Last week, US drones and manned aircraft dropped bombs on an area in Somalia, instantly killing 150 people. As is the custom, the Obama administration instantly claimed that the people killed were “terrorists” and militants- members of Al-Shabaab- but provided no evidence to support that assertion. Such an event is a common occurrence under the presidency of the 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate, who as Nick Turse reported has aggressively expanded the drone programme and so far bombed 7 predominantly Muslim countries. On the one hand, the media seems to largely ignore drone warfare and its victims. On the other, there is little political will for transparency.
US drone wars are not just taking place in Somalia, but also in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Has anybody bothered to question this most recent attack though, do we need to be reminded that the US is not at war in Somalia. The US government has not authorised the use of military force in Somalia, nor has military action been approved in Somalia by the UN. This point, in conjunction with the fact that geographically Somalia and the US are thousands of miles apart and so no immediate threat is posed to the sovereignty of the US by anybody in Somalia labels these murders as war crimes. Morality and ethics aside: What legal authority does Obama even possess to bomb this country? In the year 2016, how is it considered acceptable that a president be allowed to bomb any country he wills, inflicting casualties on a mass scale, without any repercussions? Given what the situation insinuates- namely, the conclusion that Obama’s killing of 150 people in Somalia was illegal- shouldn’t we be demanding to see evidence that what is government is saying is actually true? Given the track record of the US government in this regard, I know that my conscience would most certainly not be clear accepting the view that all 150 of those murdered were terrorists, the view we have been inculcated to believe.
There are various compelling reasons demanding scepticism of US government claims about who it kills in airstrikes. First, the Obama administration has officially redefined the term “militant” to mean: “all military-age males in a strike zone”. In other words, the U.S. government presumptively regards all adult males it kills as “militants”. Noor Behram, an investigative journalist, is known for taking pictures of the drone murder scenes and spreading the victims’ faces. After Behram talked with journalists from Pakistan, he experienced that for them, a beard, long hair and a turban is enough to describe male drone victims as “terrorists.” But nearly every man in that area looks like that. “I started with my investigation in 2007, when it was reported that an aerial attack killed al-Qaeda-linked militants,” Behram says. “But I found torn women’s clothing, which was evidence that civilians were killed too.” Evidently, the life of a human not belonging to the US has a substandard quality and significance to the US government.
Beyond that, the U.S. government’s own documents prove that in the vast majority of cases- the official number is 9 out of 10- it is killing people other than its intended targets. Last April, the New York Times published an article: “Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die.” It quoted the scholar Micah Zenko saying, “Most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.” Essentially, it has become perfectly normalised for us to accept the fact that Obama and the US government has the divine right, void of any due process or accountability, to murder whomsoever he wishes. We have been indoctrinated to see nothing wrong in accepting the murder of these faceless and nameless victims.
Since 2001, the United States has been killing people with weaponised drones. As of today, at least 6,000 people have been killed by these drone strikes and according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 4% of drone victims in Pakistan were identified as al-Qaeda members or legitimate threats. Drone warfare is just one aspect of the ugly face of the “War on Terror”, that has ravaged numerous Muslim countries. Emerging stories of US soldiers’ brutality and horrendous crimes are being documented at an alarming rate. The story of Abeer Hamza disrupts our peace of mind, not an isolated example, where the 14 year old girl was gang raped by the 502nd Infantry Regiment, shot in the head, had her parents and younger sister murdered as well following which their bodies and home were burnt. Just an example of the monstrosity the Afghan people were subjected to by the army who had come to liberate their lands and bring the great principle of democracy to their lives.
So last week President Obama killed 150 people in a country where the US is not at war. The Pentagon issued a five-sentence statement declaring them all “terrorists.” And that’s pretty much the end of that. This is essentially what Obama’s War on Terror encompasses, and the global silence on the gross injustice of it all is overwhelmingly deafening.
Dr Aayesha J Soni, Vice Chairperson of the Media Review Network
Follow Dr Soni: @AayeshaJ
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