Sunday, 23 December 2012

Children of Pakistan - death by drones

After the latest US massacre (well not quite the latest anymore but one that killed 20 children) the world has rightly shared in the grief being experienced by that community. We've seem Obama reduced to tears, so moved with emotion over the tragedy. An outpouring of grief and despair across the US and the planet has followed the deaths. It's the sort of thing that you'd expect to happen after the death of 20 children at the hands of a lunatic with an weapon of war. How could it possibly not affect people? How could they not grieve for those children and their families? Anything less would surely be an obscenity in the face of such carnage? 

Imagine if they had died and nobody cared except the community where they lived? Imagine if the shooting didn't even make the news? Or that we never saw their faces in the media showing us the innocent victims they were? 

Well, it's happening now. And it's US drones doing the killing. 
“Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts … These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”(1) Every parent can connect with what Barack Obama said about the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. There can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people of that town.

It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them; no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers; no interviews with grieving relatives; no minute analysis of what happened and why.

If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as “bug splats”, “since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.”(2) Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”(3)

Like Bush’s government in Iraq, Barack Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom 64 were children(4). These are figures extracted from credible reports: there may be more which have not been fully documented. 

The wider effects on the children of the region have been devastating. Many have been withdrawn from school because of fears that large gatherings of any kind are being targeted. There have been several strikes on schools since George W Bush launched the drone programme that Obama has expanded so enthusiastically: one of Bush’s blunders killed 69 children(5). more 
Why do we not grieve for these deaths as we grieve for American deaths?