“America’s Longest War” Is Not Over!

by Brian Terrell, September 8, 2021

On August 31, President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. stepped up to the White House podium, squared his shoulders, looked the American public straight in the eye — and told them the biggest lie of his Presidency (so far).

What he said was:

“Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan—the longest war in American history.”

But the U.S. war on Afghanistan did not end on August 31. It has only adapted to technological advances and morphed into a war that may be less visible—and therefore more politically sustainable.

It will also continue to destabilize the Middle East, immiserate and enrage its 246 million inhabitants, and fuel a massive new influx of violent jihadists recruits—formidably armed with our own abandoned weaponry and bent on revenge against America for the deaths of their families and friends. This will, of course, require the U.S. to launch even more drone bombing missions, which will kill even more Afghan people.

That is the perfect recipe for perpetuating the “forever wars” that Biden promised to end. But it is also a perfect reassurance to the military-industrial-intelligence complex, to which Biden promised, at a June 2019 campaign fundraiser, that nothing would fundamentally change.”

In his speech on August 31, Biden himself admitted,

“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground—or very few, if needed.”

Five days before, on the evening of Thursday, August 26, hours after a suicide bomb was detonated at the gate of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport killing and wounding scores of Afghans trying to flee their country and killing 13 U.S. soldiers, President Biden spoke to the world, “outraged as well as heartbroken,” he said.

Many of us listening to the president’s speech, made before the victims could be counted and the rubble cleared, did not find comfort or hope in his words. Instead, our heartbreak and outrage were only amplified as Joe Biden seized the tragedy to call for more war.

“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,”

he threatened.

“I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”

The president’s threatened “moment of our choosing” came one day later, on Friday, August 27, when the U.S. military carried out a drone strike against what it said was an ISIS-K “planner” in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

The U.S. military’s claim that it knows of “no civilian casualties” in the attack is contradicted by reports from the ground. “We saw that rickshaws were burning,” one Afghan witness said. “Children and women were wounded and one man, one boy and one woman had been killed on the spot.”


A relative throws himself and weeps over the casket of Farzad, 12, who was killed by U.S. drone airstrikes, according to the family, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30, 2021. [Source: latimes.com]

Fear of an ISIS-K counterattack further hampered evacuation efforts as the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens to leave the airport. “This strike was not the last,” said President Biden. On August 29, another U.S. drone strike killed a family of ten in Kabul.


The first lethal drone strike in history occurred in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, when the CIA identified Taliban leader Mullah Omar, “or 98-percent probable it was he,” but the Hellfire missile launched by a Predator drone killed two unidentified men while Mullah Omar escaped.

These two recent instances of “force and precision” ordered by Biden twenty years later marked the presumed end to the war there just as it had begun. The intervening record has not been much better and, in fact, documents exposed by whistleblower Daniel Hale prove that the U.S. government is aware that 90% of its drone strike victims are not the intended targets.

Zemari Ahmadi, who was killed in the August 29 drone strike in Kabul along with nine members of his family, seven of them young children, had been employed by a California based humanitarian organization and had applied for a visa to come to the U.S., as had Ahmadi’s nephew Nasser, also killed in the same attack.

Nasser had worked with U.S. Special Forces in the Afghan city of Herat and had also served as a guard for the U.S. Consulate there. Whatever affinity the surviving members of Ahmadi’s family and friends might have had with the U.S. went up in smoke, that day. “America is the killer of Muslims in every place and every time,” said one relative who attended the funeral, “I hope that all Islamic countries unite in their view that America is a criminal.” Another mourner, a colleague of Ahmadi, said “We’re now much more afraid of drones than we are of the Taliban.”


Friends, relatives and colleagues of Mr. Ahmadi insist he could not possibly have had links to ISIS-Khorasan. [Source: nytimes.com]

The fact that targeted killings like those carried out in Afghanistan and other places from 2001 to the present are counterproductive to the stated objectives of defeating terrorism, regional stability or of winning hearts and minds has been known by the architects of the “war on terror,” at least since 2009.


Thanks to Wikileaks, we have access to a CIA document from that year, Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool. Among the “key findings” in the CIA report, analysts warn of the negative consequences of assassinating so-called High Level Targets (HLT).

“The potential negative effect of HLT operations, include increasing the level of insurgent support …, strengthening an armed group’s bonds with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents.”

The obvious truths that the CIA kept buried in a secret report have been admitted many times by high-ranking officers implementing those policies. In 2013, General James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, reported in The New York Times,

“We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”

In a 2010 interview in Rollingstone, General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, figured that “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” By the general’s equation, the U.S. created a minimum of 130 new enemies for itself in the strikes ordered by President Biden on August 27 and 29 alone.

When the catastrophic consequences of a nation’s policies are so clearly predictable and evidently inevitable, they are intentional. What has happened to Afghanistan is not a series of mistakes or good intentions gone awry, they are crimes.

In his novel, 1984, George Orwell foresaw a dystopian future where wars would be fought perpetually, not intended to be won or resolved in any way and President Eisenhower’s parting words as he left office in 1961 were a warning of the “grave implications” of the “military-industrial complex.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange noted that these dire predictions had come to pass, speaking in 2011:

“The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the U.S. and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.”

No, the war is not over. From a nation that should be promising reparations and begging the forgiveness of the people of Afghanistan comes the infantile raging, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay” and while pledging to perpetuate the conditions that provoke terrorism, the parting taunt “and to ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet.”

That the U.S. is not done with Afghanistan is seen further in the scramble to recruit new intelligence assets such as Ahmad Massoud, 32, commander of the Tajik-dominated National Resistance Front (NRF), which continues to fight a low-level insurgency in the Panjshir Valley against the Pashtun-led Taliban, who are viewed as a proxy of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Massoud is the son of the legendary anti-Soviet fighter, Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom the CIA financed and equipped in the late 1990s before acquiescing to his assassination two days before the 9/11 attacks because he was against a full-fledged U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan.

The CIA’s nefarious activities in Afghanistan and perpetuation of the drone war are little debated in the simplistic dualism of U.S. partisan politics where the issue seems to be only whether the current president should be blamed or should be given a pass and the blame put on his predecessor. This is a discussion that is not only irrelevant but a dangerous evasion of responsibility. Twenty years of war crimes makes many complicit.

In 1972, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

“Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, [and] in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

All of us in the U.S., the politicians, voters, tax payers, the investors and even those who protested and resisted it, are responsible for 20 years of war in Afghanistan. We are also all responsible for ending it–definitively.

*Featured Image: A man grieves during a mass funeral for members of a family was killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.  ~ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times

Brian Terrell is a longtime Activist and lives on a Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, Iowa.   Brian is a founding member of the Ban Killer Drones Network.  He has traveled to Afghanistan several times and been arrested numerous times in civil resistance actions opposing drone warfare.

U.S. Drone Strike in Kabul Killed a Family — and Began a New Chapter of the War

by Murtaza Hussain, published on The Intercept, August 30, 2021

A Sunday drone strike in Kabul initially claimed by U.S. officials to have destroyed a car packed with “multiple suicide bombers” reportedly killed 10 civilians from one family, including several children.

The drone strike that hit Khwaja Burgha, a working-class residential neighborhood in Kabul, was said to have killed numerous members of the Ahmadi family, with the youngest alleged victim being a 2-year-old girl. Morgue footage shared on social media showed the burned bodies of several children, as well as photos of the victims before their deaths. One of the dead, according to members of the Ahmadi family who spoke to reporters, was a former Afghan military officer who had served as a contractor for U.S. forces, as well as a worker at a charity organization.

The Americans said the airstrike killed Daesh members,” a neighbor of the family angrily told reporters after the strike, referring to the Islamic State. “Where is Daesh here? Were these children Daesh?

The Defense Department and other arms of the Biden administration continued to describe the drone attack as a “successful” strike against the militant group Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, which had taken responsibility for a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. As reports confirmed that an innocent family had been killed, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the Department of Defense is “not in a position to dispute” reports that civilians were killed, stating that the incident would be investigated.

The Kabul drone strike is just one in a long string of attacks in Afghanistan by U.S. forces and their proxies reported to have killed large numbers of civilians. Past attacks have hit families traveling in cars and buses, wedding parties, hospitals filled with patients, and groups of farmers working in fields. While the withdrawal of American troops can be described as the end to the war in Afghanistan, the Kabul strike shows how the war may simply enter a new chapter, with the U.S. striking targets with aircraft launched from faraway drone bases.

Critics of civilian casualties in the U.S. war have pointed to the lack of serious investigations on the ground into the deaths — accountability that will be even harder to come by in a remote war.

“In my experience, the bar for thorough military investigation has been so high as to discount a majority of credible incidents. What investigations do take place are neither consistent nor rigorous,”

said Nick McDonell, author of “The Bodies in Person: An Account of Civilian Casualties in American Wars,” an analysis of the impact of the U.S. air wars in the Middle East.

“At the same time, the military has repeatedly suppressed information on civilian casualties. The drone program is opaque, with extremely limited accountability for anyone involved.”

What separated the recent Kabul drone strike from the long pattern of reported civilian deaths was the level of immediate attention and outrage it has generated. The U.S. war in Afghanistan has mostly been waged in rural areas, away from the attention of international media. Kabul, on the other hand, is the highly populated capital and the country’s center for expatriates, nongovernmental organizations, and both Afghan as well as international journalists.

When the strike was reported, immediate video footage of the civilians who were killed in the attack began to circulate, and even international journalists were able to quickly access the attack site.

In contrast, many past strikes have gone under the radar — and continue to do so. A retaliatory strike that came immediately after the recent terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport hit rural eastern Afghanistan, allegedly killing two people: an ISIS “planner” and a “facilitator,” according to the Defense Department.

At the press briefing Monday, Kirby declined to share further information about the identities of the two people allegedly killed in that prior attack. Other than dedicated Afghanistan observers, few took notice. Journalists and rights advocates have so far not reported any details of on-the-ground investigations or if such investigations are even possible.

The opaque nature of the war in Afghanistan has made calculating accurate death tolls from U.S. operations difficult — a challenge that has been compounded by the military’s own long-standing refusal to compile statistics and verify information about who is killed in its strikes. The secretive nature of the war on terror in general, across all its various theaters of operation, coupled with military practices that devote little attention to strike investigations, makes assessing civilian impact nearly impossible.

The Pentagon initially released a statement celebrating Sunday’s strike in Kabul’s Khwaja Burgha neighborhood for having stopped what it claimed was another imminent terrorist threat against the airport. After local journalists and activists began surfacing harrowing footage of civilians killed, however, the Pentagon put out a press release stating that “it is unclear what may have happened” in the strike, claiming that there were secondary explosions from the bombing that suggested the presence of explosives on the ground. (The White House cited this explanation in its own statements on the allegations of civilian casualties.)

The Pentagon often releases footage of its airstrikes, with the intention of advertising successful attacks against alleged terrorists. In the past, some videos have been released describing successful strikes that were later revealed to have hit civilian targets. The Pentagon declined to comment to The Intercept as to whether it would release footage of the Khwaja Burgha strike in order to verify the claimed presence of secondary explosions.

The military’s own promises to investigate civilian casualty incidents have resulted in little meaningful accountability in the past.

According to its standard practices, the military does not conduct site visits to learn who was killed in its airstrikes, leaving the grueling work of finding out who died and why to independent monitoring organizations and investigative journalists who operate with far fewer resources than the Pentagon. The Washington Post reported last year that as airstrikes ramped up in the final years of the Afghanistan War, the number of strikes investigated by the military for civilian casualties plummeted. Few outside the areas impacted would have taken notice of many of the strikes at all, let alone the absence of investigations.

In those cases in which the military did launch its own inquiries, the findings were viewed with skepticism. “These investigations are nothing but advertisements to the media,” a local council official from Helmand Province in Afghanistan told the Post. “They have no mercy. They only see targets to kill.”

The Kabul airstrike, though, generated an outpouring of grief and anger among many Afghans, already reeling from the Taliban takeover of their country following the collapse of the U.S.-backed central government. Though the Pentagon has promised to hold itself accountable for such incidents, experts on the drone war say that there is little reason based on past practice to expect meaningful justice for the victims.

“The failure to properly acknowledge, investigate, or compensate civilian deaths and injuries is one constant of U.S. airstrikes, whether in recognized wars like Afghanistan, or outside of them, like in Somalia,”

said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“The specific reasons and the agencies involved in those failures may differ in each context — and over 20 years we’ve repeatedly seen legal and policy debates and promises by the U.S. government to do better. But that’s of little comfort to the civilians on the receiving end of American lethal force who suffer terrible harm with little or no transparency and accountability.”

*Featured Image:  Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Murtaza Hussain is a reporter at The Intercept who focuses on national security and foreign policy. @mazmhussain

Droning On: Assassins-in-Chief and Their Brood

by Tom Englehardt, published on TomDispatch, September 28, 2021

What a way to end a war! Apologies all around! We’re so damn sorry — or actually, maybe not!

I’m thinking, of course, about CENTCOM commander General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr.’s belated apology for the drone assassination of seven children as the last act, or perhaps final war crime, in this country’s 20-year-long Afghan nightmare.

Where to begin (or end, for that matter) when considering that never-ending conflict, which seems — for Americans, anyway — finally to be over? After all these years, don’t ask me.

Hey, one thing seems clear to me, though: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley undoubtedly didn’t apologize for that last Hellfire missile attack — he, in fact, originally labeled it a “righteous strike” — or the endless civilian deaths caused by American air power, because he’s had so many other things on his mind in these years. As a start, he was far too preoccupied calling his Beijing opposite, General Li Zuocheng, to warn him that the president of the United States, one Donald Trump, might have the urge to start a war with China before leaving office.

Actually, had Milley called me instead, I would have assured him that I believed The Donald then incapable of doing anything other than watching Fox News, going bonkers over the election, and possibly launching an attack (nuclear or otherwise) on Joe Biden and the Democrats, no less Congress — remember January 6th! — or even his own vice president, Mike Pence, for certifying the vote. Maybe, in fact, Milley should have skipped the Chinese entirely and called Republican Representatives Liz Cheney and Anthony Gonzalez to warn them that, sooner or later, the president might go nuclear on them.

Of course, in our increasingly mad, mad world, who really knows anymore?

I do know one thing, however, mostly because I wrote it so long ago and it stuck in my mind (even if in no one else’s): ever since the presidency of George W. Bush, who reportedly kept “his own personal scorecard” in a White House desk drawer of drone-killed or to-be-killed “terrorists,” every American president has been an assassin-in-chief. No question about it, Joe Biden is, too. I don’t know why the label never caught on. After all, assassination, once officially an illegal act for a president, is now, by definition, simply part of the job — and the end of the Afghan War will do nothing to stop that.

I first labeled our future presidents that way in 2012, after the New York Times reported that Barack Obama was attending “Terror Tuesday” meetings at the White House where names were regularly being added to a “kill list” of people to be droned off this planet. The first such Obama assassination, as Jo Becker and Scott Shane wrote at the time, would, prophetically enough, kill “not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and [leave] behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents.” Sound faintly familiar so many years later when U.S. drones and other aircraft have reportedly knocked off at least 22,000 civilians across the Greater Middle East and Africa?

Killers on the Loose

OMG, apologies all around! There I go, in such an all-American fashion, droning on and on.

Still, it’s hard to stop, since it’s obvious that presidential drone assassinations will go on and on, too. Just think about the thrill of what, in the wake of Afghanistan, Joe Biden has started to call “over-the-horizon capabilities” (of the very sort that killed those seven kids in Kabul). In fact, it seems possible that this country’s forever wars of the last two decades will now morph into forever drone wars. That, in turn, means that our 20-year war of terror (which we always claimed was a war on terror) will undoubtedly continue into the unknown future. After all, in the last two decades, Washington’s done a remarkable job of preparing the way for such strikes, at least if you’re talking about ensuring that extreme Islamist terror groups would spread ever more widely across ever larger parts of this increasingly shambolic planet.

Here’s the thing, though: if, in 2021, you want to talk about assassins-in-chief who never feel the urge to apologize while putting so many in peril, you don’t have to head over the horizon at all. Take my word for it. You need look no further than former president Donald Trump or, at a state level, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, among others, or simply most Republican politicians these days. Once you refocus on them, you’re no longer talking about drone-killing foreign terrorists (or foreign children), you’re talking about the former president (or governor or senator or congressional representative or state legislator) assassinating American citizens. When it comes to being that kind of assassin, by promoting unmasking, super-spreader events (including unmasked school attendance), and opposition to vaccine mandates, among other things, you’re speaking of the murder of innocents right here in the U.S. of A.

Do you even remember how President Trump, returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after his own case of Covid-19 had been treated, stepped out onto a White House balcony to rip off his mask in front of every camera in town? With 690,000 Americans now dead from the pandemic (and possibly so many more), one thing is clear: the simplest of precautions would have radically cut those numbers.

And if you don’t mind my droning on yet more about that crew of assassins (and you might throw in, among others, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin who, in 2020, made $491,949 from his stock holdings in the West Virginia coal brokerage firm he founded years ago), what about all the politicians who have promoted the heating of this planet to what could someday be the boiling point? After all, if you happen to be on the West Coast, where the fire season no longer seems to end and “heat domes” are a new reality, or in large parts of the country still experiencing a megadrought of the sort never seen before in U.S. history, you’d have to say that we’re already living in the Pyrocene Age. And I’m not even referring to the recent U.N. report suggesting that, if things don’t change quickly enough, the temperature of this planet might rise 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.86 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. That would, of course, produce an all-too-literal hell on Earth (and mind you, such scientific predictions about climate change have often proven underestimates).

The U.S. left Afghanistan in a scene so chaotic that it captured media attention for days, but don’t for a moment imagine that such a sense of chaos was left behind at Kabul airport. After all, it’s clear enough that we now live in a world and a country in increasing disarray.

Of the two great imperial powers of the last century, the USSR and the U.S., one is long gone and the other in growing disrepair, not just abroad but at home as well. This country seems to be heading, however slowly, for the exit (even as its president continues to proclaim that “America is back!“). And don’t count on a “rising China” to solve this planet’s problems either. It is, after all, by far the greatest greenhouse gas emitter of our moment and guaranteed to suffer its own version of chaos in the years to come.

Downhill All the Way?

I mean, I’m 77 years old (and feeling older all the time) and yet, in the worst sense possible, I’m living in a new world as a pandemic rages across America and climate change continues to show off its all-too-visibly grim wonders. Just go to the New York Times website any day of the week and look at its global map of Covid-19 “hotspots.” What you’ll find is that the country our leaders have long loved to hail as the most extraordinary, indispensable, and powerful on the planet is now eternally an extreme pandemic “hot spot.” How extraordinary when you consider its wealth, its access to vaccines and masks, and its theoretical ability to organize itself! But give some credit where it’s due. America’s assassins have been remarkably hard at work not just in Afghanistan or Iraq or Somalia, but right here at home.

In those distant lands, we eternally used Hellfire missiles to kill women and children. But when you fight such wars forever and a day abroad, it turns out that their spirit comes home in a hellfire-ish sort of way. And indeed, those forever wars certainly did come home with Donald Trump, whose accession to the White House would have been unimaginable without them. The result: the U.S. is not only an eternal global hotspot for Covid-19 (more than 2,000 deaths a day recently), but increasingly a madhouse of assassins of every sort, including Republican politicians determined to take out the American democratic system as we knew it, voting law by voting law, state by Republican-controlled state. And that madness, while connected to Trump, QAnon, the anti-vaxxers, and the like, is also deeply connected to how this country decided to respond to the tragedy of 9/11 — by launching those wars that America’s generals and the military-industrial complex fought so disastrously but oh-so-profitably all these years.

By now, this country is almost unimaginable without its drone assassins and the conflicts that have gone with them, especially the one that began it all in Afghanistan. In the wake of that war (though don’t hold your breath for the next time an American drone takes after some terrorist there and once again kills a bunch of innocents), the Biden administration has moved on to far more peaceful activities. I’m thinking, for instance, of the way it’s guaranteed the Australians nuclear submarines and the U.S. military, with a mere 750 military bases around the planet, will, in return, get a couple of more such bases in that distant land.

Hey, the French were pissed (for all the wrong reasons) and even withdrew their ambassador from Washington, feeling that Joe Biden and crew had no right to screw up their own arms deals with Australia. The Chinese were disturbed for most of the right reasons (and undoubtedly a few wrong ones as well), as they thought about yet another set of undetectable nuclear subs in the waters off the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait.

So it goes, as officials in Washington seem incapable of not having war of one sort or another, hot or cold, on the brain. And keep in mind that I haven’t even begun to describe our deathly new reality, not in a country where the Delta strain of Covid-19 has run wild, especially in states headed by gubernatorial assassins. Meanwhile, too much of the rest of the world remains an unvaccinated hothouse for potentially new strains of a pandemic that may be with us, if you don’t mind such a mixed metaphor, until hell freezes over.

But you know all this! You’ve long sensed it. You’re living it! Who isn’t?

Still, since I’m at it, let me just quote myself (the very definition of droning on) from that article I wrote a decade ago on the president as assassin-in-chief:

“But — though it’s increasingly heretical to say this — the perils facing Americans, including relatively modest dangers from terrorism, aren’t the worst things on our planet. Electing an assassin-in-chief, no matter who you vote for, is worse. Pretending that the Church of St. Drone offers any kind of reasonable or even practical solutions on this planet of ours, is worse yet. And even worse, once such a process begins, it’s bound to be downhill all the way.”

In 2012, the phrase “over the horizon” hadn’t yet become presidential, but “downhill all the way” seems like a reasonable enough substitute. And how sad it is, since other, better futures are genuinely imaginable. Just mask up and give it some thought.

The Names You Will Never Know

by Nick Turse, published on Counterpunch, September 26, 2021

…and the ones you will know because you will see them below.  I have decided to make this piece a memorial to the members of the Ahmadi family murdered by a U.S. Drone strike as U.S. troops left Afghanistan in disgrace.  You will find their pictures throughout this post.  [jb]

Ahmadi Family from NY Times Video

As a parting shot, on its way out of Afghanistan, the United States military launched a drone attack that the Pentagon called a “righteous strike.” The final missile fired during 20 years of occupation, that August 29th airstrike averted an Islamic State car-bomb attack on the last American troops at Kabul’s airport. At least, that’s what the Pentagon told the world.

Within two weeks, a New York Times investigation would dismantle that official narrative. Seven days later, even the Pentagon admitted it. Instead of killing an ISIS suicide bomber, the United States had slaughtered 10 civilians: Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group; three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; three children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

Zemari Ahmadi, U.S. employed aid worker in Kabul who was murdered with many family members by a U.S. drone strike as the U.S,. exited the country.

The names of the dead from the Kabul strike are as important as they are rare. So many civilians have been obliterated, incinerated, or — as in the August 29th attack — “shredded” in America’s forever wars. Who in the United States remembers them? Who here ever knew of them in the first place? Twenty years after 9/11, with the Afghan War declared over, combat in Iraq set to conclude, and President Joe Biden announcing the end of “an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” who will give their deaths another thought?

Americans have been killing civilians since before there was a United States. At home and abroad, civilians — Pequots, African Americans, Cheyenne and Arapaho, Filipinos, Haitians, Japanese, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and Somalis, among others — have been shot, burned, and bombed to death. The slaughter at Sand Creek, the Bud Dajomassacre, the firebombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the My Lai massacre — the United States has done what it can to sweep it all under the rugthrough denial, cover-ups, and the most effective means of all: forgetting.

There’s little hope of Americans ever truly coming to terms with the Pequot or Haitian or Vietnamese blood on their hands. But before the forever wars slip from the news and the dead slide into the memory hole that holds several centuries worth of corpses, it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about Zemari Ahmadi, Benyamin, Hayat, Malika, Somaya, and all the civilians who were going about their lives until the U.S. military ended them.

Names Remembered and Names Forgotten

Over the last 20 years, the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 tops out at 364,000 to 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

Who were those nearly 400,000 people?

There’s Malana. In 2019, at age 25, she had just given birth to a son, when her health began to deteriorate. Her relatives were driving her to a clinic in Afghanistan’s Khost Province when their vehicle was attacked by a U.S. drone, killing Malana and four others.

And Gul Mudin. He was wounded by a grenade and shot with a rifle, one of at least three civilians murdered by a U.S. Army “kill team in Kandahar Province in 2010.

Then there was Gulalai, one of seven people, including three women — two of them pregnant — who were shot and killed in a February 12, 2010, raid by Special Operations forces in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province.

And the four members of the Razzo family — Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad, and Najib— killed in a September 20, 2015, airstrike in Mosul, Iraq.

And there were the eight men, three women, and four children — Abdul Rashid as well as Abdul Rahman, Asadullah, Hayatullah, Mohamadullah, Osman, Tahira, Nadia, Khatima, Jundullah, Soheil, Amir, and two men, ages 25 and 36 respectively, named Abdul Waheed — who were killed in a September 7, 2013, drone strike on Rashid’s red Toyota pickup in Afghanistan.

Then there were 22-year-old Lul Dahir Mohamed and her four-year-old daughter, Mariam Shilo Muse, who were killed in an April 1, 2018, airstrike in Somalia.

And between 2013 and 2020, in seven separate U.S. attacks in Yemen — six drone strikes and one raid — 36 members of the al Ameri and al Taisy families were slaughtered.

Zamir Ahmadi, age 20, Zemari’s eldest son.

Those names we know. Or knew, if only barely and fleetingly. Then there are the countless anonymous victims like the three civilians in a blue Kia van killed by Marines in Iraq in 2003. “Two bodies were slumped over in the front seats; they were men in street clothes and had no weapons that I could see. In the back seat, a woman in a black chador had fallen to the floor; she was dead, too,” wrote Peter Maass in the New York Times Magazine in 2003. Years later, at the Intercept, he painted an even more vivid picture of the “blue van, with its tires shot out and its windows shattered by bullets, its interior stained with blood and smelling of death, with flies feasting on already-rotting flesh.”

Those three civilians in Iraq were all too typical of the many anonymous dead of this country’s forever wars — the man shot for carrying a flashlight in an “offensive” manner; the children killed by an “errant” rocket; the man slain by “warning shots”; the three women and one man “machine-gunned” to death; and the men, women and children reduced to “charred meat” in an American bombing.

Who were the 11 Afghans — four of them children — who died in a 2004 helicopter attack, or the “dozen or more” civilians killed in 2010 during a nighttime raid by U.S. troops in that same country? And what about those 30 pine-nut farm workers slaughtered a year later by a drone strike there? And what were the names of Mohanned Tadfi’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, and seven nieces and nephews killed in the U.S. bombing that flattened the city of Raqqa, Syria, in 2017?

Faisal Ahmadi, age 16

Often, the U.S. military had no idea whom they were killing. This country frequently carried out “signature strikes” that executed unknown people due to suspicious behavior. So often, Americans killed such individuals for little or no reason — like holding a weapon in places where, as in this country, firearms were ubiquitous — and then counted them as enemy dead. An investigation by Connecting Vets found that during a 2019 air campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, for example, the threshold for an attack “could be met by as little as a person using or even touching a radio” or if an Afghan carrying “commercially bought two-way radios stepped into a home, the entire building would sometimes be leveled by a drone strike.

Targeted assassinations were equally imprecise. Secret documents obtained by the Intercept revealed that, during a five-month stretch of Operation Haymaker — a drone campaign in 2011 and 2013 aimed at al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan-Pakistan border — 200 people were killed in airstrikes conducted to assassinate 35 high-value targets. In other words, nearly nine out of 10 people slain in those “targeted” killings were not the intended targets. So, who were they?

Farzad Ahmadi, age 10

Even if targeting was ordinarily more accurate than during Operation Haymaker, U.S. policy has consistently adhered to the dictum that “military-age males” killed in airstrikes should automatically be classified as combatants unless proven innocent. In addition to killing people for spurious reasons, the U.S. also opted for allies who would prove at least as bad as, if not worse than, those they were fighting. For two decades, such American-taxpayer-funded warlords and militiamen murdered, raped, or shook-down the very people this country was supposedly protecting. And, of course, no one knows the names of all those killed by such allies who were being advised, trained, armed, and funded by the United States.

Who, for instance, were the two men tied to the rear fender of a Toyota pickup truck in southeastern Afghanistan in 2012 by members of an Afghan militia backed by U.S. Special Operations forces? They were, wrote reporter Anand Gopal, dragged “along six miles of rock-studded road” until they were dead. Then their “bodies were left decomposing for days, a warning to anyone who thought of disobeying Azizullah,” the U.S.-allied local commander.

Or what about the 12 boys gunned down by CIA-backed militiamen at a madrassa in the Afghan village of Omar Khail? Or the six boys similarly slain at a school in nearby Dadow Khail? Or any of the dead from 10 raids in 2018 and 2019 by that same militia, which summarily executed at least 51 civilians, including boys as young as eight years old, few of whom, wrote reporter Andrew Quilty, appeared “to have had any formal relationship with the Taliban”?

How many reporters’ notebooks are filled with the unpublished names of just such victims? Or counts of those killed? Or the stories of their deaths? And how many of those who were murdered never received even a mention in an article anywhere?

Last year, I wrote 4,500 words for the New York Times Magazine about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso. As I noted then, that nation was one of the largest recipients of American security aid in West Africa, even though the State Department admitted that U.S.-backed forces were implicated in a litany of human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

Benyamin, age 6 and Arwin., age 7

What never made it into the piece was any mention of three men who were executed in two separate attacks. On May 22, 2019, uniformed Burkinabe troops arrived in the village of Konga and took two brothers, aged 38 and 25, away in the middle of the night. The next day, a relative found them on the side of the road, bound and executed. Most of the family fled the area. “The Army came back a week later,” a relative told me. “My uncle was the only one in our family who stayed. He was shot in broad daylight.” Such deaths are ubiquitous but aren’t even factored into the 360,000-plus civilian deaths counted by the Costs of War project, which offers no estimate for those killed in America’s “smaller war zones.”

Build the Wall!

We live in a world filled with monuments celebrating lives and deaths, trailblazers and memorable events, heroes and villains. They run the gamut from civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Women’s Rights Pioneers to the chieftains of the American Confederacy and Belgium’s King Leopold.

In the United States, there’s no shortage of memorials and monuments commemorating America’s wars and fallen soldiers. One of the most poignant lists the names of the American military dead of the Vietnam War. Initially derided by hawkish veterans and conservatives as a “black gash of shame” and a “nihilistic slab,” it’s now one of the most celebrated monuments in Washington, D.C. More than 58,000 men and women are represented on the visually arresting black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam itself has no shortage of monuments of its own. Many are Soviet-style memorials to those who died defeating the United States and reuniting their country. Others are seldom-seen, tiny memorials to massacres perpetrated by the Americans and their allies. No one knows how many similar cenotaphs exist in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other forever-war countries, but in 2017, journalist Emran Feroz found just such a memorial in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province — a remembrance of five civilians slain in drone strikes during 2013 and 2014.

Hayat, age 2, Somaya, age 3, Malika, age 3

There have been other attempts to memorialize the civilian dead of the forever wars from art installations to innovative visual protests to virtual commemorations. In 2018, after then-President Trump signed a bill approving the construction of a Global War on Terrorism Memorial, Peter Maass proposed, even if only half-seriously, that the bullet-riddled blue Kia van he saw in Iraq should be placed on a pedestal on the National Mall. “If we start building monuments that focus our attention on the pitiless killing of civilians in our wars,he wrote, “maybe we would have fewer wars to fight and less reason to build these monuments.”

A blue Kia on the National Mall would be a good starting point. But if we’re ever to grasp the meaning of the post-9/11 wars and all the conflicts that set the stage for them, however, we may need a wall as well — one that starts at the Kia and heads west. It would, of course, be immense. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans a total of 400 feet. The celebrated Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths observed that a wall for the Vietnamese dead, counting combatants, of the American War would be nine miles long.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is arrayed in a unique chronological format, but the Civilian Deaths Memorial could begin with anyone. The last civilians killed by the United States as part of its 2001 to 2021 Afghan War – Zemari Ahmadi, Zamir, Faisal, Farzad, Naser, Arwin, Benyamin, Hayat, Malika, and Somaya – could lead it off. Then maybe Abdul Rashid and the 14 passengers from his red pick-up truck. Then Malana, Gul Mudin, Gul Rahim, Gulalai, Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad, Najib, Lul Dahir Mohamed, and Mariam Shilo Muse. Then maybe Ngo Thi Sau, Cao Muoi, Cao Thi Thong, Tran Cong Chau Em, Nguyen Thi Nhi, Cao Thi Tu, Le Thi Chuyen, Dang Thi Doi, Ngo Thi Chiec, Tran Thi Song, Nguyen Thi Mot, Nguyen Thi Hai, Nguyen Thi Ba, Nguyen Thi Bon, Ho Thi Tho, Vo Thi Hoan, Pham Thi Sau, Dinh Van Xuan, Dinh Van Ba, Tran Cong Viet, Nguyen Thi Nham, Ngo Quang Duong, Duong Thi Hien, Pham Thi Kha, Huynh Van Binh, Huynh Thi Bay, Huynh Thi Ty, Le Van Van, Le Thi Trinh, Le Thi Duong, and Le Vo Danh and her unborn child, all slaughtered in the tiny South Vietnamese village of Phi Phu by U.S. troops (without any of the attention accorded to the My Lai massacre). They could be followed by the names of, or placeholders for, the remaining two million Vietnamese civilian dead and by countless Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and Yemenis.

Naser Ahmadi, aged 30, cousin of Zemari Ahmadi had hoped to be resettled as a refugee in the U.S.

The Civilian Wall could be built in a zig-zag fashion across the country with the land in its way — homes and businesses, parks and roadways — seized by eminent domain, making Americans care about civilian deaths in ways that news articles never could. When you lose your home to a slab of granite that reads “Pequot adult, Pequot adult, Pequot child…” 500 times, you may actually take notice. When you hear about renewed attacks in Iraq or drone strikes in Somalia or a Navy SEAL raid gone awry in Yemen and worry that the path of the wall might soon turn toward your town, you’re likely to pay far more attention to America’s conflicts abroad.

Obviously, a westward-traveling wall memorializing civilian carnage is a non-starter in this country, but the next time you hear some fleeting murmur about a family wiped out by a drone strike or read a passing news story about killings by a U.S.-backed militia, think about that imaginary wall and how, in a just world, it might be headed in your direction. In the meantime, perhaps the best we can hope for is Maass’s proposal for that blue Kia on the Mall. Perhaps it could be accompanied by the inscription found on a granite slab at the Heidefriedhof, a cemetery in Dresden, Germany, the site of a mass grave for civilians killed in a 1945 U.S. and British fire-bombing. It begins: “How many died? Who knows the number?

*Featured Image: Americans join Pakistani people to protest drone warfare in the streets of Islamabad, 2012

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University’s Center for the United States and the Cold War. A paperback edition of his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books) was published earlier this year. His website is NickTurse.com.

This column was distributed by TomDispatch.

Letter to Clerics On the Anniversary of the Afghan War

Dear (Pastor, Rev. Father, Rabbi)

We are at your place of worship, today, October 7, 2021, not to demean you or your house of worship. We are here in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the start of the war on Afghanistan. The war on Afghanistan expanded to Iraq and made the date 10/7 of far greater horror than 9/11.

In the past twenty years, approximately a million people have died in the Middle East in wars generated by the United States starting on 10/7. Additionally, 9 million people have become refugees in Iraq alone, with countless houses, apartment buildings, and businesses devastated. The crime of 9/11 with 3,000 dead and two skyscrapers destroyed pales in comparison.

Those of us here today represent various peace and justice groups and respectfully request your vocal objection to more war-making and fear-producing. The near silence of religious denominations at the start of 10/7 and the 20-year war that followed is, to us, shocking. Praying for the troops was a mantra of all religious groups and music to the ears of the Pentagon and its war contractors. It enables the war-makers to do their business blessed by the moral arbiters of America– religious communities.

We ask you, we implore you, to vocally object to existing plans for more drone warfare. We urge you to call for an end of the Over the Horizon drone attack plan of our United States government. We ask as well that you speak out in opposition to the political, military, and corporate fear-making depicting China as our new enemy–a fear that is already generating great financial benefit to the Pentagon war contractors.



Baltimore Phil Berrigan Chapter, Veterans For Peace

Ellen Barfield, Baltimore, MD

Mickie Lynn, member of Women Against War, Delmar, NY

The Drone Death Walk, Philadelphia, PA

Marie Dennis, Co-President (2007-2019) Pax Christi International

Marge Van Cleef, Philadelphia, PA

Pax Christi, Greenburg, PA

Kathy Kelly, To End All Wars

Des Moines Catholic Worker

Des Moines Chapter, Veterans For Peace

Ann Tiffany, Upstate Drone Action (NY)

Ed Kinane, Upstate Drone Action (NY)

Upstate Drone Action (NY)

Father Tim Taugher, Binghamton, NY

John Heagle, Chair, Gospel Nonviolent Working Group, AUSCP (Association of United States Catholic Priests

Stephen V. Kobasa, for Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice, New Haven, CT


Nick Mottern – Co-coordinator BanKillerDrones.org

Peace Network of Western New York

Vicki Ross, Peace Network of Western New York

Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director – Pax Christi USA

Interfaith Peace Network

NYC War Resisters League

Paki Weiland, CODEPINK

Brian Terrell, Catholic Worker, Maloy, Iowa

Fr. Bernard Survil, Priest of the Diocese of Greenburg, PA

Peace and Justice Works, Portland, OR

New York City Catholic Worker Community

Broome County, NY Peace Action

Broome County, NY Chapter 90, Veterans for Peace

Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington, DC

Up to 48,000 Civilians Killed by US Drone and Airstrikes During “War on Terror”

by Paul Antonopoulos, published on InfoBrics, September 9, 2021

At least 22,000 civilians, and as many as 48,000, have been killed by U.S. drone and airstrikes since the so-called “War on Terror” began in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. The U.S. military admits to almost 100,000 strikes since 2001, meaning that up to half of the drone and airstrikes conducted could have resulted in a civilian being killed according to the data collated by the monitoring group Airwars.

Although it was Republican President George W. Bush who led the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it was actually under his successor, Democrat Barack Obama, that the U.S. military rapidly increased the use of drone and airstrikes. Obama embraced the U.S. drone programme, resulting in more strikes in his first year as president than Bush during his entire presidency. Obama’s drone strikes did not only target Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and other terrorist hotspots.

Before and after entering the White House, former President Donald Trump was a vocal critic of endless U.S. wars in the Middle East, effectively the policies of Bush and Obama. Although Trump inherited what the media dubbed as the “Drone War,” it was actually under his presidency that accountability was ditched as he imposed a new ruling that it was no longer required for the head of the CIA to release annual summaries of U.S. drone strikes and assess how many people died as a result.

In fact, drone strikes actually increased under Trump. Obama blew Bush’s record for drone strikes, but Trump easily outdid his predecessor. As reported by the BBC, according to UK-based think-tank Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were 2,243 drone strikes in the first two years of the Trump presidency. This is compared with the 1,878 in Obama’s eight years in office. Effectively, this demonstrates that drone strikes have been favored by Washington, increasing with every new president – whether Republican or Democrat.

However, of the 91,340 strikes carried out by the U.S. since 2001, only a small proportion were from drones, with the majority coming from more deadlier fighter jets. Airwars calculated that “US actions likely killed at least 22,679 civilians, with that number potentially as high as 48,308”.

Since the so-called War on Terror began, the deadliest year for civilian victims of U.S. airstrikes was 2003, the year the U.S. invaded Iraq and deposed long-time ruler Saddam Hussein. In that year, 5,529 civilians were killed by U.S. airstrikes. The next deadliest year for civilians was in 2017, the peak of the U.S.-led Coalition bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq – 4,931 civilians were killed.

It is noteworthy that U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State were insignificant until Russia’s intervention in Syria began in September 2015. The only exception to the U.S. seriously trying to target the Islamic State before the Russian intervention was during the Siege of Kobane.

The U.S. began to significantly increase its airstrikes against the terrorist organization after being exposed for being ineffective as it took only a matter of weeks for Russia to destroy the Islamic State’s oil trade with Turkey by targeting convoys and oil facilities. However, the increase in airstrikes after being embarrassed by Russia only led to the next deadliest year for civilians facing U.S. airstrikes. In 2017, up to 19,623 civilians were killed by the U.S.-led coalition bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

What is most disturbing though is that the Pentagon itself does not know how many civilians have been killed since their so-called War on Terror began. An email reply to Airwars from the Pentagon’s Central Command (Centcom) said: “The information you request is not immediately on hand in our office as it spans between multiple operations/campaigns within a span of between 18 and 20 years.” There is little doubt that the near 100,000 airstrikes conducted by the U.S. since 2001 has brought tragedy across the world, with as many as 48,308 civilians killed and untold damages to infrastructure.

Current U.S. President Joe Biden promised to end the “forever wars,” and this is seen with the rapid withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Biden has also reduced the U.S.’ reliance on airstrikes whilst a review of drone policy is underway. However, despite these withdrawals and reviews, tens of thousands of dead innocent civilians cannot be brought back after two decades of indiscriminate American strikes.

Paul Antonopoulos is a Research Fellow at the Center for Syncretic Studies. He has an MA in International Relations and is interested in Great Power Rivalry as well as the International Relations and Political Economy of the Middle East and Latin America.

Military Analysis of Kabul Drone Strike Reveals US Was Unsure About Target

by Dave Decamp, published on Antiwar.com, September 6, 2021

The US has vehemently defended its August 29th drone strike in Kabul that witnesses say killed 10 civilians, including seven children. But a preliminary military analysis of the bombing that was reported by The New York Times revealed that the Pentagon has no proof the vehicle it targeted was carrying explosives.

The drone strike targeted a vehicle that was driven by Zemari Ahmadi. It hit the car after he pulled into his family’s home, killing children and other relatives who went out to greet Ahmadi.

US military leaders have claimed the civilians were killed by a secondary explosion caused by explosives in Ahmadi’s car. Relatives of Ahmadi who witnessed the strike dispute the claim, and sources told the Times that the US military has no concrete evidence there were bombs in the car. The preliminary analysis only says it was “possible to probable” there were explosives in the vehicle.

Ahmadi’s neighbors and relatives have strongly disputed the idea that he was affiliated with ISIS-K and say he worked with Nutrition and Education International, a charity based out of California. Other Ahmadi family members killed in the strike previously worked with the US-backed Afghan security forces, including a nephew who applied for a visa to be evacuated to the US.

The Times report said the US had no previous intelligence on Ahmadi and only decided he was ISIS-K based on his actions in the moments leading up to the strike. Ahmadi was tracked by an MQ-9 Reaper drone after he drove out of a location that US intelligence analysts believed was an ISIS-K safe house in Kabul.

The report said operators of the MQ-9 watched on a grainy black and white feed as Ahmadi and three other men loaded “wrapped packages” into his car. The only evidence the US has to claim these packages were explosives is that they appeared to be heavy, based on how the men carried them.

The report said Ahmadi then pulled into an “unknown compound,” and the commander controlling the drones ordered the strike. Witnesses have asked how the US didn’t see the children in the courtyard where Ahmadi was. The Times said the operators only saw one other man when the strike was ordered. After it was launched, the drone operators saw other figures enter the courtyard.

Shortly after the strike, US military officials claim they thwarted another bombing of the Kabul airport. The White House has described the attack as “successful, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said it was “righteous.” It’s clear by the witnesses’ accounts on the ground and the Times report that the US really had no idea who they were bombing. But this is the nature of US drone strikes and why they often result in so many civilian casualties.

*Featured Image: An Afghan inspects the damage at the Ahmadi family house in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Zemerai Ahmadi, the Afghan man who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last month, was an enthusiastic and beloved longtime employee at an American humanitarian organization, his colleagues say, painting a stark contrast to the Pentagon’s claims that he was an Islamic State group militant about to carry out an attack on American troops.(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
By Associated Press

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of Antiwar.com, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.

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.

Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale Is a Truth-Teller in a Time of Systemic Deceit and Lethal Secrecy

by Jeremy Scahill, published on The Intercept, July 30, 2021

ince the arrest and indictment of Daniel Hale on charges that he leaked the documents that formed the basis for The Intercept’s series “The Drone Papers,” as well as documents about the government’s secret watchlisting system, I have wanted to speak publicly about this unjust prosecution. However, due to security concerns, legal advice, and a desire not to hinder, in any way, Hale’s defense or to aid the government in its disgraceful prosecution, I have been unable to do so. Now that the circumstances have changed, I am able to share some aspects of my thoughts. In doing so, I am speaking only for myself and not for The Intercept or anyone else.

Daniel Hale is a man of tremendous conscience, courage, and moral clarity. It is an abomination that this brave whistleblower has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison after being convicted of exposing the horrors of the U.S. drone assassination programs, the killing of civilians, and the Kafkaesque “terror” watchlisting system run by the government.

President Barack Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Hale, but the Trump administration dug up the case and threw the book at Hale in an obvious ploy to stanch leaks about President Donald Trump and his corrupt administration. The indictment Trump’s prosecutors crafted was a dishonest piece of political propaganda intended to criminalize Hale and attack the freedom of the press.

The initial threat of decades in prison against Hale was a cudgel deployed by prosecutors in an effort to break Hale’s spirit and to frighten other prospective whistleblowers. That President Joe Biden’s Justice Department continued this prosecution instead of dropping the Trump administration’s case serves as an ominous reminder that the war on whistleblowers is a permanent fixture of the U.S. system. The use of the Espionage Act by successive administrations to prosecute whistleblowers is an affront to basic liberties and the constitutional rights of the accused, as it prevents people of conscience from presenting a real defense before a judge or jury. Its use to target dissent, independent journalism, and whistleblowing is an authoritarian weapon masquerading as a law, and it should be abolished.

In 2013, Daniel Hale and I were separately invited to speak at a public forum alongside a Yemeni American activist in Washington, D.C., about drone strikes and the murderous U.S. war in Yemen. As I listened to Hale speak that day, he struck me as a deeply moral person who was profoundly grappling with the role he had played in a lethal global system of assassination. I found him to be a thoughtful, sincere, caring person with an inherent degree of selflessness and honesty rare in our society. Hale appeared to be viscerally struggling with the nature of the work that he had done on behalf of the U.S. government and the horrors he had witnessed.

The Trump Justice Department indictment against Hale was anemic in its “evidence” and replete with innuendo and circumstantial events dishonestly crafted and presented as a substitute for facts. The government spied on Hale and manipulated his communications to paint a grossly distorted picture of his character and motivations that served the prosecutors’ campaign to railroad him.

It has been particularly disheartening to see people purporting to support Hale repeating Trump Justice Department assertions as established fact. There have been a lot of lies told about what happened in this case — in the Trump Justice Department indictment, by the prosecutors, on social media, and, unfortunately, in some news reports. Contrary to what the judge and prosecutors in this case stated and implied, it is evident that Hale was not motivated by trying to impress a journalist or anyone else. Hale was motivated by love of his fellow humans and by a deep and abiding sense of duty — duty to protect the innocent and the defenseless, as well as dedication to a sense of morality none of his detractors come close to matching. He is a noble teller of truths in a time of systemic deceit and lethal secrecy.

Among the “crimes” that Hale was convicted of are the following: revealing that, at times, nearly nine out of 10 people killed in so-called targeted strikes by the U.S. are not the intended targets; exposing the complicity of top U.S. government officials in a secret kill chain that decides who should be assassinated by drone strike; exposing that the U.S. government officially labels unknown people it kills as “enemies killed in action” unless they are posthumously proven to have been civilians; and exposing the secret watchlisting rulebook used to label people, including U.S. citizens, as “known or suspected terrorists” without evidence that they did anything wrong.

Daniel Hale should be pardoned and released, and the government should pay him restitution for the trauma it has inflicted on him for daring to speak out, at great personal risk, for the victims of wars and extrajudicial assassinations funded by U.S. taxpayers. He deserves the gratitude of good people everywhere for his courage, bravery, and sacrifice. It is a grave injustice that a man who blew the whistle on the killing of civilians is in jail and that those who murder them receive medals or appear as pundits on cable news.

Jeremy Scahill is a Senior Correspondent and Editor-at-Large at The Intercept.  He is an investigative reporter, war correspondent, and author of the international best-selling books, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” and “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”