes because the killing of civilians is not "deliberate."

Asked whether signature strikes, which target unidentified persons, might constitute war crimes, Grayson declined to speculate, calling instead for more transparency. "I do think that there is overwhelming evidence that we need a different, more reliable system if we're going to be undertaking operations like this," he told Truthout. But according to Reprieve attorney Jennifer Gibson, intention is not the only litmus test.

"[Intention] matters to the degree that you are required to be proportionate in your targeting to minimize civilian casualties," Gibson told Truthout. "To the extent that you're being deliberately negligent in minimizing civilian casualties, which is the category that signature strikes would fall into, then yes, in certain instances we very well might be committing war crimes." But there are no agreed-upon parameters for proportionality. Still, Gibson argued, "What I do know is a grandmother and her eight grandchildren is disproportionate."

"Before, I would hear the drones but I didn't think much of it. I would just go about my daily life. I'd want to go to school. There would hardly be a time that I would refuse to go outside," Zubair told Truthout. "But now, after I've seen what's happened to me and my family and that I've had two operations, I'm scared. I don't want to go outside anymore. I don't feel like playing cricket, volleyball and soccer with my friends. I don't even want to go to school. I just fear every time I hear the noise overhead."

Zubair added that there are already too few schools in his community and due to the fear of drone strikes, "students have stopped going to the ones that exist," echoing a report published last year by Stanford and NYU, in which researchers observed that the presence of US drones buzzing over northwest Pakistan 24 hours a day "terrorizes men, women and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities," who "have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves." As a result, "Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school."

"As a teacher, my job is to educate. But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand?" asked Rehman, bringing his translator to tears. "How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?"

"In the end I would just like to ask the American public to treat us as equals. Make sure that your government gives us the same status of a human with basic rights as they do to their own citizens," said Rehman. "This indiscriminate killing has to end, and justice must be delivered to those who have suffered at the hands of the unjust." Rafiq, Zubair and Nabila stood bravely before the US Empire and demanded peace. Let's hope that America listens.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

"These Drones Attack Us and the Whole World Is Silent": New Film Exposes Secret US War

Friday, 01 November 2013 11:35 By Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! | Video Interview


A U.S. drone strike killed three people in northwest Pakistan earlier today, marking the first such attack since Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif publicly called for President Obama to end the strikes. Just last week, Amnesty International said the United States may be committing war crimes by killing innocent Pakistani civilians in drone strikes. Today we air extended clips from the new documentary, "Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars," and speak to filmmaker Robert Greenwald. The film looks at the impact of U.S. drone strikes through more than 70 interviews with attack survivors in Pakistan, a former U.S. drone operator, military officials and more. The film opens with the story of a 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, who was killed by a drone just days after attending an anti-drone conference in Islamabad. We are also joined by human rights attorney Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, co-author of the report, "Living Under Drones."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

The Short Life and Drone-Delivered Death of Tariq Aziz

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 13:13 By Neil Williams, Truthout | Op-Ed


Secure within the Margalla Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, I sat talking to 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, a schoolboy from the tribal regions in North Waziristan. "How many drones do you see a week?" I asked, expecting him to say three or four. "I see around ten or more, not a week, each and every day. It's terrifying. My family can't sleep. I am very tired all the time, and I've stopped going to school. We live our life in fear."

Four days later, Tariq was dead, decapitated and burned beyond recognition by a US-operated Reaper drone. He had been driving with his younger cousin, Waheed Ahmed, who also died in the attack. The two boys had been heading to their aunt's home. Tariq's family would later tell me they will never forget that early evening sunset, with the smell of burning flesh and petrol gliding through the village.

I met Tariq Aziz in October 2011, at a "grand jirga" in Islamabad, which had been organized by Reprieve, a British human rights charity. The jirga brought together elected tribal elders from all over FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas), along with politicians, lawyers and the media to discuss the implications of the CIA's controversial drones program.

Drones were not new to FATA. Strikes had been targeting suspected militants in their region since 2004. And by 2011, civilian deaths were approaching 3,000 - of which almost 200 were children. Only 185 named militants had been killed in that time - a 16-to-1 ratio. Innocent civilians were drowning in grief, confusion and hatred. American drone strikes weren't just killing militants: They were creating them too.

Tribal elders and a small group of schoolboys like Tariq had risked their lives to come to the jirga. It was a great honor for the boys to be selected to accompany their leaders. But they had all suffered great losses, too. Each man and boy carried in his pocket a photograph of a brother, sister or friend that had been killed by a drone strike. Tariq Aziz approached me shyly. He had never met a Westerner. Before we even spoke, he handed me the student ID card of his teenage cousin, Asmar Ullah. No sooner had I looked at the card, Tariq turned his head away and tears rolled down his face.

Tariq spoke with me for hours. He told me about his life: He was the youngest of seven brothers and his father's favorite. He lived with his mother while his father worked as a taxi driver abroad, sending money home each month for the brothers' school fees. Tariq told me that after his cousin's death, he became scared to walk to school or play football with his friends. He could not understand why his family and friends were being targeted. They were not militants, and they would not - or should not - have been on the CIA's "kill list," now known as the "disposition matrix" - a list created by the Obama administration aimed at targeting militants who are considered a threat to the United States. Tariq kept asking me, "What have we done wrong? Why do people think we're bad?"

The last time I saw Tariq, he was washing his hands before afternoon prayers.

This year I traveled back to Pakistan, where I interviewed Tariq's family members and friends for a forthcoming documentary by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films titled Unmanned: America's Drone Wars. They were extremely cooperative with photographs and interviews, anxious to paint a picture of Tariq's short life. His elder brother Abdul told me, "Tariq was very kind to everyone, young and old. He used to help everyone. ... That's why he was so loved. He was so kind. Everyone misses him so much."

People ask me how I can be so sure that Tariq was innocent. I reply, "Show me one piece of evidence that he wasn't." After all, that's how the law is supposed to operate, isn't it? Innocent until proven guilty.

The fact that the US government has not commented on - or even acknowledged - any of the 200 children killed by drone strikes in Pakistan alone speaks volumes to the families of those grieving in the "war of terror" conducted by the United States.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

CIA's Washington Post Leaks Aimed at Silencing Drone Critics

Thursday, 31 October 2013 11:08 By Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network | Video Interview



JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network, and welcome to this latest edition of The Porter Report. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, for the first time, Pakistani drone strike survivors appeared in front of a congressional hearing and testified about the devastating effects that the U.S. drone program has had on their lives. Hosted by Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, the hearing comes as the Obama administration's expansive drone strike program is coming under increasing scrutiny from human rights groups and the United Nations. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that the strikes have killed as many as 3,600 Pakistanis.

On a trip to Washington last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on the U.S. to halt the strikes on Pakistan. Then something interesting happened. The Washington Post reported that according to secret CIA memos that it obtained, the Pakistani government, while publicly being critical of the U.S. drone program and killing of civilians, was in fact in collusion with the U.S. and privately supports the program.

Our next guest argues that because the Pakistani military's already come out against the drone strikes and, quote, the leak of classified CIA documents to The Post appears to represent an effort by CIA officials to head off a decision by the Obama administration to reduce the drug war in Pakistan to a minimum, if not phase it out completely--.

We're now joined by Gareth Porter, a historian and investigative journalist on foreign and military policy.

Thank you so much for joining us, Gareth.

PORTER: Thanks for having me, Jaisal.

NOOR: So, Gareth, you had a piece responding to this widely circulated Washington Post article which came out at a very convenient time, a time of increasing opposition, both internationally among human rights groups, the UN, and the Pakistani prime minister, who came here--they're all calling for a close look and an end to drone strikes that the U.S. is carrying out. And, you know, this year, drone strikes in Pakistan have been dramatically reduced. So talk about the timing of this Washington Post article and what you think it's true--the true timing of the CIA leaks at The Washington Post.

PORTER: Well, there are two aspects of this. One is the immediate short-term timing. And, of course, it was timed to coincide with the visit of Nawaz Sharif, knowing that Sharif was going to say publicly that he had told the president that the Pakistani government wants the drone strikes to stop.

And at the same time, I think there's a longer-term, more general timing here, which is, as you've indicated, that the Obama administration is under a lot of pressure with regard to the drone war in Pakistan. And there's been an clear indication in the past months, in the past several months that the Obama administration is reconsidering the entire policy toward the drone war in Pakistan. Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have made public statements indicating that that is the case. And, in fact, John Kerry most recently, in August, said that he believed that the president was intending to bring this to a close and he hoped that would be soon.

So it's clear to me that the people in the CIA who are responsible for the drone war in Pakistan are feeling the heat. They're afraid that they could face the ax for this program. And I think they're fighting back. And what we see in this Washington Post story is an effort to turn this situation around, to turn the public opinion against any decision by the administration to end this program by suggesting that after all, that the Pakistani government is simply being hypocritical in saying that it needs to be stopped.

That, of course, misrepresents the reality of the situation, which is that we've known for quite a bit of time. We've known for a few years that there was in fact an understanding, going back to the Musharraf regime, which allowed the United States' CIA to carry out drone strikes against al-Qaeda, and that this was fully accepted by the military, as well as the civilian government, in the early years of the program. And that's understandable, because at first, at least, the targets were supposed to be al-Qaeda, although I have to say there is a lot of evidence that the targeting was very poor, the intelligence was not good, and mostly civilians were killed in the first couple of years, the first two or three years of that program.

But the real problem arose in 2008 when the CIA convinced the White House to expand the target list well beyond al-Qaeda high-value targets to start hitting targets based on signatures, what they call signature strikes, which meant that they were really killing rank-and-file people on mere suspicion that they might be involved with not just al-Qaeda but also the Afghan Taliban. So there you get a huge expansion of the targets and a much larger number of civilians who are being killed by these strikes. And that's when you begin to get a very strong reaction from the Pakistani military.

So that's why the CIA sources here misled none other than Bob Woodward, who's, of course, associated with investigative journalism and has still a reputation for truth-telling. But I'm afraid in this case he was misused.

NOOR: Now, is this a sign of desperation by the CIA? Is it a sign that the growing international outrage is in fact working? Or just that this program was ineffective, and that's the reason why the Obama administration is starting to kind of change gears and shift away from it?

PORTER: This is a more complicated picture. No doubt the pressure from the international community, at least from publicity being given to the number of civilian casualties, has played a role. It's added to the pressure on the administration to take a very close look at whether this is really necessary.

But what's also happened in this situation is that the drone strikes were being targeted, as I mentioned, against the Afghan Taliban stationed in or based in Pakistan. And because the United States is getting out of Afghanistan, there's no doubt that the administration is reconsidering this as really not necessary to carrying out the war that it has been fighting in Afghanistan. So that's a big part of the reason why I think the administration is now ready to say, well, we don't really need to do this anymore.

And then the final point is they really have used up the high-value targets, al-Qaeda targets already. They've killed a very large number of high-ranking al-Qaeda officials, or at least a significant number, and they're really having trouble finding high-value targets in the al-Qaeda organization to hit anymore. So the original justification for this is really long gone.

And so I think the administration recognizes that the main reason the CIA wants to continue this is that it's good for the bottom line for the CIA. They don't want to lose a major program that has been a source of income, in other words, of investment in the CIA for many years now.

NOOR: Gareth Porter, thank you so much for joining us.

PORTER: Thank you, Jaisal.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

"How Do You Justify Killing a Grandmother?" Amnesty Says US Drone Strikes May Be War Crimes

Thursday, 24 October 2013 11:32 By Nermeen Shaikh and Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Interview


Amnesty International has released a major new report on how U.S. drone strikes kill civilians in Pakistan, where it says some deaths may amount to war crimes. The group reviewed 45 drone strikes that have occurred in North Waziristan since January 2012. It found at least 19 civilians were killed in just two of those strikes, despite claims by the Obama administration it is accurately targeting militants. In a separate report, Human Rights Watch criticized U.S. drone strikes in Yemen that have killed civilians. We are joined by Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report, "'Will I be Next?' U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan." Qadri asks: "How do they justify killing a grandmother if these weapons are so precise, if their standards and their policies for using them are very rigorous?" He also clarifies, "It's not enough that a person is a militant to say that it's OK to kill them. They have to be taking active part in hostilities to be lawfully targeted, and some other requirements as well."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Nermeen Shaikh: President Obama is scheduled to meet his Pakistani counterpart later today amidst rising tension around U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The meeting between Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes as Amnesty International has released a major new report on how U.S. drone strikes kill civilians in Pakistan, where it says some drone killings may amount to war crimes. The group reviewed 45 drone strikes that have occurred in North Warizistan since January 2012. It found at least 19 civilians were killed in just two of those strikes, despite claims by the Obama administration it is accurately targeting militants.

In a separate report, Human Rights Watch criticized U.S. drone strikes in Yemen that have killed civilians.

On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney defended the legality of the U.S. drone program.

Press Secretary Jay Carney: To the extent these reports claim that the U.S. has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree. The administration has repeatedly emphasized the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law.

Amy Goodman: On the eve of his meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister Sharif said the drone strikes violate international law and Pakistan's, quote, "territorial integrity."

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif: There is, however, the matter of drone strikes, which have deeply disturbed and agitated our people. In my first statement to the Parliament, I had reiterated our strong commitment to ensuring an end to the drone attacks. More recently, our political parties in a national conference had declared that the use of drones is not only a continued violation of our territorial integrity, but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country. This issue has become a major irritant in our bilateral relationship, as well. I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks.

Nermeen Shaikh: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaking Tuesday in Washington. While Sharif has criticized the U.S. drone strikes, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted earlier this year his government secretly signed off on U.S. drone strikes. In its report, Amnesty documented the case of a 68-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi, who was killed in a strike that appeared to be aimed directly at her. She was picking okra while surrounded by her grandchildren when she was blasted to pieces. Her son and granddaughter described the attack.

Rafiq ur-Rehman: [translated] The children were also with her. She was hit in the first attack, and her body parts were lying scattered.

Nabeela: [translated] First it whistled. Then I heard a "dhummm." The first hit us, and the second, my cousin. There was an explosion. We were scared, and I ran home. It was dark in front of our house. They brought me to the doctor in the village who gave me first aid. I was not scared before, but now, when the drone is flying, I am scared of it.

Amy Goodman: A clip from Amnesty International's report on drone strikes in Pakistan.

Well, to find out more, we go to Washington, D.C., to talk with Mustafa Qadri, the author of the Amnesty International report, "'Will I be Next?' US Drone Strikes in Pakistan." He is Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International.

Welcome to Democracy Now! You talk about these drone strikes in Pakistan as possible war crimes that the U.S. is engaged in. Lay out your case, Mustafa.

Mustafa Qadri: Yes, so we're not saying that the entire program constitutes war crimes. What we're saying is that particularly rescuer attacks may constitute war crimes. We're talking here, 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, you know, the terror, the panic, as drones hovered overhead. There are other cases, as well, in the report where we talk about people who have been targeted for coming to be—to rescue people also killed. Those cases may constitute war crimes.

Now, that's a very big claim. There's a very high threshold for proving that. With the secrecy surrounding the program, the remoteness of this area, we can only get the truth once the U.S., as a start, comes clean and explains what is the justification for these killings.

But, you know, I should be really clear: We're not just talking about these cases of war crimes; we're talking about, as you mentioned before, you know, Mamana Bibi, a grandmother, killed in front of her grandchildren. You know, the U.S. has to explain these kind of killings. We think they're unlawful, too. You know, how does it explain making the U.S. safer by killing these sorts of people?

Amy Goodman: Can you just explain more about what happened to this grandmother?

Mustafa Qadri: So, basically, it's in the middle of the afternoon, quite a clear day in the sky. It's about 2:45. She's in the family fields in North Waziristan, a village near one of the main cities. She's picking okra. The next day is Eid al-Adha, so the holiest day in the year for Muslims. Her kids are doing their work in the field, as well. They noticed drones overhead. They were sort of used to that, because drones are ubiquitous in the skies over there. And then, literally, quite suddenly, she's attacked. There's a—she seems to be targeted deliberately. We can't tell, obviously, without more information. But a missile hits her directly, and she dies instantly.

Her kids, some of them, are injured in that initial strike from shrapnel. Their house is damaged from the reverberation of the strike. As some of them venture to see what has happened to their grandmother, a few minutes later another strike happens about nine feet away from where the grandmother was killed, and that injures more of her grandchildren. After that, there's incredible panic, you know, as we saw in the video clip. And up 'til this—today, the family has not received even an acknowledgment from the U.S. authorities that she was killed by a drone.

You know, I should be very clear here that we researched this case, you know, very thoroughly. We even actually analyzed missile fragments from experts who said that this appears to be a Hellfire missile. You know, we fact-checked everything. You can see it in the report. 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?

Nermeen Shaikh: And, Mustafa Qadri, could you talk about what people in Waziristan told you? The report suggests that people there expressed equal fear of the Taliban and of the U.S.?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, this is a really important point to make. We're not saying that drones should stop. We're not saying drones as a weapon are unlawful. What we're saying is this program the U.S. has, the U.S. has not provided a satisfactory legal basis, and these cases may be unlawful.

What we're also saying is that people living there face the threats from the Taliban, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani military often threatens and intimates people. When the Pakistan army gets attacked by the Taliban itself in that area, they will unleash indiscriminate bombings by mortar shells or helicopters. So people already there live a really harrowing life. It's a very undeveloped area. The indicators are very low in terms of literacy, maternal mortality, women's rights. For women, it's a very difficult environment to live. Girls' access to education is very low. So, the drones really are adding insult to the already many injuries that people face living there. What we're saying is that this has to be a key part of that step towards bringing law and order and protecting the rights of people living there.

Amy Goodman: In the case of Mamana Bibi, the grandmother, they may not have—the U.S.—acknowledged to the family, but what about to Amnesty International?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, so, the—

Amy Goodman: When you gathered all of this evidence?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, no, it's a good point. I mean, so, the only kind of acknowledgment we received was a letter from the CIA saying, you know, speak to the White House and look at the—you know, the policy guidelines released when President Obama made his speech in May this year about counterterrorism and the drone policy. So, in short, we have not received any information, really, from the U.S. authorities about this case.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Nermeen Shaikh: I want to play another clip from the Amnesty report. This man describes what happened on July 6, 2012, in a village in North Waziristan when 18 male laborers, including at least one boy, were killed in a series of drone strikes. His identity has been concealed for his safety.

North Waziristan Villager: [translated] Would it not hurt you if they kill your brother for no reason? The drone struck in our area. It hit the chromite extractors who were gathered in a tent slaughtering a sheep for feast. All of them were killed. When the villagers arrived to rescue them, missiles were fired again. They were also killed. What other could it have been? Some of the corpses had been badly burned and were beyond recognition. We could only identify them because we knew who had come there to work and we knew their names and the names of their tribes. They were laborers extracting chromite in the mountains.

Nermeen Shaikh: That was another clip from the Amnesty report. Mustafa Qadri, could you talk about the significance of these so-called double strikes or second strikes?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, I mean, so there is a very significant legal ramification for this, but on the human side we're talking about targeting people who have come to assist, you know, victims of a strike. Now, no matter who those people might be, the human instinct to try to help someone is—you know, everyone has that. It's a universal thing. So the idea that those who are coming to assist injured people, it's really quite shocking. You know, we've documented cases where militants have been killed. We document a case where Abu Yahya al-Libi, the at the time number two of al-Qaeda, was killed. And in that episode, rescuers, people who had nothing, as far as we can tell, to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or at the very least did not pose an imminent threat, an immediate threat, to the U.S. or its allies, were killed in a rescue attack.

When you look at people living there, already facing so many threats, curfew, living a very difficult life, the idea that in the skies, the skies are no longer safe, and then when these strikes happen—you know, it could be very close to you, could be your neighbors, could be your loved ones involved—obviously you want to help them, and now people are so scared even to do that, it's really quite shocking. In terms of the law, that—we see that as unlawful. We can't see a justification for that. We really call on the U.S., as we saw with Jay Carney claiming this is a legal program—well, fine, show us the legal justification for it and ensure those justifications and the facts are given to a genuinely independent, impartial investigator. That's the key thing. We are saying now to the U.S. government: Come clean, show us what is your evidence in law and fact for justifying rescuer attacks and the other unlawful killings we've documented in the report.

Amy Goodman: Let's go back to Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson, who was asked a question about the Amnesty report and reiterated the precision of U.S. drone strikes.

Press Secretary Jay Carney: By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life. U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective. And the United States does not take lethal strikes when we or our partners have the ability to capture individual terrorist—terrorists. Our preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute. We take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and that they are consistent with U.S. values and U.S. policy. Of particular note, before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured. And that is the highest standard we can set.

Amy Goodman: That was the White House spokesperson, Jay Carney. Mustafa Qadri, your response?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, look, I mean, if that is the case, how do they justify killing a grandmother? If these weapons are so precise, if their standards and their policies for using them are very rigorous and they use a high standard, as he has mentioned, you know, explain that to the family of Mamana Bibi. How and why was she killed? Was this a mistake? Was she mistaken for a militant? Was she deliberately targeted? This clearly shows that it's not correct. And, you know, the actual legal policy justifications given to us thus far have not been sufficient.

And let's be very clear about this. You know, most of the information we have received, all of us collectively, is through leaks to the media. It's through anonymous official sources talking to the media. It's not been directly from the government. At the moment, they're basically telling us, "Look, trust us. You know, we know what we're doing. We are very reliable, professional people." And, you know, the reality is, because these killings are happening in lawless areas like Pakistan's tribal areas, like remote Yemen or Somalia, the U.S. knows it, you know, can get away with murder, because it's very hard for people to verify claims. Now, how long will this administration merely just say, "Look, we do things lawfully"? We need to see the facts. We need to at least, at the very minimum, have an explanation for how you can justify killing a grandmother.

Nermeen Shaikh: Mustafa Qadri, you've also said that only some of the strikes could constitute war crimes. How is it that U.S. drone strikes could be brought under international law? In other words, how could drone strikes in a sovereign country be made legal?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, so there's two rough ways this could happen. The law is quite technical. But basically, it could be because of a spillover of the conflict in Afghanistan, so that, for example, if you have a military commander of the Afghan Taliban, he's in hot pursuit from Afghanistan, he slips into the border into North Waziristan, in the right conditions—there's a whole range of requirements—that might be lawful. Alternatively, Pakistan is itself fighting a non-international armed conflict in its own borders against the local insurgency; the U.S. has killed members of that insurgency, very senior members of that. Now, that might be lawful. But again, there are very strict requirements that have to be satisfied. One of the requirements is not that a person who is a militant is lawfully—can be lawfully killed. It's not enough that a person is militant to say that it's OK to kill them. They have to be taking active part in hostilities to be lawfully targeted. There's some other requirements, as well.

The point is that, you know, we're not talking about the whole program is impossible for it to be lawful. There is the capacity with the U.S. You know, the—administration officials have assured us there's a whole range of infrastructure experts, people involved in this program. So, really, the U.S.—it's obligation on them to make sure the program abides by international law.

I think the other thing that's really key—and again, Jay Carney sort of hit on this, as well—is this idea of trying to arrest or incapacitate people wherever possible. Well, the U.S. has to work with its Pakistani counterparts to improve that capacity. It has to ensure that Pakistan does its job in actually trying to bring these perpetrators to justice before a court in a fair trial. You know, we've documented that, you know, the Pakistani authorities have a very poor record of bringing these perpetrators to justice in fair trials. The legal setup in these tribal areas is incredibly poor. Pakistan still applies these anachronistic laws from the British era, which allows it to collectively punish tribes that are considered, you know, pro-Taliban. That has to change. Now, these are big problems, but there are solutions. And we really say, again, to the U.S. that it needs to make sure its drones are lawful, rather than retrospectively, after doing a strike, saying, firstly, "We'll check to see if any civilians are killed," and, secondarily, when information comes out, just assuring us, "Look, don't worry, it's all legal; everything is fine. You can all go home now."

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Amy Goodman: Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen, recently criticized U.S. drone strikes during a meeting with President Obama. The Obamas—President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and, as well, their daughter Malia—invited Malala to the White House earlier this month in order to honor her work on behalf of girls' education. But the White House statement did not mention another topic raised at the meeting. In her own statement, Malala wrote, quote, "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." Your response to that, Mustafa Qadri?

Mustafa Qadri: Yeah, look, I mean, I largely reiterate what Malala has said, that, you know—and it's really disappointing that President Obama's official statement did not mention what she said, because that's a really important point. But I can tell you also, from the Pakistan side, that another key part of trying to promote education is trying to basically prevent the Taliban from targeting girls like Malala. And that is a key part of it.

You know, one of the problems of the drone debate up 'til now is that because it's been so polarized and because the issues are so complicated, there's been a tendency to sort of reduce things down to either drones are good or bad. What we're saying is that, you know, have to look at the local context. The current secrecy and the potential unlawfulness of the U.S. program, firstly, incenses Pakistanis, is used as a political football amongst those hard-liners in Pakistan who want to hide the abuses by the Taliban and other groups. And what Pakistan really needs to do is to move on. It needs to address the fact that even within Pakistan there's a huge problem with intolerance. There's a huge problem of a lack of quality education for most people. I mean, 2 percent, or less than that, of the GDP is spent on education. Women's access to education, you know, it's not universally bad, but it's very bad in the northwest, where Malala is from, where the Taliban are based. You know, these issues need to be addressed.

The fact that the U.S. carries out drones so secretively, it—you know, yes, it sparks anti-American sentiments, but also it creates all sorts of ideas about, you know, secret plots and this and that. What has to happen is more honesty in the discussion about, firstly, what is the problems in that region and the relation between the U.S. and Pakistan. When the U.S. government basically is secretive in the way that the Taliban is secretive or that al-Qaeda is secretive, when its drones are used in a way that causes fear in the hearts of people the way Taliban and al-Qaeda causes fear in people's hearts, that shows you what a big, serious problem we're dealing with.

Amy Goodman: Well, we want to thank you very much for much for being with us, Mustafa Qadri, author of the Amnesty International report. We will link to that report called "'Will I be Next?' US Drone Strikes in Pakistan." Mustafa Qadri is the Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. On Friday, we'll be joined by Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. The U.N. has also put out a report on drones, as has Human Rights Watch. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

$40 Million Allocated for Drone Victims Never Reaches Them

Thursday, 24 October 2013 09:24 By Medea Benjamin, Pink Tank | News Analysis


Recent reports on US drone strikes by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN have heightened international awareness about civilian casualties and have resulted in new calls for redress. The Amnesty International drone report “Will I be next?” says the US government should ensure that victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members, have effective access to remedies, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. The Human Rights Watch report “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda” calls on the US government to “implement a system of prompt and meaningful compensation for civilian loss of life, injury, and property damage from unlawful attack.”

Several human rights groups have approached lawmakers asking them to sponsor legislation calling for such a fund. But congresspeople have been reluctant to introduce what they consider a losing proposition. Even maverick Congressman Alan Grayson, who is hosting a congressional briefing for drone victims from Pakistan on October 29, turned down the idea. “There’s no sympathy in this Congress for drone strike victims,” he said.

But unbeknownst to Grayson, the human rights groups and drone strike victims themselves, Congress already has such a fund.

The peace group CODEPINK recently discovered that every year for the past four years, a pot of $10 million has been allocated for Pakistani drone strike victims. That would make a total of $40 million, quite a hefty sum to divide among a few hundred families. But it appears that none of this money has actually reached them.

The Pakistani Civilian Assistance Fund was modeled after the ones that exist in Iraq and Afghanistan, where money was allocated to help alleviate the suffering of civilians harmed by US military operations as part of a strategy to “win hearts and minds.” In the case of Pakistan, where the CIA operates its drones, the money is supposed to go directly to the families of innocent drone victims, or for needs like medical expenses or rebuilding homes.

But Tim Rieser, the long-time staffer for Senator Patrick Leahy who has worked to get this Pakistani civilian assistance fund included in the yearly Foreign Operations budget, expressed his exasperation about the use of the funds. “It’s been like hitting a brick wall every time we push the administration to use these funds for drone victims, since for years they wouldn’t even acknowledge the existence of drone strikes,” said Rieser. “I seriously doubt that any of this money has reached the victims it was intended to help.”

Instead, it appears that the Conflict Victims Support Fund gets farmed out to US-based non-governmental organizations like International Relief and Development that, after taking their cut, provide humanitarian assistance for Pakistanis who are not drone victims and are not even living in the tribal areas of Waziristan where the US is carrying out the strikes.

Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of Civilians in Conflict, agrees with Rieser that the funds are being misused. “Sure, it’s not easy to assess damage and compensate families in Pakistan where there are no boots on the ground to do a military investigation and where the drone operations are covert,” said Holewinski. “But the State Department does have personnel in Pakistan, including AID staff, and they could work with communities to figure out what harm occurred, why, by whom, and then determine what the civilians need/want/expect in order to feel dignified and assisted.”

Doing this, however, would require cooperation from the CIA, which carries out the drone strikes while refusing to talk about them, and it would contradict the US government assertion that the drone strikes have caused only a handful of civilian casualties.

To make up for the US lack of help, the Pakistani government says it steps in to offer assistance. But the victims covered in the Amnesty report said they either did not receive compensation from the Pakistani government or that it was inadequate. The family of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed in North Waziristan while tending her crops, was furious when they were offered $100, given that their costs for medical expenses, repairs to their home and loss of livestock totaled about $9,500.

A 45-year-old Pakistani farmer told investigators of another report, Living Under Drones, that after his home was destroyed by a drone, he didn’t have the $1,000,000 rupees [US $10,500] to build a new house, so he and his family live in a rented room. “I spent my whole life in that house, my father had lived there was well….I belong to a poor family. I’m just hoping that I somehow recover financially,” he said.

If this farmer had lived in Afghanistan and had been harmed by a drone, he would have been entitled to compensation for loss of life, medical problems and/or property damage. The payments in Afghanistan are usually small (about $5,000 for a death or injury or $5,000 for property damage), but this can make a big difference to a poor family. But next door in Pakistan, there is no help. This inconsistency is the reason staffer Tim Reiser pushed for the Pakistan fund and now thinks a Yemen fund should be created. “Anywhere innocent people are harmed due to our mistakes, we should help them out,” says Rieser. Even John Brennan, CIA chief who is the mastermind of President Obama’s drone policy, said during his confirmation hearing that he thought the US should offer condolence payments—in fact, he thought the US was already doing that.

Most activists in the US and abroad are focusing, rightly so, on trying to stop the drone killing spree. But those already harmed deserve help. Mohamad al-Qawli, who just formed a network of drone strike victims in Yemen, thinks it’s the least the US should do. Al-Qawli’s brother was killed in a drone strike, leaving behind a distraught wife and three young children. “In our tribal culture, if someone commits a crime or makes a terrible mistake, they have to acknowledge the wrongdoing, apologize and provide restitution. The US government won’t even acknowledge the wrongful death of my brother, much less apologize and compensate his family. Could it be that my tribal culture is more evolved than the justice system of the United States,?” Al-Qawli asks.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

The Business of America Is War: Disaster Capitalism on the Battlefield and in the Boardroom

Monday, 21 October 2013 09:56 By William J Astore, TomDispatch | News Analysis


There is a new normal in America: our government may shut down, but our wars continue. Congress may not be able to pass a budget, but the U.S. military can still launch commando raids in Libya and Somalia, the Afghan War can still be prosecuted, Italy can be garrisoned by American troops (putting the “empire” back in Rome), Africa can be used as an imperial playground (as in the late nineteenth century “scramble for Africa,” but with the U.S. and China doing the scrambling this time around), and the military-industrial complex can still dominate the world’s arms trade.

In the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, it’s business as usual, if your definition of “business” is the power and profits you get from constantly preparing for and prosecuting wars around the world. “War is a racket,” General Smedley Butler famously declared in 1935, and even now it’s hard to disagree with a man who had two Congressional Medals of Honor to his credit and was intimately familiar with American imperialism.

War Is Politics, Right?

Once upon a time, as a serving officer in the U.S. Air Force, I was taught that Carl von Clausewitz had defined war as a continuation of politics by other means. This definition is, in fact, a simplification of his classic and complex book, On War, written after his experiences fighting Napoleon in the early nineteenth century.

The idea of war as a continuation of politics is both moderately interesting and dangerously misleading: interesting because it connects war to political processes and suggests that they should be fought for political goals; misleading because it suggests that war is essentially rational and so controllable. The fault here is not Clausewitz’s, but the American military’s for misreading and oversimplifying him.

Perhaps another “Carl” might lend a hand when it comes to helping Americans understand what war is really all about. I’m referring to Karl Marx, who admired Clausewitz, notably for his idea that combat is to war what a cash payment is to commerce. However seldom combat (or such payments) may happen, they are the culmination and so the ultimate arbiters of the process.

War, in other words, is settled by killing, a bloody transaction that echoes the exploitative exchanges of capitalism. Marx found this idea to be both suggestive and pregnant with meaning. So should we all.

Following Marx, Americans ought to think about war not just as an extreme exercise of politics, but also as a continuation of exploitative commerce by other means. Combat as commerce: there’s more in that than simple alliteration.

In the history of war, such commercial transactions took many forms, whether as territory conquered, spoils carted away, raw materials appropriated, or market share gained. Consider American wars. The War of 1812 is sometimes portrayed as a minor dust-up with Britain, involving the temporary occupation and burning of our capital, but it really was about crushing Indians on the frontier and grabbing their land. The Mexican-American War was another land grab, this time for the benefit of slaveholders. The Spanish-American War was a land grab for those seeking an American empire overseas, while World War I was for making the world “safe for democracy” -- and for American business interests globally.

Even World War II, a war necessary to stop Hitler and Imperial Japan, witnessed the emergence of the U.S. as the arsenal of democracy, the world’s dominant power, and the new imperial stand-in for a bankrupt British Empire.

Korea? Vietnam? Lots of profit for the military-industrial complex and plenty of power for the Pentagon establishment. Iraq, the Middle East, current adventures in Africa? Oil, markets, natural resources, global dominance.

In societal calamities like war, there will always be winners and losers. But the clearest winners are often companies like Boeing and Dow Chemical, which provided B-52 bombers and Agent Orange, respectively, to the U.S. military in Vietnam. Such “arms merchants” -- an older, more honest term than today’s “defense contractor” -- don’t have to pursue the hard sell, not when war and preparations for it have become so permanently, inseparably intertwined with the American economy, foreign policy, and our nation’s identity as a rugged land of “warriors” and “heroes” (more on that in a moment).

War as Disaster Capitalism

Consider one more definition of war: not as politics or even as commerce, but as societal catastrophe. Thinking this way, we can apply Naomi Klein's concepts of the "shock doctrine" and "disaster capitalism" to it. When such disasters occur, there are always those who seek to turn a profit.

Most Americans are, however, discouraged from thinking about war this way thanks to the power of what we call “patriotism” or, at an extreme, “superpatriotism” when it applies to us, and the significantly more negative “nationalism” or “ultra-nationalism” when it appears in other countries. During wars, we’re told to “support our troops,” to wave the flag, to put country first, to respect the patriotic ideal of selfless service and redemptive sacrifice (even if all but 1% of us are never expected to serve or sacrifice).

We’re discouraged from reflecting on the uncomfortable fact that, as “our” troops sacrifice and suffer, others in society are profiting big time. Such thoughts are considered unseemly and unpatriotic. Pay no attention to the war profiteers, who pass as perfectly respectable companies. After all, any price is worth paying (or profits worth offering up) to contain the enemy -- not so long ago, the red menace, but in the twenty-first century, the murderous terrorist.

Forever war is forever profitable. Think of the Lockheed Martinsof the world. In their commerce with the Pentagon, as well as the militaries of other nations, they ultimately seek cash payment for their weapons and a world in which such weaponry will be eternally needed. In the pursuit of security or victory, political leaders willingly pay their price.

Call it a Clausewitzian/Marxian feedback loop or the dialectic of Carl and Karl. It also represents the eternal marriage of combat and commerce. If it doesn’t catch all of what war is about, it should at least remind us of the degree to which war as disaster capitalism is driven by profit and power.

For a synthesis, we need only turn from Carl or Karl to Cal -- President Calvin Coolidge, that is. “The business of America is business,” he declared in the Roaring Twenties. Almost a century later, the business of America is war, even if today’s presidents are too polite to mention that the business is booming.

America’s War Heroes as Commodities

Many young people today are, in fact, looking for a release from consumerism. In seeking new identities, quite a few turn to the military. And it provides. Recruits are hailed as warriors and warfighters, as heroes, and not just within the military either, but by society at large.

Yet in joining the military and being celebrated for that act, our troops paradoxically become yet another commodity, another consumable of the state. Indeed, they become consumed by war and its violence. Their compensation? To be packaged and marketed as the heroes of our militarized moment. Steven Gardiner, a cultural anthropologist and U.S. Army veteran, has written eloquently about what he calls the “heroic masochism” of militarized settings and their allure for America’s youth. Put succinctly, in seeking to escape a consumerism that has lost its meaning and find a release from dead-end jobs, many volunteers are transformed into celebrants of violence, seekers and givers of pain, a harsh reality Americans ignore as long as that violence is acted out overseas against our enemies and local populations.

Such “heroic” identities, tied so closely to violence in war, often prove poorly suited to peacetime settings. Frustration and demoralization devolve into domestic violence and suicide. In an American society with ever fewer meaningful peacetime jobs, exhibiting greater and greater polarization of wealth and opportunity, the decisions of some veterans to turn to or return to mind-numbing drugs of various sorts and soul-stirring violence is tragically predictable. That it stems from their exploitative commodification as so many heroic inflictors of violence in our name is a reality most Americans are content to forget.

You May Not Be Interested in War, but War Is Interested in You As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky pithily observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” If war is combat and commerce, calamity and commodity, it cannot be left to our political leaders alone -- and certainly not to our generals. When it comes to war, however far from it we may seem to be, we’re all in our own ways customers and consumers. Some pay a high price. Many pay a little. A few gain a lot. Keep an eye on those few and you’ll end up with a keener appreciation of what war is actually all about.

No wonder our leaders tell us not to worry our little heads about our wars -- just support those troops, go shopping, and keep waving that flag. If patriotism is famously the last refuge of the scoundrel, it’s also the first recourse of those seeking to mobilize customers for the latest bloodletting exercise in combat as commerce.

Just remember: in the grand bargain that is war, it’s their product and their profit. And that’s no bargain for America, or for that matter for the world.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] -1 points by aprilsnow (14) 10 years ago

Accountabilty???? From our current "what me..(or whatever the old mad magazine guy used to say) misadministration? What the hell are YOU smoking???