By Ted Braun
Living in the center of a vast world empire, it's often hard for us to keep up on what's going on in the outer parts of our empire. We do know that our nation has a large fleet of drones in the skies all over the world, keeping watch on what's going on below and eliminating those deemed a threat to our empire.
In addition, we've found this a way to save American lives. The operators of these drones, many of whom work from consoles in the U.S., don't have to risk their lives in their daily jobs of fighting terrorists and troublemakers. They can go home safe and sound each day to their families.
Occasionally, however, we do get troubling information in this country, such as when we are told that our government's definition of a combatant—and therefore a legitimate target for death by drone—is any military-age male in a strike zone.
A recently released study, "Living Under Drones," by human rights researchers at Stanford and New York Universities has brought us new and troubling information about the impact of our nation's drone program in Pakistan. The study, based on nine months of documentation and media reporting, provides firsthand testimony of the tremendously damaging impact that our nation's drone program has had on civilian life in Pakistan.
The report states that the number of "high level" targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low, estimated at just two percent. In the 98 percent there have been family income earners, students studying for needed occupations, and community leaders. The drone strikes have brought great housing and property damage, economic hardship, and emotional trauma for the survivors. The continual presence of drones in the sky above have led to constant and severe fear, anxiety, and stress, especially in a setting where those on the ground are unable to ensure their own safety.
Specifically targeted by drones are community gatherings such as town meetings, funerals, and family reunions. Often after these first strikes come second strikes at the same location, targeting first aid responders and friends, neighbors, and relatives who have come to help. As a result, people are hesitant to approach the site. Parents are also hesitant to let their children leave the house, and many of these children have nightmares at night. A large number of schools have closed and in those that are still open, students exhibit a diminished drive to study.
Researchers found multiple examples of post-traumatic stress disorder among the population. General community trust and cohesiveness have decreased significantly. Overall, life in Pakistan is becoming less communal and more individualistic. It is apparent that there will be many troubling long-range effects of our drone program in Pakistan and in other parts of our American empire for years to come.
The study concludes that the CIA drone program in Pakistan has not made our nation any safer, and instead has turned the Pakistani public against the U.S. Three-in-four Pakistanis now consider the U.S. their enemy. A 44-page summary of the researchers' report can be obtained by googling "Living Under Drones."
A number of critics of our wars in Yemen and Pakistan have commented that our nation's justice values have been "radically altered" and that we now have a foreign policy of trial by execution. The power of Congress has morphed into the "derogation to the executive of the power to strike at any nation at any time for any reason." No longer do we need an arrest process, a reading of charges, a trial by jury, a judge—only an executioner. The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings has said that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan threaten 50 years of international law.
It would be interesting to hear this point debated by Mitt Romney, a Mormon missionary and bishop in the past, and Barack Obama, a lawyer and overseer of the drone program.
Today, October 3, a peace delegation sponsored by Codepink Women for Peace, in age from 23 to 85 and paying their own way, will travel to Pakistan to stand in solidarity for a week with Pakistanis who are suffering from the U.S. foreign policy. The delegation made up of students, doctors, political analysts, veterans, writers, artists, and retirees will meet with drone victim families, lawyers, academics, representatives of major Pakistani political parties, and U.S. officials.
The members of the delegation believe that Americans must do more to stop the killing and work for peace. They want to show Pakistanis that there are Americans calling for an end to the CIA's killer drone strikes and for our government to apologize and compensate the families of innocent victims.
The group is already receiving an outpouring of support from Pakistanis. One respondent said, "I didn't know that there are Americans willing to speak out against your government's policies. Your gesture has helped change my opinion of Americans."
Waging war and waging peace: can these ever be done at the same time, or do they always confront us with an either/or choice?