Mr. President, You Have a Drone Problem
"I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties…. For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it's been applied."
- President Obama, January 2012
I have interviewed many people over the years of doing documentaries. Currently in Pakistan filming with victims of drone attacks (ahead of the film, follow my trip at warcosts.com, Facebook and Twitter), I have never had a more haunting and harrowing experience than looking into the eyes of person after person, children and adults, and hearing them talk about their homes, villages and families destroyed by drone attacks. The pain is palpable, their fear still radiates. And even a question about the CIA sets off terror alerts in peoples' eyes.
"[A] hallmark of our counterterrorism efforts has been our ability to be exceptionally precise, exceptionally surgical and exceptionally targeted."
- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, January 2012
A father, with his daughters and son, holds up a picture of his own mother, grandmother to his children. She was working in a field one day late in October of this year. As he was coming home from teaching school, he saw someone preparing a grave. It was to be the grave for his mother, killed by a U.S. drone strike. News reports say three militants were killed. Days later, the full story of her death came out. To be denied by the "official sources" who are never named, and therefore never held responsible, for constant distortions is gut-wrenching for him. He brought a picture of his mother's identity card. He held it up to me and the camera to show this gray-haired 65-year-old woman was no terrorist. He asked that the CIA and Americans come to his village and see the damage and who was hurt and killed.
"With the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective while minimizing collateral damage, one could argue that never before has there been a weapon that allows us to distinguish more effectively between an al-Qa'ida terrorist and innocent civilians."
- Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John O. Brennan, April 2012
A young boy tries to talk to me. Working through a translator, he can't remember my question from a few seconds ago. He talks of the stomach pain that makes it impossible for him to play cricket. He shows me his scars. His eyes have gone dead from the pain. He stills of the terrible shock from the drone hitting him and his friends. He starts to tear up when talking of his love of cricket and never being able to play again. The damage from drones does not end with the strike.
"[T]here is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States."
- Senior Obama administration official, April 2012
Another young boy tells of a drone strike that killed and injured his relatives. He was held back from running to help those injured, for fear of a second strike, or "double tap." He broke away. He insisted, it was his family and friends who need help. Then he was hit by a drone.
"Crucially, the threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbors and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded."
- Living Under Drones report
Then there is the rage and fury. The cries of revenge. The talk of honor and family.The fury over the war on Muslims. As the day goes on, the stories go on. It's hard not to become numb as a response to the grieving and the grief.
America’s drone war "radicalises foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region.”
- Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, July 2012