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The Distributed Empire of the War on Terror

by Madiha Tahrir, published in the Boston Review, September 10, 2021

I have been kind of hoping that Imran Khan might have stopped the disappearances and drone strikes on Pakhtuns in Pakistan.   And it’s possible he has.   I hope so.  Meanwhile, Madiha paints a vivid picture of the suffering induced in Pakistan Tribal Regions and around the globe by the U.S. War of Terror. ~jb

In Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016), Viet Thanh Nguyen writes that U.S. films tend to substitute American pain for Vietnamese pain. “Americans love to imagine the war as a conflict not between Americans and Vietnamese,” observes Nguyen, “but between Americans fighting a war for their nation’s soul.” The last twenty years of the so-called War on Terror have stuck to this script. Consider the sheer number of articles, interviews, and think pieces on the anguish and trauma of the American soldier.

A thriving subset of this genre reports on the mental afflictions of the drone operator. These psychic lacerations, caused by having to watch the murderous effects of their own handiwork, have been elevated beyond a clinical condition into a philosophical anguish called “moral injury.” The term originated in 1994 with psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, who argued that a diagnosis of PTSD did not sufficiently capture the “soul wound” inflicted when one commits acts “that violate one’s own ethics, ideals, and attachments.” Following the start of the drone war, dozens of articles in outlets such as GQ (2013), Slate (2016), NPR (2017), the New York Times (2018), and the Washington Post (2021) followed—along with scholarly publications across the political spectrum—probing the mental states and suffering of the United States’ newest class of violence workers (a term I borrow from David Correia and Tyler Wall).

Lost in all this business of soul-wounded warriors is the relatively unfashionable wounding of empire’s targets. It doesn’t make for the kind of war story Americans want to learn about. A friend who is an award-winning magazine journalist explained the craft to me like this: “You have to ask yourself, if this story were a movie, what role is Matt Damon going to play?” The formulation is brutally honest about the seductive racial and colonial fantasies that are both subtext and, well, text of modern war reporting.

Where does that leave the rest of us—we, who belong to the browner parts of the Earth, we who are fighting on multiple fronts?

In Pakistan, the country of my birth, the country from which I became a refugee, the country to which I returned as a journalist and then as a scholar, I have had friends, comrades, and colleagues forcibly disappeared, sometimes killed. Particularly in the regions I have covered—the Tribal Areas along the border with Afghanistan that are being drone-bombed today and the province of Balochistan where a separatist movement is underway—the risk intensifies.

Photos circulate on Whatsapp groups—a confession, a beheading, a bomb blast, a body twisted and turned inside out. I once woke to photos of charred corpses, exposed bone and pink flesh, bloody as fresh butcher’s meat. It took me time to understand the diagram of these unholy bodies, where the legs should have been, where the mouth and the eyes must have once existed. The media relations arm of the Pakistani security forces had circulated the images as evidence of a “successful” counterattack against “militants.”

The United States began bombing the border zone, then known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in 2004, ostensibly to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It has bombed the area at least 430 times, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalists, and killed anywhere between 2,515 to 4,026 people.

But the United States is not the only force bombing the region. Between 2008 to 2011 alone, the Pakistan Air Force carried out 5,500 bombing runs and dropped 10,600 bombs. The Pakistani security forces have also conducted scores of major military operations in the Tribal Areas as well as other Pashtun regions. There is no detailed accounting of the human costs of these military assaults.

When I traveled to the northern valley of Swat following Operation Rah-e-Rast (Righteous Path) in 2009, bullet marks and gaping holes scarred the low-lying homes along my drive. There, among others, I met Asfand Ali, whose brother and father were killed when a mortar shell blasted through their house. I asked him about the operation. “Whatever they do is just fine,” he told me. “They killed a lot of innocent people.” A ghost of a smile flickered across his face. “They can do whatever they want. It’s the government.”

Some time later, when I suggested to a Western leftist that we, we U.S. leftists, rework our analyses to account for the devastation caused by the Pakistani security forces, he disagreed. “What Pakistan does in Pakistan,” he shook his head, “that’s not our concern.” It was certainly my concern but, as someone with diasporic sensibilities, I have become used to pronouns like “we” and “our” as spaces of uneasy solidarities (to borrow a turn of phrase from Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang).

I also understand the impulse that drove his response. Global powers have repeatedly used the human rights abuses of other states, or the need to save brown women, or UN resolutions stating a “responsibility to protect” as pretext to invade less powerful nations. But, in restricting attention to the direct actions of the U.S. state, we fail to grasp the mechanics and manifold distributions of empire.

With the United States now shifting its strategy in Afghanistan from a direct military occupation with ground troops to an aerial drone bombardment conducted, it seems, in collaboration with the Afghan Taliban, it is critically urgent that we—we who dream of liberation—grapple with the complexity of imperial entanglements. What is happening with Afghanistan is less a withdrawal than a redistribution of imperial power. The United States is dispersing its war-making to collaborators and security assemblages that will help render empire difficult to track—a game that the United States has long played in Pakistan.

***

During my research on the war in FATA, I ran across a small handbill asking for help finding a missing teenager. The sheet had been distributed by his family. The boy had been badly injured when a U.S. drone bombed a funeral in the Tribal Areas. It was, in fact, the second bombing that day. Earlier, U.S. violence workers had killed several people in the same area; one of the dead, they thought, was important enough to draw out the senior leadership of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to the dead man’s funeral, which happened later the same day. In their staunch belief that “terrorist” funerals only draw out other terrorists, they then bombed the mourners.

Here, I suppose I could pause and add an explanation of how we, we Muslims, bury our dead. This could include a description of the speed of funerals after a person’s death, or disclose funeral sociality in this part of the world. Certainly, a journalist reporting on the bombing for a Western press outlet felt compelled to clarify in an article I read that the attendance at funerals of Taliban figures was not limited to guerrilla fighters.

I hung at this sentence when I read it because I have written sentences just like it as a former journalist. You are trying to explain how it came to pass that dozens of people died, or you slip it in because you’re trying in your small brown way in a white media establishment to remind U.S. readers about the inordinate toll, or your editor asks for “context,” and you’re reduced to explaining the self-evident (funerals draw together family and community!) as if it were some peculiar borderland ritual.

I could also parse the statistics of this bombing—but I think that would all miss the point, which is that they bombed because they could.

Consider that drones are actually technological failures as weapons of war, if by “war” we mean a contested battleground. They are easily shot down and, as U.S. military officials have stated, they are unfit for fighting with a “near peer adversary.” This is why the U.S. Air Force is trying to retire the MQ-9 Reaper drone.

It follows, then, that to fly drones over the Tribal Areas requires not only coordination with Pakistani authorities for airspace, but also a whole host of largely opaque negotiations and arrangements that barter the lives of ethnic Pashtuns in FATA in the imperial war market. In other words, the “organized abandonment” (to use abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s terms) of border zone populations has been crucial to maintaining drone bombardment.

Checkposts and moveable checkpoints surveil, intimidate, and interrupt the movement of people, journalists, and information in and out of the Tribal Areas. These physical blockades have been augmented by a digital enclosure, especially in Waziristan, on the southern tip of the Tribal Areas, where bombardments have been heaviest. The strategic absence of sufficient electronic infrastructure—from the Internet to cell phone towers—has not only made the relay of information difficult following bombardments, but has limited the global circulation of photos and videos documenting the aftermath. In the Obama years, therefore, news stories on drone bombardment quickly took on a standardized, anesthetized structure: an anemic lede stating where the attack had taken place, followed by a quote from anonymous Pakistani officials categorizing the dead as “militants” or “civilians,” then a short final paragraph on the alleged lawlessness of the region. It became small news.

British colonial knowledge, predating Pakistan’s independence, still underwrites these arrangements. Gazettes, tribal descriptions, and genealogies produced by colonial authorities remain standard fare on the bookshelves of Pakistani bureaucrats and analysts. The largest bookstore in Islamabad, which caters to the instrumental knowledge class—including Western ambassadors, the CIA, the U.S. State Department, and other administrators, UN officials, and NGO workers—keeps these colonial texts in stock for its customers, alongside more recent pop literature by U.S. terrorism experts.

After independence, this knowledge shaped the continuation of a colonial regime in all but name within the Tribal Areas. There, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), a draconian set of laws enacted by the British and justified as granting tribal autonomy, continued to be enforced. Under these regulations, FATA Pashtuns could not vote. Instead, an appointed Political Agent with sweeping powers governed each of the administrative districts or “agencies” that make up the Tribal Areas. The agent was judge, jury, and administrator. He could deliver executive judgments and detain entire communities on suspicion of a crime by one of their members. While the FCR was formally repealed in 2019, meaningful change has yet to take shape on the ground.

The War on Terror, particularly as manifest in the Tribal Areas, remixes the colonial-era stereotype that Pashtuns are especially fanatical with post-9/11 fears about Pashtuns’ alleged propensity for terrorism. Not only does the propaganda arm of the Pakistani security forces churn out films that regularly depict Pashtuns as terrorist villains, but private television shows and advertisements also ridicule Pashtuns as extremists.

Poorer Pashtuns, especially, have been subject nationwide to police crackdowns, raids, and the razing of katchi abadis (squatter settlements). Following a bomb blast in Lahore, for instance, a traders’ association demanded identity documents from Pashtun traders, and the police circulated notices about surveilling Pashtuns as well as Afghan refugees, some of whom are ethnically Pashtun. (Sanaa Alimia has richly documented how identity documents work as a means to surveil and control these Afghan refugee communities.)

In short, while there are caricatures about all ethnicities in Pakistan, only one of them is conflated with the Western fantasy of the “terrorist.” Pashtuns have become what Samar Al-Bulushi calls “citizen-suspects”—racialized populations subjected to suspicion, surveillance, and paranoid state imaginaries, thus making them vulnerable to overwhelming state violence. Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator who seized power in a 1999 coup and collaborated with the United States following 9/11, was explicit about his government’s strategic abandonment of Pashtuns specifically and Pakistanis more broadly. Asked by the CIA how the agency could conduct drone bombings without admitting responsibility, Musharraf was dismissive. “In Pakistan,” he said, “things fall out of the sky all the time.”

This is how the funeral came to be bombed. But these genealogies of violence do not make for good copy, so we—we who know better—settle for a docile sentence about how villagers attend funerals too.

Luckily the boy was still alive, but in urgent need of medical attention. He was badly burned and bleeding. The local hospital could not care for his wounds. So, his father and other family members loaded him into an ambulance, and it sped off toward the nearest well-equipped hospital several hours away.

***

In 2006 two journalists appeared before a Pakistani court as defendants. They were accused of leaking official secrets because they had been filming at Shahbaz airbase, a Pakistan Air Force holding, in the southern city of Jacobabad. The base was one of the earliest used by U.S. forces for flying drones in the region.

While the use of the airbase may have technically been secret, it was of course known to Jacobabad locals; no fewer than three Predator drones had crashed in and around the city in 2003 due to technical failure. In addition to drones falling from the sky, the increased securitization of the area had alerted uneasy residents to the goings-on at the airbase.

This may have been why television reporter Mukesh Rupeta and cameraman Sanjev Kumar were filming at the airbase when they were picked up and disappeared. Unlike ordinary arrests with their attendant paperwork and bureaucratic procedures, disappearance makes it difficult to know who or which agency has taken someone, where the detainee has been taken, and whether they will ever be seen again—and that unknowability is the point. Without accountability, the state’s agents are able to engender spaces where things can fall out of the sky, where the potential for violence is enormous.

In this case, Rupeta and Kumar were turned over to the police three months later. While police officials refused to say who had initially detained them, a relative of one of the men told reporters that they had been detained by Pakistani intelligence officials linked to the military, and that at least one of the reporters had been tortured.

A week before Rupeta and Kumar were presented in court, the body of another journalist was found dumped in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan in FATA. Hayatullah Khan was a Waziri reporter who, six months earlier, had photographed remnants of a Hellfire missile, the first visual proof that the United States was bombing the border zone. The photos were published in international news outlets, and the next day Hayatullah was disappeared.

On the U.S. news, I often heard experts and analysts claim that part of the appeal of drone warfare to the Obama administration was that it offered a viable alternative to detentions. John Bellinger, the former legal advisor for the Bush administration, told audiences in 2013, “This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaeda [at Guantánamo] they are going to kill them.”

But all the while in Pakistan, secret detention centers and black sites continued to metastasize. Together they constitute Pakistan’s “little Guantánamo Bay,” as rights activist Amina Masood Janjua puts it. During the early years of the war, Musharraf literally sold detainees picked up in Pakistan to the United States. We know this because the ignominious buffoon boasted about it in the English edition of his autobiography. He admitted to auctioning 369 detainees; the figure that Pakistan handed over may be as high as 800. While some of these people ended up in Guantánamo, others were disappeared into CIA secret prisons in multiple countries.

In Pakistan, U.S. operatives, working jointly with their Pakistani counterparts, interrogated prisoners in secret locations. Pakistani security officials also acted as the heavy in many cases, detaining and torturing prisoners. Moazzam Begg, perhaps one of the most famous detainees, was initially held by the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, at a house used as a detention site in the G-10 neighborhood of Islamabad. The CIA’s prison program was eventually terminated but, by then, detention was beginning to take on a life of its own inside Pakistan.

In 2011 the Pakistani government used anti-terrorism as a justification to formalize roughly forty internment centers. While little is known about these sites, almost all of them appear to be based inside existing prisons, military forts, and jails. All of them are also located in the predominantly Pashtun regions of the country, which underscores the racialization of Pashtuns as terrorists.

These practices have been especially difficult to track in FATA in part because arbitrary detention and collective punishment—often described in other contexts as “extrajudicial”—have been, in these regions, legal. Under the FCR, that legal remnant of British colonial rule, people could be detained for up to two years at the will of the Political Agent with no recourse to courts. Add to the blockades, military forts, internment centers, and jails of the Tribal Areas the carceral spaces across the rest of the country—more internment centers, military and paramilitary bases, secret compounds, and ordinary jails where the disappeared sometimes mysteriously reappear—and an entire carceral geography flickers into view.

Documenting these practices and carceral spaces, however, can land one in trouble. Activist Alamzaib Mehsud, who is attempting to keep an archive of detentions, disappearances, mine blasts, and extrajudicial murders in FATA, was himself picked up in January 2019 and charged with rioting and inciting hatred for an allegedly anti-military speech. He was released almost nine months later.

The War on Terror is not the first time the Pakistani government has deployed detention and disappearance. During the 1973 insurgency in Balochistan, Pakistani forces disappeared Baloch activists, and under the U.S.-backed regime of military general Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, critics and dissidents were, at times, picked up and disappeared.

With the War on Terror, however, these practices have expanded in both scope and geography. A wider array of dissidents, activists, and critics has been detained, as well as a host of other individuals deemed by the state, because of ethnicity or class, to be suspect: madrassa students, laborers, bus passengers. Sometimes the disappeared return in strange form. In March this year, road workers at a construction site in the Tribal Areas unearthed the bones and personal effects of a teacher disappeared thirteen years ago.

In an act that would be parodic were the stakes not so horrific, the Pakistani government has set up a Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances: the government looking into government crimes. It is a largely toothless affair, for the committee dares not name the military perpetrators. Police reports of disappearances, when the family manages to get them filed, regularly note down that the suspected perpetrators are na maloom afraad, unknown persons. It works as a shorthand: we, we Pakistanis, know who the Unknown are.

These carceral geographies are also available to bolster U.S. empire and drone warfare. Karim Khan, an anti-drone activist, was disappeared in 2014 days before he was due to speak with European parliamentarians and the International Criminal Court at the Hague about drone bombardment in the Tribal Areas. (U.S. violence workers had killed Khan’s son and brother when they bombed his home in 2009.) Khan’s captors did not identify themselves, but the method of his disappearance—plainclothes men accompanied by police officers who bundled him into an unmarked vehicle—bears the hallmark of the Pakistani security apparatus. During his detention, his captors beat him and interrogated him about his contacts, other drone victims, his upcoming trip, and what he intended to make public. Karim was released after nine days and, though he still traveled to Europe to testify, the detention scarred him. When I saw him after, he appeared withered and reported difficulty sleeping as well as bouts of anxiety. Alamzaib, too, was picked up again in 2020 from his home hours after posting a video on social media criticizing U.S. drone bombardment and asking questions about the Pakistani military’s complicity. He was not disappeared. In his case, the local police served as captors, taking him without an arrest warrant and keeping him for twenty-three days.

And so, this is what I know about what happened to the boy on the missing poster, the one who had just barely survived the US bombing of the funeral. As the ambulance sped toward the hospital, Pakistani security forces blockaded the road and stopped it from passing. They ordered everyone out of the vehicle. The ambulance driver, the boy’s father, the relatives traveling with him—and the boy himself—were all disappeared.

***

Is this a story of U.S. empire or of Pakistani state impunity? And what are the stakes when drawing such a distinction?

The story about the boy’s disappearance doesn’t fit neatly into the popular understanding of what drone warfare looks like. Our conceptual frames tend to restrict our attention to the deaths and injuries caused instantly by Hellfire bomb blasts, but the lives of drone survivors, and of the communities living through the war, go on. Drone survivors, like others in the border zone, are also people who have cousins taken by the Taliban, or an uncle whose decomposing body is found in the market after several months of disappearance, or a brother who is detained indefinitely by the Pakistani military.

The failure to see the full scope of the war has the effect of isolating the drone from the broader social and material worlds that make the drone war possible. This blindness rehearses the logic of U.S. empire. Preferring to frame its interventions as temporary and limited, the United States has been adept at distributing its capacities for violence among networks of collaborators. It need not explicitly demand the detentions of Rupeta, Kumar, Hayatullah, Karim, or Alamzaib. Having set the broad terms of its imperial project through opaque arrangements with the cruelest segments of the Pakistani state, it can disperse its war-making among transnational security assemblages.

For the Pakistani security state, in turn, the U.S.-led vitalization of terrorism as an ideological framework has enlarged the space for its own geopolitics, sometimes in tension with the United States but always in loose collaboration. These take many forms, including attacking critics in the name of national security, using War on Terror rhetoric to assault peasant movements and thieve land, passing broad surveillance and anti-terrorism laws, committing extrajudicial murders and totalizing military operations, forcing mass displacements that have reshaped FATA, and using the war to intervene in Afghanistan.

For the United States, the expansion of these Pakistani militarist projects has allowed for a displacement of responsibility, and the ability to strategically shift scales. Western and international publics may be attuned to direct U.S. actions, but “local” cases of detention, disappearance, extrajudicial murder, and even military operations go largely unnoticed. This is the distributed empire of the United States, one that exceeds the direct actions of the U.S. state—and continues to shape lives long after the drones have gone.

It has been years now since the boy was disappeared. Everyone else has been released, but he remains an absent presence. Sometimes, people never return. But, when I speak to a member of his family, I cannot ask that question, so I ask instead, “How is the family nowadays?”

He understands, responds, “We are searching for him.”


Madiha Tahrir is a Pakistani American journalist and researcher.




Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki Would Have Been 26 Today if It Weren’t For the U.S. Drone War

by Danaka Katovich, published on Truthout, August 26, 2021

On a Friday night in southern Yemen in October 2011, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was enjoying dinner with his 17-year-old cousin at an open-air restaurant. He was getting ready to say goodbye to him before heading back to his grandpa’s house in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa.

Abdulrahman was an American, born in Denver, Colorado, 26 years ago today, August 26. He spent the first seven years of his life in the United States, doing what a lot of other U.S. kids do: watching “The Simpsons,” listening to Snoop Dogg and reading the Harry Potter series.

But on that October night in Yemen, he wouldn’t make it back to Sanaa. While he was at dinner, a drone strike authorized by then-President Barack Obama was carried out. It killed him, his cousin, and several other civilians.

Abdulrahman should have been turning 26 years old today, but instead his future was robbed by the U.S. drone war. His grandfather wrote a plea for answers from the Obama administration in The New York Times in 2013 about the murder of his beloved grandson.

“Local residents told me his body was blown to pieces. They showed me the grave where they buried his remains. I stood over it, asking why my grandchild was dead. Nearly two years later, I still have no answers,” he wrote.

This kind of grief is all too common in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, where most U.S. drone strikes are conducted.

Like so many victims of U.S. drone strikes, Abdulrahman was in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” For the al-Awlaki family, the circumstances around Abdulrahman’s death were incredibly familiar. Just two weeks prior, a U.S. ordered drone strike killed his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen accused of being a part of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

While the drone strike on his father was intentional, questions still surround the Obama administration’s decision to order the drone strike that killed Abdulrahman. In 2017, the Trump administration approved a U.S. raid targeting al-Qaeda in al-Ghayil that killed Abdulrahman’s half-sister, Nawar al-Awlaki. Nawar was 8 years old and also a U.S. citizen.

Abdulrahman and Nawar Al Awlaki, Anwar Awlaki’s 2 children murdered by U.S. drone strikes.

How can the “war on terror” truly be about the country’s safety when it is directly killing U.S. citizens?

Right before President Obama took office, the CIA launched a drone attack on a funeral in Pakistan that killed 41 people. Drones quickly became the main manifestation of the war on terror during Obama’s time in office. The premise of increased use of drones was to keep U.S. boots off the ground in the Middle East and Africa. With drone technology, the U.S. was able to conduct covert wars in several countries at once.

Three days after he was inaugurated, Obama authorized a drone strike in Pakistan that killed as many as 20 civilians. Even after knowing how deadly drone strikes really were, Obama went on to conduct 10 times more drone strikes than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Eight years and 540 drone strikes later, the U.S. public will never really know how many civilians were killed during those years. The U.S. military counts many teenage boys as “enemy combatants” instead of civilians.

In 2011, the U.S. military launched Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan’s Pech Valley. Analysts at Bagram Air Force base would track militants’ cellphones, which proved inaccurate at times. Targets were often with their families or near bystanders when spotted by intelligence analysts. In 2015, The Intercept helped leak documents that showed during the period of Operation Haymaker, 90 percent of those killed by drone strikes were not the intended target.

President Donald Trump continued the brutal use of drones in Afghanistan. In November of 2019, he authorized a drone strike on a village in southeastern Afghanistan where local residents said that all the casualties that day were civilians.

“They keep saying that they are killing terrorists. But that’s not true. Farmers, shepherds and women are not terrorists. One of the victims, Naqib Jan, was a 2-year-old child,”

said Islam Khan, a resident of the province that was attacked that day.

Americans were told that “terrorists” don’t respect U.S. rights and values. But what are the nation’s rights and values? The highest law of the land would suggest due process and liberty, something drone strikes and the PATRIOT Act do everything to undermine. Three U.S. citizens in a single family, two of whom were children, were executed without charges, evidence or a trial. The U.S. Supreme Court would not even uphold Anwar al-Awlaki’s right to due process because it was an issue of national security that the Supreme Court felt it had no jurisdiction over. Drone strikes that kill people, even suspected terrorists, are in violation of not only our own laws but international law as well. U.S. citizen or not, the U.S. military cannot continue to act as judge, jury and executioner for people.

Drone strikes and military occupation during the war on terror have been devastating, taking many more lives than the public will ever really be able to know. The only way to make a safer world is the abandonment of war on terror policies like drone strikes and forever wars. After 20 years of unimaginable brutality, the U.S. must be held accountable for the killing of Abdulrahman, Nawar, and countless other civilians across Asia and Africa.

Twenty years since the war on terror began, it has only created more enemies, instability and suffering. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Afghanistan. For two decades the U.S. occupied and bombed Afghanistan under the guise of fighting terrorism. Between January 2004 and February 2020, the U.S. conducted over 13,000 drone strikes in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan civilians have been mercilessly killed and millions displaced by the U.S. occupation and continual drone strikes. The group the U.S. spent decades and trillions of dollars fighting has now taken over the country. The U.S. has nothing to show for its occupation of Afghanistan but blood, and lots of it.

Copyright © Truthout. Reprinted with permission.


Danaka Katovich is a national organizer at CODEPINK. Danaka graduated from DePaul University with a bachelor’s degree in political science in November 2020. Since 2018, she has been working toward ending U.S. participation in the war in Yemen. At CODEPINK, she works on youth outreach as a facilitator of the Peace Collective, CODEPINK’s youth cohort that focuses on anti-imperialist education and divestment.




Droning Disasters: A US Strike on Kabul

by Binoy Kampmark, published on Countercurrents, September, 1, 2021

No more profoundly disturbing statement was needed.  In the dying days of the official US departure from Kabul, a US drone etched its butcher’s legacy with a strike supposedly intended for the blood-lusty terrorist group ISIS-K, an abbreviation of Islamic State in Khorasan Province.  Its members had taken responsibility for blasts outside Harmid Karzai International Airport that had cost the lives of at least 175 individuals and 13 US service personnel.  Suicide bombers had intended to targettranslators and collaborators with the American army”.

President Joe Biden promised swift retribution. “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive.  We will not forget.  We will hunt you down and make you pay.” American “interests and our people” would be defended “with every measure at my command.

In his sights was ISIS-K.  “I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.”  A response “with force and precision” would take place “at our time, at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing.”

On August 28, an announcement by the Pentagon was made that two “high-profile” members of the group had been killed in a drone strike in Khorasan Province.  That same day, the President warned that the group was likely to conduct another attack.  The US military was readying itself.

The following day, to demonstrate such precision and choice, a vehicle supposedly carrying an unspecified number of suicide bombers linked to ISIS-K and speeding towards Kabul airport was struck in a second drone attack.  The site of the attack, being a residential neighbourhood in the city, should have given room for pause to those precisionists in the military.

The strike was meant to leave a lasting impression upon ISIS-K fighters.  Initially, US officials were pleased to inform the Associated Press that “multiple suicide bombers” had perished in the attack.  “US military forces conducted a self-defence unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Harmid Karzai International Airport,” stated US Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban.

The outcome of the strike was apparently something to be proud of.  “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”  But this came with a rounding caveat. “We’re assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, although we have no indications at this time.”

The story started to congeal over interviews, discussions and threads.  A dribble of information suggested loss of civilian life.  A number quickly emerged in the flood that followed: ten family members had lost their lives.  From the New York Times, there was Matthieu Aikins patching things together.  Bodies were named: Somaya, daughter of Zemari.  Farzard, Zemari’s son, also killed.  The narrative twists, inverts and disturbs more: Zemari’s nephew, Naser, was an Afghan army officer, former guard of the US military.  He had applied for an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa), hoping to flee Afghanistan for the United States.

To the BBC, Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, could only tearfully despair. “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”  Questions followed.  “Why have they killed our family?  Our children?  They are so burned out we cannot identify their bodies, their faces.”

At a press briefing on August 30, Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor of the Joint Staff tried to make something of yet another messy bungle in the annals of the US military.  “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties. We take these reports extremely seriously.”  John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, was “not going to get ahead of it.  But if we have significant – verifiable information that we did take innocent life here, then we will be transparent about that, too.  Nobody wants to see that happen.”  Urban also stated that the Pentagon was aware of civilian casualties “following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today.

The attack had that sheen of atrocious incompetence (Kirby preferred the term “dynamic”), but that would be a misreading.  Killing remotely is, by its nature, inaccurate, though it has a disturbing fan club deluded into thinking otherwise.  The death of civilians, subsumed under the euphemism of collateral damage, is often put down to shonky intelligence rather than the machinery itself.  As Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Centre is a case in point.  “These are precise weapons,” she erroneously observed in 2016.  “The failure is in the intelligence about who it is that we are killing”.

Drone strikes have demonstrated, time and again, to lack the mythical precision with which they are billed.  Those in proximity to the target will be slain.  Whole families have been, and will continue, to be pulverised.  “Gradually,” the New York Times observed with stunning obviousness in 2015, “it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.”

In 2016, research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative journalism found that the lethal returns from the US-UAV program proved to be overwhelmingly civilian.  A mere 3.5% could be said, with any certainty, to be terrorists.

The use of drones in combat is also politically baffling, self-defeating and contradictory.  As Michael Boyle has explained, referring to the use of UAV warfare in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, such a counterterrorism strategy was distinctly at odds in providing, on the one hand, a flow of arms and financial resource to the very governments whose legitimacy they undermined through the use of such strikes.  By all means, we supply you, but have no trust in your competence.

A mere month after the conviction of whistleblower Daniel Hale, who did more than any other to reveal the grotesque illusion of reliability behind the US drone program, UAV warfare was again shown to be a butchering enterprise praised by the precisionists and found politically wanting.  Those attending the funerals of the slain family members, an event taking place in the shadow of US power in retreat, needed little convincing who their enemy was.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com




Daniel Hale and the Soldier Conscripted as Executioner

by Judith Bello, published on Stop the Wars at Home and Abroad, July 31, 2021

On July 27th, Whistleblower Daniel Hale plead to one count of espionage and was sentenced to 45 months in prison. Five years after ransacking his home, confiscating his computer, phone other materials, the government charged Daniel with 5 counts under the espionage act. Following his plea, his bond was revoked and he was placed in solitary confinement for several months prior to sentencing. They are sending a message: ” if you tell the truth about our crimes, we will come after you and make you pay”. This is what the jailing of Chelsea Manning was about and what the Assange case is about. Whistleblowers have suffered increasingly harsh penalties and long prison sentences since the time of Obama, who put more whistleblowers in prison than all other presidents combined. It is an inversion of justice that Daniel should have to spend any time in prison. The treatment of all these courageous individuals is an outrage.

What was Daniel Hale’s crime? In 2015, he shared some classified documents about the system used by the US military to control a fleet of drones deployed around the globe to surveil and often to kill people. And he shared the truth about the consequences of those strikes for the, more often than not, innocent victims. Daniel shared information that he believed the people of the United States need to know to understand what our government is doing in our name, yet he was prosecuted under a law enacted to punish spies during the first World War. Like Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Reality Winner and numerous other whistleblowers, including Julian Assange, Daniel was charged under the Espionage Act to ensure a maximal penalty.

Between 2009 and 20013, Daniel was deployed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where he participated in the drone program as an intelligence analyst, tracking cell phones associated with men targeted for drone assassination.  His experience there was deeply traumatic and left him with severe PTSD.   Seeing the men he located targeted and blown to pieces by missile strikes filled him with guilt and horror, as it should any sane person.

Drone warfare frames the experience of the soldier as executioner.  In a moving letter to judge O’Grady, who will be sentencing him, Daniel said:

“By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissible for me to have helped to kill those men—whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify—in the gruesome manner that I did. Watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time.”

Following his discharge from the Airforce in 2013, Daniel immersed himself in antiwar activism.    As he was preparing to return to school he was offered a lucrative, high tech desk job as a military contractor, and he took the job.   Like many soldiers returning from the United States dirty wars he wavered between guilt and depression, and denial.  He once again buried his guilt and confusion until, a few months on, while watching a video of a drone strike with friends at work, in his own words he “felt his heart break into pieces” and his “conscience, once held at bay, came roaring back to life“.  So he made the decision to share the information available to him with a reporter he had met during his period of antiwar, anti-drone warfare activism.

Daniel, who has out on bond awaiting sentencing,  was called in for a routine check-in on April 28th.  When he arrived at the court, he was arrested on a supposed bond violation, imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement to await his sentencing alone, with limited access to books and no mental health support.

The prosecution demanded an extremely high sentence.  They say he took the contract job as a plan to acquire the documents he later released to the public.  But  Daniel’s story of a deep struggle with guilt and denial is typical of soldiers suffering from severe  PTSD.   Daniel’s final choice to reveal the drone program in all its power and horror was the right one.   He is a hero.

The government’s decision to subject Daniel Hale to maximum punishment is the wrong one.  It is wrong because the government should be accountable to the people.   It is wrong because they should provide support for those who are harmed by their insistence on endless global wars.   It is wrong because it denies Daniel’s suffering and the suffering of tens of thousands of military veterans.  It is wrong because drone warfare, global policing and targeted assassination are bad policies; unjust, morally reprehensible policies of mechanized murder to rule by fear and mayhem.

Thousands of soldiers return from war suffering from deep trauma.   Some drink or use drugs.  Some commit violence against family members, other soldiers or even strangers.   Some commit suicide.   In this context, Daniel’s decision to tell the truth about what the military drone program is and how it operates is a sign of deep strength of character.  We cannot  abandon Daniel Hale.

In these days of increasing government corruption and concealment, reckless militarism, censorship and propaganda, truth-tellers are precious.

#StandWithDanielHale

#PardonDanielHale

#EndDroneWarfare

#BanKillerDrones

*Featured Image:  twitter.com/#FreeDanielHale


Judith Bello is Editor of this website as well as of the United National Antiwar Coalition blog, End the Wars at Home and Abroad.  She is a founding member of Upstate Drone Action and on the UNAC Administrative Committee.




The Overseas Operations Act, Drone Strikes, and the Presumption of Lawfulness

by Max Bookman-Byrne, published on Drone-Wars UK, April 5, 2021

The Overseas Operations Act, which recently became law, aims to limit the exposure of members of the armed forces to prosecution for crimes committed in the course of armed conflict. Unsurprisingly its passage through Parliament was fraught with controversy. In addition, the Parliamentary debate surrounding the Act highlighted that government thinking around the use of armed drones continues to rely on problematic presumptions and tropes. In its response to questions raised in Parliament, the government has betrayed its underlying view that drone warfare is inherently lawful and clean.

With the aim of limiting ‘vexatious claims and prosecution of historical events’ that emerge from the ‘uniquely complex environment of armed conflict overseas’, the Act is divided into two substantive parts. Part 1 creates a new framework of hurdles to be overcome before members of the armed forces can be prosecuted for crimes committed more than five years ago during overseas operations. These prosecutions will now only go ahead in ‘exceptional cases’. Part 2 reduces the time period within which civil and human rights claims can be brought against the Ministry of Defence or armed forces. Additionally, the Act seeks to place a duty on the government to consider derogating from (i.e. suspend) aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to ‘significant’ overseas operations. Unsurprisingly, the Act has been subject to a great deal of criticism. It has been described as a ‘significant barrier to justice’, contrary to the rule of law, and likely to hamper the training of soldiers.

Beyond this, the passage of the Act has incidentally allowed insight into the government’s thinking around the use of drones, and lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS). In a House of Lords debate on 11 March 2021 Lord Browne of Ladyton tabled an amendment which would have required the government to produce a report into the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) for military purposes. Lord Browne’s reason for tabling this amendment was his belief that the Act is based on incorrect perceptions of the future of war, focusing on traditional ‘boots on the ground’ operations, and ignoring the increasing use of remote and autonomous technology. 

This belief came from the fact that the Act applies only to members of the armed forces who commit a potential offence when ‘deployed on overseas operations’, meaning ‘outside the British Islands’ (per Section 1(2) and (6) of the Act). One of the questions Lord Browne posed was:

 If a UAV operator works from a control room here in the UK, in support of troops on the ground in a country beyond the British Isles, are they deployed on overseas operations for the purposes of this legislation?

For Lord Browne, the legislation fails to keep pace with the ‘forward-facing nature’ of government military policy, as evidenced by the emphasis on modernising defence in the recent Integrated Review. Ultimately the amendment was withdrawn, but with the promise from Lord Browne that it may return in some form.

Lord Browne’s concerns are important, particularly where they betray a lack of joined up thinking by the government in relation to technology and war. However, it is the government’s response that is most interesting.

In a letter on 25 March 2021, Baroness Goldie, the Minister of State for Defence, wrote to Lord Browne to address his concerns. Baroness Goldie said, among other things, that it was right to leave drone crews out of the scope of the Act for two main reasons. First, they are not at risk of actual or threatened personal attack or violence, unlike soldiers in the field. Secondly, there are not the same ‘difficulties of recording decisions and retaining evidence’ as there are for personnel deployed overseas.

Drone operators are therefore excluded from the remit of this protective legislation (i.e. they will be more open to prosecution than personnel overseas) because they are perceived to be removed from immediate threats. This appears to be based on the old presumption that drone strikes are inherently less likely to be unlawful than other types of warfare because of the characteristics of the weapon system. The suggestion is that because drones allow more consideration before a strike is taken, and because they carry precision munitions, their attacks must be lawful. Because of this, drone crews do not need protection – why would they if what they do is always lawful?

No doubt this articulation of the underlying assumptions would be rejected by the government, and it may not consciously be held by anyone, but nonetheless the presumption seems to be there, and its implications are very dangerous indeed. It may lead to a failure to investigate strikes that have potentially violated the law, as the view becomes ever more entrenched that drone strikes are beyond reproach. There is evidence to suggest this is already the case in relation to some strikes carried out within Operation Shader (though in fact the refusal to investigate civilian harm in Operation Shader applies to all strikes, not just those carried out with drones).

Perhaps more problematically, the presumption supports the notion that drone strikes are clean, and can be used quickly and efficiently, without unintended consequences. This has been a common thread in the US discourse – drones have been presented as being ‘surgical’, and having ‘laser-like precision’. The presumption risks accelerating the proliferation of drone use, particularly as the UK moves towards a policy of ‘persistent engagement’ and readiness for warfighting, as set out in the Integrated Review.

It has been demonstrated on numerous occasions that drone strikes are not clean, nor do they avoid collateral damage. US drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia are estimated to have killed up to 2,200 civilians. UK drones in Iraq and Syria are reputed to have killed a number of civilians, despite continued insistence by the Ministry of Defence that there has been only one unintended casualty.

The pervasive presumption that drone warfare is inherently lawful and clean has real world consequences upon the lives of those living beneath them. It is sad though unsurprising that this presumption persists within government. Of course, it is not my intention to call for the expansion of the protections under the Act to be extended to include drone pilots – my view is that the Act should never have been passed, for the many problems that have been highlighted by critical commentators. Nevertheless, the passage of the Act has demonstrated the continued presence of harmful presumptions around the use of drones. Lord Browne has demonstrated that the government’s Act is stuck in the past with its unrealistic notions of what warfare looks like. The response to his comments shows that the government continues to hold similarly outdated and inaccurate views regarding the reality of drone warfare.




Day of the Drone

by Conn Hallinan, published on Counterpunch, March 16, 2021

In the aftermath of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, drone warfare is being touted as the latest breakthrough in military technology, a “magic bullet” that makes armored vehicles obsolete, defeats sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, and rout entrenched infantry.

While there is some truth in the hype, one needs to be especially wary of military “game changers,” since there is always a seller at the end of the pitch. In his examination of the two major books on drones–Christian Brose’s “The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare,” and Michael Boyle’s “The Drone Age”–military analyst Andrew Cockburn points out that the victims of drones are mostly civilians, not soldiers. While drones can take out military targets, they are more commonly used to assassinate people one doesn’t approve of. A case in point was former President Trump’s drone strike that killed Qasem Solemani, a top Iranian general, a country we are not at war with.

In just the first year of his administration, Trump killed more people–including 250 children–with drones in Yemen and Pakistan than President Barack Obama did in eight years. And Obama was no slouch in this department, increasing the use of drone attacks by a factor of 10 over the administration of George W. Bush.

Getting a handle on drones–their pluses and minuses and the moral issues such weapons of war raise–is essential if the world wants to hold off yet another round of massive military spending and the tensions and instabilities such a course will create.

That drones have the power to alter a battlefield is a given, but they may not be all they are advertised. Azerbaijan’s drones–mostly Turkish Bayraktar TB2s and Israeli Harpys, Orbiter-1Ks, and Harops–did, indeed, make hash of Armenian tanks and armored vehicles and largely silenced anti-aircraft systems. They also helped Azeri artillery target Armenians positions. But the Azerbaijanis won the recent war by slugging it out on the ground, with heavy casualties on both sides.

As military historian and editor of the Small Wars JournalLt. Col Robert Bateman (ret.) points out, drones were effective because  of the Armenian’s stunningly incompetence in their use of armor, making no effort to spread their tanks out or camouflage them. Instead, they bunched them up in the open, making them sitting ducks for Turkish missile firing drones and Israeli “suicide” drones. “While drones will be hailed as the straw that broke the camel’s back in this war,” he writes,”Azerbaijani success is also attributed to good ol’ fashioned mechanized infantry operations that took territory, one square kilometer at a time.”

Turkey has made widespread use of drones in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and they again have played a role on the battlefield. But Turkish drones have mainly been used to assassinate Kurdish leaders in Iraq and Syria. Last April a Turkish drone killed two Iraqi generals in the Kurdish autonomous zone of northern Iraq.

In July 2020, Turkey deployed drones in Syria to block an offense by the Damascus government against Turkey’s allies in Idlib Province, but failed to stop President Bashar al-Assad’s forces from reclaiming large hunks of territory. In short, they are not always “game changers.”

The selling point for drones is that they are precise, cheap–or relatively so–and you don’t have a stream of body bags returning home. But drones are not all- seeing, unless they are flying at low altitudes, thus making it easier to shoot them down. The weather also needs to be clear, and the area smokeless. Otherwise what drones see are vague images.  In 2010 a US drone took out what it thought was a caravan of Taliban trucks carrying weapons. But the trucks were filled with local peasants and the “weapons” were turkeys. The drones incinerated 23 civilians.

Nor do they always live up to their reputation for accuracy. In a 2012 test, the Air Force compared a photo of a base taken by the highly touted Gorgon Stare cameras mounted on a Predator drone and the one on Google Earth. The images were essentially identical, except Gorgon Stare cost half a trillion dollars and Google Earth was free. “In neither,” says Cockburn, “were humans distinguishable from bushes.”

Drones have killed insurgent leaders in Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan with virtually no effect on those wars. Indeed, in the case of Afghanistan, the assassination of first tier Taliban leaders led to their replacement by far more radical elements. The widespread use of drones in the US war on drugs has also been largely a failure. Drug cartels are bigger and more dangerous than ever, and there has been no reduction in the flow of drugs into the country.

They do keep the body bag count down, but that raises an uncomfortable moral dilemma: If war doesn’t produce casualties, except among the targeted, isn’t it more tempting to fight them? Drone pilots in their air-conditioned trailers in southern Nevada will never go down with their aircraft, but the people on the receiving end will eventually figure out some way to strike back. As as the attack on the World Trade towers and recent terrorist attacks in France demonstrate, that is not all that hard to do, and it is almost inevitable that the targets will be civilians. Bloodless war is a dangerous illusion.

Drones certainly present problems for any military. For one thing, they are damned hard to spot. Most are composed of non-metallic substances, like Kevlar, and they have low heat signatures because their small motors run on batteries. Radar doesn’t pick them up and neither do infrared detectors. The Yemen-based Houthis drones that hit Saudi Arabian oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in 2019 slipped right through the radar systems of three anti-aircraft networks: the US Patriot system, the French supplied Shashine surface-to-air-missile system, and the Swiss Oerlikon 35mm radar directed cannons.

Those drones were produced on a 3-D printer supplied to the Houthis by Iran.

Drones also raised havoc with Armenia’s far more capable Russian-made S-300 air defense system, plus several other short and medium range systems. Apparently the drones were not detected until they struck, essentially obliterating Armenia’s anti-aircraft system.

The Russians claim that they beat off drone attacks on their two bases in Syria, Khmeimim Air Base and the naval base at Tartus, with their Pantsir air defense system.But those drones were rather primitive. Some were even made of plywood. Pantsir systems were destroyed in Nagorno Karabakh, and Turkish drones apparently destroyed Pantsirs in Libya.

The problem is that even if you do detect them, a large number of drones–a so-called “swarming attack” similar to the one that struck the Saudis–will eventually exhaust your ammunition supply, leaving you vulnerable while reloading.

The US is working on a way to counter drones with directed energy weapons, including the High Energy Laser Weapons System 2, and a microwave system. At a cost of $30 million, Raytheon is building prototypes of both. President Biden’s Defense Secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin (ret.), formerly served on the company’s board of directors.

If drones rely on GPS systems to navigate, they can be jammed or hacked, as the Iranians successfully did to a large US surveillance drone in 2010. Some drones rely on internal maps, like the one used in the US Tomahawk cruise missile. It appears that the drones and cruises that hit Saudi Arabia were running on a guidance system similar to the Tomahawk. Of course that makes your drone or cruise missile autonomous, something that raises its own moral dilemmas. The US is currently working on weapons that use artificial intelligence and will essentially be able to “decide” on their own what to attack. Maybe not “Terminator,” but headed in that direction.

Drones are enormously useful for a range of tasks, from monitoring forest fires to finding lost hikers. They are cheap to run and commercial prices are coming down. Turning them into weapons, however, is not only destabilizing, it puts civilians at risk, raises serious moral issues about who bears the cost of war, and in the long run will be very expensive. Drones may be cheap, but anti-aircraft systems are not.

India and Pakistan are in the middle of a drone race. Germany is debating whether it should arm its drones. Mexican drug cartels are waging war against one another using drones.

An international convention on drone use should be on any future arms control agenda.


Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, “A Think Tank Without Walls”, and an independent journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the journalism program at the University of California at Santa Cruz for 23 years  Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com




Drones Fly, Children Die

by Judith Bello

Hancock Air National Guard Base was one of the first domestic drone bases to come on line. The base is located in a pleasant suburb of Syracuse New York, along side the International Airport. The 174th Attack Wing at Hancock is tasked with flying Reaper Drone missions over Afghanistan and other places on the far side of the world that they are unwilling to name. They also fly Drones berthed locally over the Adirondacks to the East and Lake Ontario to the West. I saw one 100 miles west of there heading for Rochester International Airport one day. Hancock is the domestic center for training Reaper pilots and mechanics. The men of the 174th are proud of their work, which is important to the imperial U.S. international policing mission. At least in some cases, the human consequences of their work is not entirely clear to these men.

About a week ago, a small group of protesters went out to Hancock Air National Guard Base to exercise their civil rights and petition the government for redress of grievances. They believe that the use of hunter, killer Drones to attack people in countries we are not at war with, mostly countries that do not have the international status or military capacity to defend their people, is morally wrong and a violation of international consensus in general and international law. Further, they believe that the use of Drones piloted from the neighborhoods where we live and work endangers us in the long run.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

International law protects the rights of civilians. It also says that it is fair to retaliate against an attacker in the location where the attack is coming from. That would be Hancock, or more generally, Syracuse New York. Drone attacks rarely target anyone who is an immediate threat to the United States or countries at war with the U.S. They protect U.S. ‘Interests’ abroad. Drones attack people in their own lands, often in countries that are destabilized by competing foreign interests. Drone bombs take out anyone who happens to be in the same area as the target. Though the targeting is technically precise, it is often inaccurate due to misunderstanding of the actions of innocent people on the ground.

But ‘Why protest military Drones now?’ The United States is currently at war with Afghanistan (after nearly 18 years), has a significant presence in Syria and Iraq and Yemen where it is engaged in proxy wars, and is threatening Venezuela and Iran very directly. The Russiagate enthusiasts and China-phobes are making plans for a ‘limited’ nuclear war and developing tools for a war in space that could isolate the earth from the rest of the universe for a very long time. Meanwhile, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia, which limits the development of medium range nuclear missiles. In early June, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained that the U.S. has been unwilling to engage in negotiations which must be completed by 2021 to to renew the New START treaty which is the only remaining strategic nuclear arms control agreement in place between the United States and the Russian Federation. We are entering the world of Dr. Strangelove. The Atomic clock is a few seconds from midnight and global nuclear annihilation is now a serious risk.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

So, why devote ourselves to protesting military Drones? Well, I’ll get to the concerns that mobilized us in a minute. But first, the universe provided a perfect example of the significance of Drones in the above context a day or two before our protest. The Iranians shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over their coastal waters. It was a Global Hawk, large and expensive, but unarmed. Trump and the ‘B’ team (Bolton, BiBi, Bin Zayad, Bin Salman) immediately went into action, preparing a retaliatory strike. The Pentagon worked out a plan and initiated it. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, choking off oil shipping in the region, and asserted that they would defend their sovereignty to a very bitter end. But, according President Trump, he called off the attack, 10 minutes before the strike because he was told there would be 150 casualties.   If a U.S. attack were to trigger a larger warm there might be  tens of thousands of casualties, including U.S. casualties.

Instead he called for new sanctions against individuals including sanctions against the Javad Zarif, a long time diplomat and peace maker who went to school in the U.S. and is very friendly to Americans, and Supreme Leader Khamenei, who does not have any assets outside of Iran. Since Iran is a relatively large country with an identity and history going back several millenia, and is very closely affiliated with Russia and China, starting a war over a piece of machinery would indeed have been a pretty stupid thing to do. But they didn’t, this time.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

There were a number of factors that motivated the protesters to go out to Hancock in June, and that wasn’t one of them. It was a total surprise. We haven’t heard much about Drones lately, until the Iranian shoot-down, but not because they weren’t in play.Military Drones are ubiquitous messengers of U.S. aggression.. A friend who did several tours of duty in Iraq pointed out that they provided protection for the soldiers on the ground. Of course, we don’t have any soldiers on the ground in Libya, and supposedly, our soldiers in Iraq and Syria are keeping the peace, not engaged in open warfare.  What soldiers are they protecting in the battlefields where U.S. soldiers are not supposed to be present on the ground?

Over the last couple of years, the Africom has built several large military bases across Africa to support a massive expansion of the Reaper drone fleet there.  Currently, Somalia is a primary target. Somalia became a failed state the last time the U.S. tried to democratize them. Armed Drones fly routinely over Yemen, where they target al Qaeda, Islamists who are allied, with our proxy, Saudi Arabia. They fly over Iraq and Iran. Reapers continue to be the primary air force in Afghanistan. When you hear a report that 3 or 5, or 10 or 50 people were killed in an airstrike there, most likely it was a Reaper Drone strike. A 500 lb Paveway bomb will kill a lot of people in a wedding tent or at a town meeting or in a multi-family household, a compound, as they like to call it. Of course, this is just the way people live in Afghanistan, at least people who can afford a decent home.

Drones are deeply embedded in every U.S. warzone and area of military interest.  Drones are used to seek out individuals where they live and work. Maybe they are bad people, or maybe they just appear to be the bad people. And usually, they are in the company of their families and friends, engaged in the normal activities of their community when the Drone catches up with them. Targeted assassinations often rely on a cellphone to identify the target, so don’t borrow anyone’s phone there, don’t walk in the store where a targeted individual is shopping. One man told me he sleeps in the mountains to protect his family. Heaven forbid someone should think he is home one night and take them all out while they are sleeping.

Signature Strikes, which target people who appear to be ‘acting like militants’, are still approved. So, men gathering for a meeting or emerging from their workplace, people praying after lunch along the roadside, schoolboys in a bus, people at a wedding firing their guns into the air, all might seem like good targets. The possibilities are endless when drone pilots who have never left the U.S. and never met anyone from Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or wherever, and knows nothing about Islam. But at least our guys are safe over here.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

Drones violate international law. You have probably heard that before. What does it mean to say that military Drone strikes violate International Law. It means that they tear the very fabric of global society. It means that those who fly them do not feel constrained by the boundaries of nations or the rules of war. Drone warfare dehumanizes targets who are far away, and at least on the surface, appear to be more ‘enemies’ in a video game than humans living in society. The United States, having first launched a campaign of armed drones as weapons of war, is a role model for others coming on line,  Russia, China and Iran.  Israel pioneered Drones over the last decades, and also contempt for international law and the rights of other nations.  Drones are consistently used against presumed ‘fighters’ who are not on a battlefield.  Whatever war plans are in the making, Drones will be a central part of their enactment.

Now ‘unarmed’ Reapers are patrolling our borders. With the growing hysteria over illegal immigration, how long will they remain unarmed?  ICE agents routinely check out the passengers on buses with dogs, and dust the baggage at train stations along the Canadian border for explosives. Drones have been used to target a couple of high profile criminals in this country. China and Russia, and even Iran now have their own military Drones. Armed Drones are not useful for dogfights, but they are very useful for policing. Just as in the interior of our cities, suspects are routinely killed to avoid risk and confusion, around the world suspects and anyone near them are routinely annihilated by hellfire missiles and Paveway bombs.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

Is this the world we want to live in? Members of Upstate (NY) Drone Action say no. And they put their bodies on the line to say it. If you want change, you have to do something about it. It is difficult to be heard these days, but its important to make the effort. If more people were to protest regularly in the name of peace and justice, it would become easier to be heard. Lots of people don’t like U.S. wars and interventions. But if you don’t come forward and put something on the line then your voice will be silent. Voting is a good idea, but so few candidates oppose the wars that most people don’t have access to them. Donald Trump, of all people, ran as an advocate for withdrawing from the many ongoing U.S. wars around the world, but he seems to have forgotten now that he is in office. He has doubled down on military Drone use around the world.  Obama ran as a peace candidate but he too presided over a huge increase in lethal Drone activity, the destruction of Libya and Syria and Honduras (to name a few), and the beginning of the Saudi war to occupy Yemen.

So, on the appointed day, we met at 6:45 with the items for our tableau, in the pouring rain and decided to go ahead anyway. Drones Fly; Children Die. War is an ugly and dark theme, why not roll it out in the rain. People set up the Tableau blocking the ingress lane of the road leading to the main gate at Hancock Field, and went to the Guard Shack to read the guards our complaint and ask them to forward it to the Colonel who is responsible for the Base. A soldier in a rain slicker immediately went into the main road to direct traffic to a different gate, and a lone policeman arrived. Sherri began chanting. She called out the names of some of the dead children killed in drone strikes. We joined her in a lament. Sherri and Peg chanted, sang and wailed through the entire event in the pouring rain, a couple of hours until the police took those practicing civil resistance to a holding pen in Onondaga County Jail.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

And all the while it rained and rained and rained. The rain poured down like tears from a universe where people’s lives are a matter of consequence.

The clips embedded in this article were taken from footage filmed by Heriberto Rodriguez, who somehow captured beautiful clean footage in the pouring rain, including nice cameos of  activists stating their reasons for protesting at the base and images of the vivid tableau in which they embedded themselves and the supporters across the street who held signs and chanted.


On June 20th 2019, 8 protesters outside the front gate of Hancock were arrested and charged with Trespassing and Disorderly Conduct, both violations, and Obstructing Governmental Action, a misdemeanor. They were Ann Tiffany, Ed Kinane, Dan Burgevin, Julianne Oldfield, Les Billips, Ray Kraemer, Mark Scibilia-Carver and Tom Joyce.




8 Arrested Exposing Hancock AirForce Base Terrorism

by Ed Kinane, June 22, 2019

Shortly before 8 a.m. on Thursday, June 20, our Upstate Drone Action caravan of six or seven vehicles arrived, unannounced, at the main gate of Hancock AFB in De Witt, a suburb of Syracuse, New York. Two of us – accompanied by one of our videographers – proceeded to the guardhouse 50 yards in from East Molloy Road to read aloud and deliver a statement (below). The statement called on base personnel, in accordance with U.S. and International Law, to refuse to obey their chain of command’s illegal orders to commit what are ongoing drone war crimes.

Simultaneously we set about creating a street theatre tableau blocking the main entrance to the base. As we have many times over the past decade, we were calling out Hancock for hosting the 174th Attack Wing of the NY National Guard. The 174th remotely pilots missile-spewing robotic MQ9 Reaper drones over Afghanistan (and probably elsewhere). These classified operations result in the terrorizing, maiming and killing of uncounted and uncountable numbers of  unarmed and undefended  children and their parents.

Until our arrest about two hours later, we held an unadorned, white 3×8-ft. banner across the driveway leading to the gate. In bold black letters, it read:

DRONE FLY, CHILDREN DIE  —  OUR HEARTS ARE BREAKING.

Nearby, also in the ingress, two grandmothers in traditional black dresses silently sat grieving, holding “infants” in bloodied swaddling clothes. Bloodied “body parts” and children’s toys and things were strewn about. Crossing back and forth between the banner and the road, pushed by a man in a cape and death’s mask, a model Reaper on wheels fleshed out the tableau.  Across the road from base property, over a dozen supporters, singing and chanting, held signs like: CHILDREN ARE NOT “COLLATERAL DAMAGE.”

Two rain-soaked hours later, the DeWitt town police and Onondaga County sheriffs, having converged in numerous vehicles, ordered us to leave base property.   Those eight who chose not to do so were arrested:  Tom Joyce (Ithaca); Dan Burgevin & Mark Scibilia-Carver (Trumansburg); and Rae Kramer, Julienne Oldfield, Les Billips , Ann Tiffany and Ed Kinane (Syracuse).

We were handcuffed, separated by gender and taken in two paddy wagons to the sheriffs’ north station where we were held in three small cells. After a couple hours we were transported by van to the downtown Syracuse “Justice Center.” In booking we were ordered strip, spread our cheeks, and where applicable, lift our scrotums. Our street clothes were put in a device for what seemed to be some chemical inspection and replaced with jail issue.

We were held in a chilly, dirty holding cell with other inmates all day. In the early evening we separately appeared before a Judge Murphy. Public defenders pled us not guilty. The assistant D.A. recommended we be ROR’ed and, released on our own recognizance, without bail. After being taken back to the holding cell, we were released – to the welcoming arms of support people and fellow perps –  sometime after 10:30 p.m.

Five of us — LB, DB, TJ, EK, RK —  must appear in the DeWitt town night court at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 25;  JO, AT & MS-C. must appear June 26, also at 6 p.m. We were each charged with two violations — trespass and disorderly conduct, and with a misdemeanor, obstruction of government administration (OGA). Thus far Hancock’s crimes against humanity go insufficiently exposed.

Thanks to our videographers our entire action was live-streamed. The arrest appeared on YouTube. The next morning brief footage appeared near the top of Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” news hour viewed by hundreds of thousands here and abroad. For a three-minute overview, check out:


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez


Arrest Video by John Amidon

*Featured photo by Heriberto Rodriguez




A Forgotten Drone Victim And the U.S. War on Indigenous Peoples

by Judith Bello, 2017

Malik Jalal in Islamabad in 2012.

In Pakistan in October of 2012, my group of peace activists met Malik Jalal, who spoke to us about the effect of drones on his community in Waziristan and later accompanied our caravan up to Tank, a town on the edge of Waziristan, where we joined a lively anti-war rally.    I specifically remember Malik Jalal as a handsome man in the prime of life, accustomed to having authority.   He had a full beard and wore the garb of a Tribal leader, and spoke about the suffering of his people living under drones.  There was humor in his expression and I remember that he laughed and his eyes twinkled when members of our delegation told of being arrested for sitting outside a military base demanding an end to drone wars.    Only in response to a direct question did he talk about his own experience.   He said that he sometimes slept in the mountains so as not to put his family at risk.

Click the Photo to read Malik Jalal’s story in his own words.

Last summer, in 2016, I saw a photo of a man visiting London to share his experience with living under drones and demand that the drones stop flying over Waziristan.   His name was Malik Jalal.    I thought I recognized the man I had met in Pakistan, but an organizer with my group dismissed the possibility out of hand.   I waited a little, then went to my photos and took out a photo to compare with the one in the British news article. **   I was then certain it was the same man.   He had aged, and his beard was shorter.   He was dressed in ordinary Afghan and Pakhtun garb rather than the robes of a Chieftain.   But it was the same Malik Jalal we had met in Pakistan.   It was sad, really, to see him so much aged in the few years since I had met him.

This week, when I was researching the story of Faisal bin Ali Jabar, I noticed an article on the Reprieve website about Malik Jalal.   They are the ones who hosted him in London last summer, and also hosted the CodePink Peace Delegation to meet Waziri Drone victims in Pakistan.     I think the headline I saw last summer was in the Guardian.   In any case, what interested me were the details of Malik Jalal’s story.   When we met him in Pakistan, he had primarily focused his remarks on the suffering of his people.   I imagine he did the same when he was in London.   However, the article on the Reprieve website described how he was targeted and stalked by US drones.   On repeated occasions, people were blown up by drone in proximity to Jalal’s path; a friend expecting him for  dinner, people at a meeting he was on his way to attend, a family member who was driving his car, and even a random car the same color as his own traveling down the road behind him.

Malik Jalal is not an Al Qaeda operative or member of the Taliban.   As a Malik, he is a tribal leader on the payroll of the Pakistani government.  He works as a moderator in resolving tribal disputes and is a senior member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee.    While carrying out his duties, he might occasionally attend a meeting with a Taliban member present.   They too belong to local tribes, and some hold positions of authority.   But there is no possible justification for stalking Malik Jalal to try to kill him, terrorizing his family and  killing a number of innocent people who were mistaken for him.  But Malik Jalal says that the reason he is being targeted is because he came forward and spoke out against the drone strikes on other members of his community.

In 2011, Reprieve called a Jirga with a lawyer named Shahzad Akbar to bring together the people of Waziristan who wished to end the drone killing in their towns and villages.   Another person who came forward to try to end the drone strikes in Waziristan, and they were many, was a teenage boy who offered to search for missile parts in the vicinity around his home town.   The Jirga (town hall meeting) must have been infiltrated by CIA agents because within a few days this 16 year old boy was incinerated by a drone strike while driving down the road with his 11 year old cousin.  Reprieve and Shahzad Akbar, however, have persevered in their efforts to end drone killing in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere, and they have continued to work with members of the community like Malik Jalal who are willing to come forward with information and to demand that the murderous drone strikes end.

Today, we don’t hear about this issue very often in the mainstream news.   The war in Afghanistan is going badly.   After hearing Malik Jalal’s story, this is not surprise.      It may be that there are less drone strikes in Pakistan this year, but although the drone strikes in Afghanistan are neither tracked or recorded, they are surely occurring at an accelerated pace.  If we are loosing there, perhaps we should look at other solutions than war.     There is no moral justification for the US war in Afghanistan and no moral or legal justification for bombing people in the tribal region of Pakistan,  a country which is not at war with us.   Code Pink invited Shahzad Akbar to come and speak in the US in 2013, but he was unable to get a visa.   The Afghan Peace Volunteers and their mentor, Hakim were invited a couple of years later, but also failed to receive visas.  These are all peace activists who can inform us about the damage done by US wars in their countries.

Drone wars have drifted out of our attention, but that is not an accident.   Since the early days of broad political resistance to the use of drones for targeted killing (execution of suspects) and surveillance, it is become more and more difficult to get specific information about drone strikes.   They are reported together with manned air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.   But what they don’t tell us is that over time, drone strikes have become the majority of aerial attacks.   Drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan are not reported at all.   Google doesn’t bring in the news from foreign news outlets about local drone strikes the way it used to.   The news is disappearing before our eyes.

How can we support a peace that will allow a country like Afghanistan to reintegrate?   Malik Jalal’s story gives us some ideas.   The tribal councils can go a long ways towards restoring balance if they can be safely held.   Americans have a strongly negative understanding of tribes because they are the indigenous power structure in countries like Afghanistan that have been resistant to westernization.   But is westernization right for Afghanistan, or Pakistan?   Maybe not.  The United States works through militarization.   That is strong suit of U.S. foreign policy.   Therefore, the only tribal representatives who are empowered through U.S. intervention are violent warlords.   These same men are then brought together with westernized rulers to govern the country.

Malik Jalal and his ilk are grass roots leaders who come from the communities they govern and take personal responsibility for the welfare of the people.   Tribal leaders at this level actually do represent the people.   They can lead an independence movement that really is independent of foreign intervention.   These are the men who attend tribal councils and support the public welfare.   Warlords and western educated ideologues only have coercive relationships with the people.    Grass roots movements are dependent on the people on the ground and their local representatives, men like Malik Jalal.   Unfortunately, they cannot safely meet with US drones on the wing.   In 2011, a US drone strike in Waziristan killed 54 men at a tribal Jirga where they were meeting to discuss a local mine.

Men like Malik Jalal are deemed terrorists, threatened and targeted by drone strikes, and driven from their homes.   Why?   They represent the people and not the power structure the U.S. is attempting to impose on their countries.   This is true in many places.   Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrist movement in Iraq are both engaged in the national political system as well as supporting powerful militias that are determined to protect their countries and their people.   So called ‘Signature’ strikes which target ‘suspicious’ gatherings make any kind of meeting or gathering dangerous.   People are isolated and alienated.    Grass roots governance is not the worst basis for the blasted tribal society of Afghanistan.  But, drones cause a barrier to that possibility.

I liked Malik Jalal so I wanted to tell you his story.   Unfortunately, though the Independent covered his visit in a respectful manner as did the Daily News,  they along with some members of the U.S. press wonder why he is in London and has not been arrested.   Clarissa Ward,  a bold modern woman, a professional journalist, became a friend of Al Qaeda in Syria, willing to report from East Aleppo while it was still held by Ahrar Al Sham, Al Nusra and ISIS last fall, standing in an empty street dressed in a black dress with veil and hijab in a city where women were liberated from that requirement decades ago.

Under the Tabloid style headline: I’m on the U.S. Kill List Pakistani Elder Claims.  Clarissa Ward tells you that she doesn’t buy his claim.   Ms. Ward criticizes Malik Jalal as paranoid and a complainer.   She wonders how he could he have got a visa to the UK if he were on the U.S. ‘kill list’.   Malik Jalal didn’t jump on a plane to NY because he could never get a visa there, and men identified for targeted killing are routinely not arrested.  The idea is to avoid the complexity of a legal confrontation.   Dead men tell no tales.

Clarissa Ward is both arrogant and ignorant.   She doesn’t listen.  Clarissa Ward didn’t meet Malik Jalal near the beginning of his ordeal when he spoke to a group of foreign peace activists on behalf of his community without mentioning his own suffering.   Her world is firmly under control unlike the real world she pretends to unveil for her listeners.   Ms. Ward pretends.   That is her job.   Malik Jalal lives the nightmare the pretenders want to erase.   Jalal was brought to London by Reprieve, an organization that defends drone strike victims, Guantanamo prisoners and men on death row.   Reprieve is the real deal.  Malik Jalal represents the real people of Waziristan.

Jalal came to London for relief nearly 4 years after sharing his story, along with several other survivors of drone strike victims, with my delegation in Islamabad.   He he had come forward to a meeting arranged and facilitated by Shahzad Akbar to reach a broader audience.   We brought their stories back but it wasn’t enough to end the killing and was soon dropped by the ever busy news cycle.  Malik Jalal says that he fears to go home now.  He doesn’t want to die and he wants his family to be safe.   Imagine!  What if your friends and family members were regularly killed when they attempted to interact with you?  It was sad for me to see the man who so proudly represented his people 4 years before, now terrorized into leaving his country to seek relief.   It was heartbreaking to see his face lined with stress to the point where those who had met him with me did not recognize him, and so did not support him.

But this is, and has been from the start, the U.S. pretense of ‘a War on Terrorism’.    Peace loving leaders of  indigenous communities, men like Malik Jalal,  are threatened, stalked and then ridiculed.  Extremist murderers holed up in East Aleppo flying ISIS and Al Nusra (Al Qaeda) flags and shelling civilian housing and schools that happen to border their territory in West Aleppo are presented as noble ‘rebels’ and their defeat continues to be mourned by the U.S. mainstream media and some alternative venues, even as residents of liberated communities return home in the hundreds of thousands.    In Syria, Clarissa Ward happily complied with the oppressive demands with regard to women’s dress asserted by a mostly foreign force controlling the area.   She presents this as adopting to a ‘Syrian’ cultural requirement.   Apparently she never took the time to research the common culture of Syria before the war began.

In Yemen, the drone strikes against AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) were gobbled up by a war against all the people of Yemen.  Now AQAP, a Saudi ally on the ground, controls vastly more territory in Yemen than before the war, while the United States gives unbounded support to the Saudi air war that is tearing the country apart.  They claim to be fighting AQAP with a deadly drone strike here and there, while they are all in supporting the Saudi war against Houthi ‘Shia terrorists’, an indigenous militia that is a broadly popular movement in the north part of the country who are allied with the remnants of the Yemeni army.   The ‘internationally recognized’ government of Yemen that the Saudis and their allies claim to fight for is a joke; one man; a single, unpopular, temporary ‘president’ who refused to call an election when his term had ended, for some reason internationally recognized as the rightful ruler of Yemen.   The United States and the United Nations are ready to stand by while Yemen is subjected to a genocidal mix of famine and disease caused by U.S. assisted bombing of public infrastructure and a siege enabled by U.S. and western European ships in the Arab Sea blocking access to Yemeni ports.

We call Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrists in Iraq ‘terrorists’ despite the fact that both organizations are deeply involved in the politics of their respective countries, both support secular governance despite the fact that they are movements lead by Shia clerics, and both groups have political alliances with movements backed by other religious organizations.  Muqtada al Sadr has met with the Kurdish government and with the respected Council of Sunni Scholars.   Hezbollah is allied with one of the Christian currents in Lebanon, supports the liberation of Palestine and has seen the danger of a regional wave of extremist violence.   Both Hezbollah and the Sadrists are popular grass roots organizations that grew out of civil wars initiated by western interventions.  Both  have powerful militias, but neither has fought beyond the mandate to protect their own country.  Yet the U.S. designates them as the most dangerous of terrorists in league with their sworn enemies in ISIS and Al Qaeda because Hezbollah is capable of defending Lebanon against Israel, and the Sadrists support a secular socialist government in Iraq.

Populist leaders and grass roots leaders are the ultimate enemy of American hegemony.   They operate below the radar when they are at their best.   They are trusted because they are men who come from the people and who have not forgotten their roots, and because they choose to support the welfare of the people above their own.  They can’t be bought and they don’t make good proxies for empire.

And so dear Malik Jalal, you have my highest respect wherever you are, in London or somewhere in Pakistan.   I pray that one day you will be able to go home and live in peace with your family.   And that all the victims of U.S. aggression and the violence of U.S. allies will be restored to your homes and your lives.   I bow to your suffering and to your dignity.   I raise your name so that you and the others like you will not be forgotten.

**Featured Image:  Malik Jalal with his family   ~Printscreen From CNN/Reprieve Video, April 22, 2016

** Note: I went to look for a video recording I made of Malik Jalal in Pakistan in late 2012, but YouTube had removed (deleted) it from my account since the last time I looked – some time in the last few months.




Yemeni Drone Victim Sues US Government

Header Image: Boys gather near the wreckage of car destroyed last year by a US drone air strike targeting suspected al-Qaida militants in Azan of the south-eastern Yemeni province of Shabwa. ( The car in which bin Ali’s relatives were murdered) Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Faisal bin Ali Jabar Sues Germany

“No one will say publicly that an American drone killed Salem and Waleed, even though we all know it,” says Faisal bin Ali Jaber, pictured above. “This is unjust.”(Photo: Deutche Welle)

In the spring of 2014, Faisal bin Ali Jabar sued the German Government for the drone killing of his brother-in-law and nephew in Yemen.   Jabar’s brother-in-law was an imam, and very much opposed to the program of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).   When some low level AQAP militants came to town and threatened people in his congregation, he decided to meet with them and attempt to convince them to leave his people alone.   He took along a young man who was a local policeman, Jabar’s nephew.    The suit brought out some information, including the fact that there is a repeater on the US Ramstein Base that was necessary for all US drone strikes in the Middle East and North Africa.

Essentially, there is a trunk line from the US Drone Base in Creech Nevada to Ramstein in Germany, where the signal is received and forwarded to the satellite which provides the data streams that direct the drones.    On this basis, Mr. Jabar sued the German government for the wrongful death of his relatives.   The last I remember hearing was that the case was turned down, but the judge encouraged the plaintiff to appeal.   The case brought a light on the treaty obligations that Germany has been under since World War II that require it to refrain from war making and the hypocrisy of the Americans who have a base there that is necessary to bring about the slaughter of thousands, the majority of them innocent civilians.

The case raised a discussion of these issues in Germany, and Americans were informed, and participated to support the German peace movement in pressuring the German government to push back against their American benefactors who have become parasitic in this context and who are placing Germany in a contradiction with its own laws and the laws of the European Union as well as the constraints placed on it by the United Nations since World War II.   You can read more about this campaign and the legal issues in Germany on the site, Action Reports.

Faisal Ali Bin Jabar came to the United States to testify before Congress a few months later about the human cost of Drone strikes in Yemen where both targeted strikes and so called ‘signature’ strikes against people whose behavior is suspicious were both common at the time.   The strike against his relatives was a ‘Signature’ strike.   The three militants they went to meet were under observation due to their ‘suspicious’ pattern of activity and it seemed a propitious time to strike when a couple of more men would be taken out as well.   After that I didn’t hear more about Mr. Jabar’s case.

Background of Interim Events: the Saudi War on Yemen

In the spring of 2015, Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen with assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom who have provided weapons, but also intelligence, guidance and in-air fueling for the US made jets Saudi pilots fly ever since.   Saudi Arabia formed a coalition with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Gulf states and called in markers from Pakistan and Egypt,   and hired mercenary foot soldiers from around the world to lay waste to the impoverished and embattled country of Yemen.    The United States has not only assisted the Saudi ‘coalition’ in making war on Yemen over the last 2 years, but provided political cover for them at the United Nations and assisted in maintaining a siege on Yemen that is killing more people than the bombing.

AQAP, the original US target of drone bombs, has been empowered by the war.   When the war began, the US withdrew its diplomatic staff from Sana’a, and it also withdrew the personnel from the a military base they were using there, which was immediately taken over by AQAP,  an ally of the Saudi coalition, who now control significant territory in Yemen.   Meanwhile, the US continues to bomb AQAP with drones and other means, which puts it in a rather contradictory position as it is both supporting the Saudi aggression in Yemen, and attacking one of it’s affiliates.

People gather as a bulldozer removes debris of a house to recover a missing woman at the site of a Saudi-led air strike on an outskirt of the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Naif Rahma

It’s not a surprise that Mr. Jabar’s case has fallen off the radar.   From the very beginning of the war in early 2015, the Saudi coalition has bombed schools and hospitals, water purification plants and power plants, factories and farms and people’s homes.   The civilian infrastructure of the country is in ruins.    Civilians are starving to death and a cholera epidemic is raging.   Children are dying in significant numbers.   The statistics of injury and death are deeply underestimated.    Saada, the Houthi capital in the north of Yemen has been leveled, along with numerous towns and villages.

A family with a malnourished child is pictured in their home in Sanaa June 21, 2012. (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

We keep hearing that Yemen is on the brink of faming.   But it certainly appears that Yemen crossed that brink more than a year ago.   They are talking about 10,000 civilians dead from the war right now, but a Yemeni student in the US quoted in today’s Moon of Alabama blog says that since early 2015, more people have died from hunger and disease in Yemen than from the war. Of course, those people also died from the war.    In Key Facts About the Yemen War, published in June of 2016, Al Jazeera reported that

Both sides have been accused of killing civilians: the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that Saudi-led coalition air strikes caused almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths.

And then, of course, you have the mercenaries on the ground and the siege.   According to the article in Al Jazeera, there were 2,800 civilian deaths reported in Yemen in January of 2016, and 8,000 total.   If air strikes are the main killer, the proportion seems off.   There are lots of militias fighting in Yemen, but all the members were civilians when the war started, who were moved to act by the ongoing violence.   The Houthis were a force of a couple of thousand camped out in Sana’a, demonstrating against the government.

Faisal bin Ali Jabar Sues the US for Wrongful Death of his Family Members

Boys gather near the wreckage of car destroyed last year by a US drone air strike targeting suspected al-Qaida militants in Azan of the south-eastern Yemeni province of Shabwa. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

So, I was surprised last week when I received a newsletter from Reprieve stating that Mr. Jabar’s Appeal of his wrongful death case against the US Government was heard last December.     Kathleen McLellan and Jesselynn Radack filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of whistle blowers Brandon Bryant, Lisa Ling and Cian Westmoreland, all involved in the Drone program prior to their leaving the military.  Apparently, the original lawsuit was adjudicated in 2015.   I found an article in the Guardian, but nothing in the US press on the subject.   Of course, nearly two years have passed and much has changed.   The Guardian focused on the human element: Yemeni man denied apology from US for drone strike that killed his family.  Jabar actually offered to drop if suit if President US President and Top Drone Barak Obama would offer condolences as he has to western victims of drone strikes.   This of course was not going to happen.

So, it turns out that the reason I heard about Mr. Jabar’s Appeal just now is that the case was heard in December of 2016, but the decision was presented in July of 2017.    The Judges who heard the appeal upheld the original court decision.   The decision was that the judiciary does not have the authority or the expertise to contradict a decision by the Executive with regard to war and peace.   So, in matters of ‘war and peace’, ‘checks and balances’ do not apply.   Therefore, despite the fact that all were sympathetic with the complainant and recognized the merit of the case itself, the court declined to decide it.

*** Court Documents

And so, this critical case was not only dismissed on questionable grounds, but it has been lost in the fog of an escalating war on a country that is no threat whatsoever to the United States or Saudi Arabia for that matter, a poor country whose people have been struggling for security, independence and some kind of democratic governance for decades.