War is not a video game: drone attacks that kill innocents can only escalate and prolong violence

Drone attacks that kill innocents are a sure way to multiply enemies
Syed Hamad Ali
15 December 2010

This is the message which emerges from the tragic story of 43 year old Pakistani journalist Kareem Khan. When a US pilotless drone struck his home in a village in North Waziristan on 31 December last year, his life changed forever. Khan’s 18 year old son Zaneullah and his brother Asif Iqbal, both teachers, had been killed in the attack.

 As often happens with such incidents the story would have ended there. “Game over” if you will in PlayStation speak. But Khan, who was in Islamabad at the time of the attack, plans to take  a $ 500 million legal action against the CIA. He has already submitted a written notice to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Director Leon Panetta and Islamabad’s CIA station chief Jonathan Banks.

In their defence US intelligence officials are said to have alleged Khan’s home was housing Haji Omar Khan, a senior Taliban commander. Khan however denies this claim and accuses the media of having “mostly misreported” such drone strikes.   

 The drones are said to be operated by the CIA, which unlike the US military, does not enjoy diplomatic immunity and could be persecuted for its actions. While the likelihood of winning a legal case against the powerful US intelligence agency remain doubtful, Khan’s stance is helping to shed light on the plight of a people who have largely been reduced to mere statistics in news reports.

There have been over a 100 drone attacks this year alone. Since 2004 the New America Foundation estimates between 1286 and 1981 people have been killed due to these shrikes. Meanwhile the number of civilian causalities is an extremely contentious issue.

Many of those same media outlets which admitted  mistakes were made in regards to the non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction claims about Iraq are now reporting drone attacks without any rigorous challenge to the official line of “suspected militants” being killed.  Pakistan’s government has already been exposed by WikiLeaks to be colluding in the drone strikes withPrime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani being quoted saying: "I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it."

Yet not everyone is ignoring this sinister new form of warfare. Take the case of Bünyamin E, a German citizen of Turkish descent, who is believed to have been killed in a drone strike in October. While the death of this “suspected” Islamist created little ripples for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration, a leftist member of parliament WolfGang Neskovic isn’t letting the matter go away. "Barack Obama is not God, able to freely decide about life and death," he recently told  Der Spiegel. "Nevertheless he behaves like an Old Testament God who kills people as he sees fit with fire and brimstone." Neskovic argues it doesn’t matter if people killed were terrorist or not, what is of concern is the drone strikes are operating outside of international law. If others adopt this kind of strategy he fears the entire world could become a war zone.  

Neskovic’s views echo those of the United Nations special representative on extra judicial killings, Philip Alston, who warned back in June the example United States is setting could lead to dozens of countries carrying out “competing drone attacks.” Alston says because the drone operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a “PlayStation mentality to killing.”

But even setting aside the civilian causalities and legal ambiguity drone strikes operate in, it should alarm people these attacks risk fuelling more terrorism. To illustrate recall how during the Quran burning episode President Obama warned  the event would be a “recruitment bonanza for al Qaida.” It remains a mystery why he can't connect the dots and see how the same could be said for drone strikes, that they also could be a potential “recruitment bonanza for al Qaida”?   

Just consider the case of the failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.  In court Shahzad said he pleaded guilty a “100 times over” to his crime and pointed as his reasoning for the failed terror attack towards the US foreign policy in Muslim lands, and particularly drone strikes which “kill women,children.” Similarly with the recent Stockholm suicide bombing one finds a link to anger over Western foreign policy in Afghanistan with references to “children are dying” and a “war against Islam.”  

It is possible to condemn both drone strikes and Islamist terrorists in one sentence – the fact is they both feed on each other.  The evidence speaks for itself. In his brilliant research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism which looked at over 2200 suicide attacks around the world from 1980 to the present day, Professor Robert Pape points out, “more than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation.” Among his finding is that foreign military occupations have caused both secular and religious people to carry out suicidal attacks. Indeed Khan said his reaction to the US drone strike at his home in North Waziristan was one of retaliation: “I wanted to get revenge, but there was no one to attack.  So I decided to sue." Since he has come forward, fifteen others who had been injured in the drone strikes, or have family members killed, are reportedly joining the $500 million legal action. An application by Khan has been registered  with the police in Islamabad this week.

Unfortunately, rather than eliminating its enemies, the US strategy only appears to be multiplying them.


Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData