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Silence of the Drones

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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For people with a conscience this is a lot to take in; to reflect on; and to take responsibility for as an American citizen.  Serious though these issues are, there are times when a satirical touch can cut to the chase -- not to trivialize this sadder-than-sad reality, but rather to render it easier to understand and drive them home its full import. In my view, Stephen Colbert performed a useful service a few weeks after the New York Times  published its report on the "Kill List."

The Real Story

A Stanford/NYU study titled "Living Under Drones" and released last week concluded that far more civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan than U.S. counter-terrorism officials admit.

The study cites statistics complied by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the non-profit organization based at City University in London, indicating 474 to 884 civilian deaths since 2004, including 176 children. The Bureau, a non-profit organization based at City University in London, has eyewitness sources on the ground in Pakistan.

"Real people are suffering real harm" but are largely ignored in government or news media discussions of drone attacks, said James Cavallaro of Stanford, one of the Stanford/NYU study's authors. As to Robert Naiman's reference to "wasting top-level bad guys," the study concluded that only about 2 percent of drone casualties were top militant leaders.

The report also concludes that the drone attacks have not made America safer, but rather have increased resentment against the U.S. among Pakistanis. So, even for those without moral qualms about killing innocent people, the drone attacks make little sense from a practical point of view.

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables of 2007 and 2008 show that the Pakistani military initially acquiesced in the drone attacks in the northwest tribal area, but acquiescence gradually became the result of coercion. And no one -- and especially not the Pakistanis -- appreciate being coerced. Former President Pervez Musharraf recently said that, no matter what Pakistan wanted, it was too weak militarily to oppose the drone attacks.

Widespread popular resentment is reflected, however, in recent statements by the Pakistani foreign ministry rejecting claims of tacit approval by Pakistan. An official statement on Friday bluntly rejected such claims, adding that "drone attacks are illegal, counterproductive, in contravention of international law and a violation of Pakistani sovereignty."

The day before, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar'd, asked why anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is among the world's highest, answered with one word: "Drones." And the Pakistani parliament has unanimously demanded an end to the drone strikes.

Groping to Understand

Then why do them? To "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat" the 50 to100 al-Qaeda who remain in the area and/or other "high-value bad guys?" If you are satisfied with that explanation, you need not read on.

I think we need to consider all the possibilities, however inhuman or outlandish they may seem. If the U.S. aim is to antagonize the 180 million people of a proud, strategically located nation armed with nuclear weapons, and to fill recruitment stations with "militants" bent on avenging relatives and friends on the receiving end of the drones' "Hellfire" missiles, drone operations are a smashing success.

Could this be the actual aim of U.S. policy? Although stranger things have happened, I am inclined to rule out this suggestion as a mite too cynical and bizarre. This, even though I recognize the power of U.S. arms manufacturers, together with generals driven by the prospect of profit and promotions provided by perpetual war.

The power of this kind of influence, however, should be kept in mind. In recent years, I have learned to be less surprised by the mindset exemplified by people like former General and now CIA Director David Petraeus, who has predicted glibly that our grandchildren will still be fighting the kind of wars in which he, deservedly or not, made his name.

This is the same Petraeus who, still a general in February 2011, shocked Afghan President Hamid Karzai's aides by suggesting that Afghan parents might have burned their own children in order to blame U.S. military operations. This is the same Petraeus who is running the drone attacks on Pakistan.

Wooden Heads and Lemmings

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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