If the average American pauses to consider what it’s like living in the vicinity of missile attacks launched from Predator drones, I expect that the popular conception is of a sudden strike that seemingly comes out of nowhere. “You will never see it coming,” President Obama jokes.
Administration officials sell remote warfare as military precision at its most advanced, as though innocent victims are a rarity that barely merits attention. In a speech he delivered at the end of April, White House Counter Terrorism adviser John Brennan said:
With the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective while minimizing collateral damage, one could argue that never before has there been a weapon that allows us to distinguish more effectively between an al-Qaida terrorist and innocent civilians.
Yet neither Brennan nor any other administration official talks about what it means to live with drones ever-present — what it means for the drone of death to become a background noise that haunts everyday life.
Clive Stafford Smith traveled to Peshawar in Pakistan to hear some of the victims of Obama’s war describe the waking nightmare in which a drone attack is never far away.
Rasul Mana comes from the village of Sirkut Burakhel Supulga in Waziristan. As we meet, he produces from his pocket a sheet of ES-PRAMCIT (Escitalopram), an anti-stress drug that is manufactured in Karachi. There is only one left in the packet of eight.
I come from the village of Sirkut Burakhel Supulga. There are around 40 houses in the village, with perhaps a total of population of 3000 people. I know that’s an average of 75 people crammed into each compound. That’s the way it is. We all live with extended families.
Drones have had a great effect on me. Eighteen people have been killed by them in my village alone. When the drone is 5 km away the sound is very different. It sounds like a missile. As they come closer, it turned into a repetitive humming. Bangana is the word we use for drones. It means bee in Pashtu. I first heard that term in 2005, and the killer bees have been all over us ever since.
The kids know what the voice of the drone now. Every day we hear the voice of the drones at least six or seven times. We listen for the voice 24 hours a day. We are afraid at night as we lie in our beds.
The drones are going around and around over our heads. There may be four or five at any given time. They are normally very high, but sometimes they come down if there is a dust storm or it is cloudy. They also tend to come down lower to attack, which is when you get very scared.
When the missile is launched it makes a loud noise – zzhhooo – as it drops onto its target.
Many of the strikes are in the black of night. We run to where the attack has happened, we see people dead and crying in pain. No matter what time of night, the children will all be awake and crying. When we look for the injured, or pick up the pieces of the dead bodies, we know that the Americans may do another attack. It’s called a Good Samaritan attack, aimed at anyone who tries to help the injured, as they’re assumed to be friends of the original victims, who are themselves assumed to be militants.
People curse the Americans, calling on God to destroy them with flood, lightening, pestilence or any natural disaster.
The Americans put GPS tags in places. Spies put them on their enemies, just people for whom they have animosities. The GPS is half the size of a finger. We call it a Sim card. Something like a UV light comes out of it. The spy sends a note via a satellite phone that the target is tagged.
And then death descends. [Continue reading…]