In drone wars, women disappear, bodies never counted, names never known


The United States drone program, run by the CIA with the complicity of the NSA, inaugurated a new form of deterritorialized death sentence without trial or any form of public review in developing countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. This secret program fits in with the rhetoric of domination and control. Its process is obscure, and its cruelty is obscured. As for its victims they are nameless, genderless and without rights.

Reprieve, an NGO that litigates for victims of these obscured actions whose access to legal recourse would be sketchy, recently published a report entitled: You Never Die Twice. It brings to light the strange body count of the US secret drone war. The report also deconstructs the false claims by the Obama administration that the drone attacks are appropriate surgical strikes. The administration along with most of the American political establishment has backed the drone program as a “humanitarian advance” in warfare.

The Reprieve report tells another story. For example, 41 men on the Obama’s Kill List have been announced as killed several times. Seven of them are still alive. For instance Ayman al-Zawahiri, a targeted man was reported killed twice although he is still alive. Meanwhile, 105 people were killed as a result of these “surgical strikes.”

The report identified 24 men reported killed in Pakistan and 874 other people died as a result, among them 142 children, adding “each person was killed on average three time.” In Yemen, 17 were reported killed, and 273 other people were killed. The report describes the collateral casualties as other people and children who are typically innocent victims.

Innocence is difficult to prove from a distance, especially when the observer, the judge and the executor (all at once) have already deprived every one of all humanity, using a language that stereotypes all adults as potential terrorists. Thus, children are the only ones left to play the role of the innocent. Meanwhile, women who care for these innocent children are eliminated in an anonymous way. Women casualties are underreported or not reported at all.

A principle of secrecy characterizes the American drone program. The authors of the report explain that putting together this information is a considerable challenge. They use many sources including data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism local sources, crossing-checking news sources with testimonies. In this process, women disappear and once again become invisible or passively subdued.

Meanwhile, mainstream media have been skillfully normalizing the arguments of the Obama administration to support the Drone program. Media-designated experts reinforce these false images. For example, former Ambassador Christopher Hill told CNN audiences, “I have seen a number of these strikes and it is amazing how accurate and how well-targeted they are. I mean, the idea that innocents are being killed, it’s really not the case.”

As Europe adopts more of the anti terrorist rhetoric accompanied with laws making legal what was in a recent past considered morally unacceptable, many European countries are investing in “the drone market.” For now, only the United Kingdom has armed its drones; its intelligence is directly involved in the establishment of the Kill List.

The French government is considering purchasing US Reaper drones, clearly signaling its intention to follow this deadly direction. A recent report has explored the possibilities for arming French drones. With the rest of the EU, France has abolished the death penalty and signed international laws that imply the respect of humanistic principles and the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians.

Nonetheless, the authors of the report articulate concrete recommendations, claiming “this study also opens deciders to ways susceptible to help them to overcome some of the identified difficulties.” So deciders should have necessary tools to overthrow the identified difficulties that stop them from carrying out deadly and blinded attacks on populations in other countries. Are these identified difficulties the still imperfect international laws that have attempted to establish humanistic conduct? In addition, the report examines what will be the degree of acceptance by the French establishment if these attacks were to be carried out. They would annihilate the existence of populations that are far from the deciders of their fate.

In February 2014, the European Parliament passed a resolution, expressing concerns over the use of armed drones. The resolution listed demands and restrictions, including a ban on the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings, and the inclusion of armed drones in international disarmament and arms control regimes. Groups such as Code Pink are pressuring Europe to renounce to the purchase of American or Israeli drones that can be armed.

The use of drones is another example of the dehumanization that accompanies the ruthless devaluation of targeted populations in certain locations for the protection of some. This recently developed armament that carries out an illegal death sentence, fits the neoliberal deterritorialization process. As the program uses obscure criteria to determine the culpability of people, it also aggravates the destabilization of regions that have been targeted for their strategic value by richer countries. The richer countries always claim to defend international laws. In this process, women have disappeared; their bodies are not even countable.


(Photo Credit: Debra Sweet / Flickr / Common Dreams)


In the land of secrets, the butcher is king

California sterilized women prisoners without consent; Tennessee criminalizes pregnant women who take drugs. These policies go beyond cruelty; they institutionalize and normalize the dehumanization process in a large scale. Here are three recent examples from inside the border, at the border, and outside the borders of the United States.

In Oklahoma on Tuesday, a death row inmate was scheduled to die.

Since 2005, the European Commission has imposed restrictions on the export of anesthetics that may be used “for capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” But in the United States, executions must proceed. So, States came up with a secret new deadly cocktail of drugs to kill. The recipe is secret, but not the process of keeping it secret, especially since the two Oklahoma inmates sentenced to die challenged the secrecy weeks earlier.

After Tuesday’s execution, reporters and commentators made it clear, the man tortured to death, tased earlier in the day, had committed a heinous crime. And so butchering him was justified. The business of justifying the cruelty came with the help of numbers and statistics. On the PBS News Hour, Roy Engert recommended we put the issue in perspective, since only 3% of executions encountered problems. Engert’s unchallenged remark validates torture cases as just so many numbers in a deficit account.

On the US – Mexico border, US border patrols are under investigation for having recently killed more people than ever before. An independent review, leaked to the Los Angeles Times, considered 67 shootings by US Border patrols at the Mexican border between January 2010 and October 2012. These resulted in 19 civilian deaths.

The report was going to remain secret, as well as the policies and practices that allowed US patrol to shoot at Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16 year-old boy who was on his way home. He was on the other side of the fence, in Mexico. The officers on the US side shot him 10 times. He was killed with two bullets in his head and then butchered with eight more bullets in his back. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in the past three years, they have shot across the border and killed six people inside Mexico.

U.S Customs and Border Protection explained they opened fire because people in Mexico were throwing rocks and one hit their patrol dog. That explanation exposes the level of dehumanization that has normalized the use of lethal weapons against people who have been made ever more vulnerable, thanks to border fortification, intensified immiseration, and expanded displacement, all in the service of NAFTA and neoliberal development.

Outside the borders, drone strikes, to kill human targets, are carried out by the US Air Force for the CIA with the help of the NSA. As one US Air Force personnel declared, “I cannot tell you what I am doing, but I can tell you that’s super-secret.” The operations are super-secret, but the fact of the secrets is quite public.

What is secret is the name and location of the future victims. The entire process reflects US drone program whose impunity has been intensified and broadened in recent years. In the United States, every week, Tuesday is “Terror Tuesday,” the day when it is decided who will die in Yemen or Pakistan. US agents establish a list of potential victims determined through their “pattern of life,” a series of behaviors identified as potential signs of militant activities.

These various secretive methods are as dubious as the lethal drug cocktail in Oklahoma. Many stories have related how civilians in a wedding, or in a field, women and children, have been butchered by a robotic drone attack.

All these stories are linked by what Denis Salas has called the three characteristics of moral indifference: unlimited authorized use of violence, normalization of acts of violence, and dehumanization of targets. These stories reveal the power of secrecy to serve a neoliberal global disorder. Beyond cruelty, the scale of dehumanization is both intimate and global.


(Photo Credit: Paul Ingram / Tucson Sentinel)