DRONE WATCH: Victims of Drones

In the news today are two stories of drone victims seeking justice for relatives who have been killed or injured.

The Guardian reports on legal action being taken in the U.K. by an Afghan man who lost five relatives in a missile strike. A letter sent to the Ministry of Defense is demanding details of Britain's role in supplying information to the American military "kill list," including “the compilation, review and execution of the list and what form it takes." Habib Rahman, a bank worker in Kabul, lost two brothers, two uncles and his father-in-law in an alleged case of mistaken identity resulting in a U.S. missile attack on their cars on 2 September 2010.

And in Pakistan’s Dawn, Waris Husain, a Washington, D.C., based attorney and writer for the newspaper, examines the U.S.  failure to compensate Pakistanis who suffer property loss or physical injury due to drone missions. While some survivors of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have received payments, none have gone to victims of drone attacks in Pakistan, and no U.S. court has accepted a claim by Pakistani civilians. Mr. Husain concludes: “While the US wishes to stabilise its relationship with Pakistan, the CIA shows no signs of minimising it use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, which means a system of compensation for victims is absolutely necessary.”

What It’s Like to Go to War

On the PBS Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently interviewed Karl Marlantes, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor. Their deeply moving discussion focused on what happens to young soldiers in combat, the eventual trauma of having killed fellow human beings, and the assistance they need upon returning home.

"'Thou shalt not kill' is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.' And then you come back and it's like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill' again. Believe me, that's a difficult thing to deal with," Marlantes tells Bill. "You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life - that's something no 19-year-old is able to handle." …

“The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.”

Afghanistan After America

Dexter Filkins, a former New York Times reporter who covered the war in Afghanistan, has a long and sobering but well worth reading piece in The New Yorker.  Pondering the question of whether civil war will hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves, he writes:

After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven’t worked or because there’s no longer enough time to achieve them. Even the education of girls, a signal achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, is at risk. By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.

DRONE WATCH: It’s Not Just The U.S.

More than four years ago, the U.K. Ministry of Defence bought 6 Reaper drones from the U.S.  The Guardian  reports.

"The British military is increasingly relying on unmanned drones to wage war against the Taliban, and has fired more than 280 laser-guided Hellfire missiles and bombs at suspected insurgents, new figures reveal. … The Ministry of Defence says only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its drone strikes since 2008. However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died, because of the "immense difficulty and risks" of verifying who has been hit."

Chris Cole, founder of the website Drone Wars UK, responds that it is:

“Kafkaesque of the MoD to repeatedly claim that only four civilians have been killed in UK drone strikes while at the very same time insisting they do not know how many people have been killed."

US, Pakistan Fail to Agree on Afghanistan Supply Routes

Carlo Munoz reports for The Hill:

"American negotiators working with Pakistan to reopen critical supply routes into Afghanistan have been called back to the United States, casting further doubt on whether the lines will ever be reopened to U.S. and coalition forces. Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters on Monday that several members of the U.S. negotiation team had already left Islamabad, with the remaining members scheduled to depart the country within days."

Read the full story here

DRONE WATCH: Death From Above

Drone Watch. Image by Kurt Lightner for Sojourners.

Drone Watch. Image by Kurt Lightner for Sojourners.

Last month, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged in a public speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that the United States was using armed unmanned drones to kill alleged militants.

Brennan’s acknowledgement was the only “new” news. 

Beginning in earnest under President George W. Bush and dramatically escalating under President Barack Obama, the United States is now using drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), and has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya). Going by the names Reaper and Predator, firing missiles named Hellfire, the drones are responsible for thousands of deaths, including hundreds of women and children.

Why drones?

There are three major reasons opponents of the unmanned death planes usually give. First, in fighting against terrorist and insurgent organizations, the United States has adopted a kill — not capture — strategy. With a “kill list” of targets, the attacks aim at known or suspected leaders.

Second, the attacks can be carried out with no danger to American troops. Remotely guided from distant locations, drones are a way of carrying out risk-free military operations. Third, with the attacks increasingly under the control of the CIA rather than the military, they can be conducted with a high degree of secrecy. Whom the drones targeted and killed, and how many civilians may have also been killed, is free of scrutiny.

We Are Unstoppable! Another World Is Possible!

Earlier this month, I boarded a train with my brother-in-law and headed to Chicago to protest the 2012 NATO Summit. If you are asking "why protest?" you can find a substantial list here

Security had been ramped up and no food or liquids were allowed on the train. We met some fellow protesters during the trip and when we arrived at Union Station we hustled to make it to Grant Park on time. In transit to the park the sun was already warming our necks and I found myself reaching for the small tube of sunblock that I had stashed in my pocket. 

We arrived in plenty of time to catch the pre-march rally at Petrillo Bandshell. Many stories were shared by fellow activists from around the world. The air was humid, yet vibrating with the passion of thousands as we prepared to march together for peace.

Amidst a swirl of percussion the crowd was chanting: "We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!"

War at What Cost? A Veteran Perspective

Protestors march in Chicago on Sunday during the NATO summit there. Photo by Spe

Protestors march in Chicago on Sunday during the NATO summit there. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This coming fiscal year, the United States is set to spend more than $640 billion dollars on the Pentagon and war, accounting for more than 60 percent of federal domestic spending. In excess of $85 billion of that will be spent on the war in Afghanistan alone.

This unfathomable amount of money was approved by the House of Representatives in the National Defense Authorization Act. These funds will serve to bring suffering and pain to innocent people, further militarize the world and undermine peace and stability for generations to come—all on the backs of those who struggle at home.

In the backdrop of such spending, we’re told that we’re in a financial crisis. Elected officials tell us it is time to make tough choices. There isn’t enough money for programs like “Meals on Wheels” and for ensuring everyone has access to adequate healthcare. Our schools and bridges must wait to be repaired.  New roads and schools must remain unconstructed.

Yet some of us know better.

CLICK HERE TO HELP PROTECT POVERTY PROGRAMS FROM FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS (and get an "End Poverty" or "Wage Peace" bumper sticker.)

Out of Order

The House of Representatives has been debating the defense authorization bill for the past two days, including more than 140 amendments. But this year’s version of the McGovern-Jones amendment calling for a faster withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was not among them. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) have offered similar amendments for several years, steadily gaining votes. Last year, there 204 votes in favor, including 26 Republicans. Activists believed this year might see an even higher total, perhaps enough to pass. Rather than face that result, the Rules Committee simply ensured that it would not come to the floor for a vote. 

CNN reported this morning two GOP congressional sources confirming that Republicans were concerned the amendment could pass. The only Afghanistan withdrawal amendment made in order was by Barbara Lee (D-CA), which would have essentially ended the war by limiting funding to the safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan. It predictably failed on a 303-113 vote.

Both McGovern and Jones denounced the action. McGovern asking, "What is the Republican leadership afraid of? Are they afraid a bipartisan majority of this House will vote to follow the will of the American people and change our Afghanistan policy?" Jones added, "This is supposed to be the people's House - that means we listen to the people. How about listening to the 72% of those who say get out of Afghanistan?” The next opportunity will likely be the defense appropriations bill sometime this summer.

Troop Withdrawal: Easier Said Than Done

In his successful run for president of France, one of Francois Hollande’s campaign promises was to withdraw all French troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. Now that he’s taken office, he’s discovering that was easier to promise than it will be to accomplish.

Military specialists are advising him that it is “next to impossible to transport all combat troops and their equipment back to France by the end of the year.” A number of other countries, faced with opposition at home to their war involvement, are also interested in speeding up withdrawals. It should make for interesting discussions at this weekends' NATO Summit.