I used to say that it all started with the invention of the gun, but my son Martin corrected me by making clear that it actually started with the bow-and-arrow. What I am writing about is dealing death at a distance, which is despicable.
Of course, this is not to say that dealing death in any other fashion is less than despicable, but there is something especially horrific about killing from far away, which is compounded when any pseudo-justification is even attempted. Meanwhile, the use of these horrific distance-weapons keeps expanding and diversifying.
What brought these truths home to me once again was reading my first email-of-the-morning, as this arricle is being written, a petition as follows: My name is Rafiq ur Rehman and I am a schoolteacher from Pakistan. In 2012, a United States drone killed my 67 year-old Mother, Momina, while she was working in the field picking vegetables. The drone that killed my mother also injured my children. After sharing my story with Robert Greenwald for his upcoming film, Unmanned, I was invited to testify in front of members of Congress about the impact that drone strikes have had on my family and the people of Pakistan. My two children and I were issued visas within days of applying, but our lawyer and liaison, Shahzad Akbar has been placed in "administrative processing' and is not being issued a visa.
Mr. Akbar is a UK trained barrister who represents my family in our drone case as well as over 100 other civilian victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan. While working with Reprieve, Shahzad has done heroic and critical work encouraging us to use the rule of law to settle our grievances. Before he began representing civilian victims in 2010, he used to travel regularly in the United States. In 2008, Mr. Akbar had his visa quickly approved - it took only three days. It was not until he began standing up for drone victims in Pakistan that he became a problem to the U.S. government and began having his visa approvals delayed. In 2011 his visa was delayed for 14 months. Now, I need your help so my children and I can travel to the United Sates to tell our story.
Our hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 1st 2013. Without legal representation and accompaniment of our lawyer, Mr. Akbar, we cannot come to the U.S and share our story with Congress and with the people of this country. Please urge the Department of State to immediately approve Shahzad Akbar's visa so that he may escort my family to the United States and allow Congress to hear the first hand account of what it is like living under drones.
This is far from the first such petition which I have signed, and it surely will be far from the last. I detest that phony old adage that it is not guns which kill people, it is people with guns who kill people -- an adage used against gun control -- but indeed it is true that ultimately it is not these awful unmanned drones which kill people, but really their pilots-at-a-distance, and those who send out the drones in the first place. I have yet to hear anyone admit to being a present or past dealer of death at a distance, i.e. an unmanned drone pilot who is not just collecting military intelligence. Nor do any supervisors or planners of this new and horrid form of warfare seem to be coming forward to take so-called credit, either. Nor do we see any recognition being given to the inventors and innovators in the field of drone warfare. One wonders why there is this total lack of pride, or recognition -- or even any admission of responsibility.
Could it possibly be that the death-by-drone crowd is ashamed of what they are doing, or playing a role in what their colleagues do, including taking out innocent men, women, and children who have absolutely no connection to terrorism? Could it possibly be that, as evidence of their shame, they and their colleagues in Dronedom even try to prevent an attorney from representing some of the victims of death-by-drone, by keeping him out of the United States? Could it possibly be that these realities lie behind the fourteen-months delay in issuing a U.S, entry visa to Atty. Shahzad Akbar, a distinguished Pakistani lawyer who represents over one hundred victims of American drone strikes? Yes, it surely could!
It has been truly said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. While we can never be certain about past history, people at various previous times seem to have done nothing effective to deter the use of the bow-and-arrow, or the gun, or the grenade, or the land mine, or the bomb, or even the development of nuclear weapons. Now humanity has to live -- and die -- with all of those death-by-distance devices. We failed to draw the necessary line then, and we are at risk of a similar failure now. Yet, it is indeed possible to draw such lines, as has been done over the use of chemical weapons, many of which, such as poison gas, have been banned under International Law. The abhorrence over such gas being used in Syria is impressive.
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Growing up in the decades of the Cold War, I was part of the very-active nuclear disarmament movement of that era -- a movement which seems to have dwindled over the intervening decades, even though there are still tens of thousands of nuclear weapons posted in far-too-many nations. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has boasted that those weapons in his Russia could be redirected to point at major American targets rapidly, and at will.
Now, on the micro-level, we have these death-dealing drones, whose existence and use are taken for granted by so many people. Even beyond grave moral and humanitarian concerns, the effectiveness of drones in dealing with terrorism is dubious at best. As the old song goes, When will they ever learn? Obviously, not yet.
Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)