The US War on Terror: Facing the Innocents
For ten years, the CIA and US military have been embroiled in a fight against a formless and ambiguous enemy by the name of terrorism. I say the CIA and military, because the majority of Americans seem to have forgotten about the giant conflicts that have consumed and, in many cases, drastically altered the lives of millions of Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis since the Fall of 2001. We have also achieved an unfortunate ability to tuck away the loss of American life brought on by US bureaucrats’ misadventures in the Muslim world. The routine article reporting on the handful of US troops killed in a roadside blast graces the bottom of page 35B in your daily newspaper. The story about a larger number of soldiers and veterans lost to suicide doesn’t even make it that far into the public’s repressed consciousness. I also refrain from using the term “war” in regard to the campaign started by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama. Put simply, “The Global War on Terror” is not a legal or constitutional war. Furthermore, there is no stated enemy. This fact is telling of how much of the CIA and US military’s campaigns in this “war” are conducted. That is, increasingly outside the bounds of international law, not to mention society’s general agreements of humane and ethical behavior.
Perhaps the most overlooked and unknown victims of America’s war against its own fear and anxiety are those like 16 year old Tariq Aziz and his 12 year old cousin Waheed Khan. The two teenagers were killed when their vehicle was destroyed by a Hellfire missile while driving in Pakistan’s Waziristan province. In tragic irony, Tariq had recently volunteered to document US drone strikes for a human rights organization that was gathering photographic evidence of collateral damage caused by the growing number of cross-border attacks by America’s expanding fleet of unmanned warplanes. Stories of innocent men, women, and children killed by the CIA’s secret program to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban are not uncommon in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just this past week, relations between the US and Pakistan have come under intense questioning and doubt after a US military strike on a Pakistani military outpost killed 24 soldiers and injured 13.
Over the past couple of years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as the Air Force’s well-known Predator drone have become a favorite weapon of the military and intelligence leaders in Washington. So far, the effectiveness in achieving the US government’s largely vague and unknown goals in Afghanistan is a hotly debated issue. At this point, the use of these remote killing machines has raised more questions and controversy than answers or well-earned praise. Despite numerous concerns raised by human rights activists and lawyers, not to mention outrage by AfPak communities actually affected by these drones, the Pentagon and Langley have been working to expand the use and reach of these new weapons. The military and CIA currently operate at least 60 known facilities across the globe that serve as centers for control and deployment of drone aircraft. With the assassination of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen this past year, the US drone war has expanded to at least six countries worldwide. With the ability to remotely pilot a payload of 3,800lbs of Hellfire missiles and laser guided bombs from Nevada and strike a target in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Yemen, UAVs are a tactical gift from heaven for the military and intelligence world.
When analysis of this new way of war goes beyond tactics and into strategy, it may be creating future blowback with a greater potential for harm than that possessed by America’s current security threats. US drone strikes in Pakistan have increased from a mere 9 between 2004-2007, to 118 in 2010, and 70 in 2011 as of mid-November. Keep in mind this is one of the six known countries where drones have been deployed since their appearance in the military arsenal. To date, it is estimated that 471 innocents have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Drone strikes in Pakistan have taken a total of 2,680 lives to date. The amount of victims injured by these attacks is estimated to be over 1,100. Waziristan native and documentarian, Noor Behram, says the attacks are not only killing innocent Pakistanis but also radicalizing the population where they occur. A July 2011 article from The Guardian quotes, “The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.” The extremism and hate the US has been fighting since 2001 is a result of self-destructive actions like the drone strikes occurring in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other corners of the Muslim world.
An important and pressing question brought about by such strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen is that of sovereignty and international law. Many law professionals are still trying to understand the full legal implications of the shadowy world that UAV activity operates in. In the New York Times Op-ed mentioned earlier, American lawyer Clive Smith writes, “My mistake had been to see the drone war in Waziristan in terms of abstract legal theory — as a blatantly illegal invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, akin to President Richard M. Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970.” Somehow foreign nations tolerate our republic’s aggression, but my grief goes beyond violation of national sovereignty, concerns of fomenting anti-American sentiment, and a Pandora’s box of global legal implications.
Glenn Greenwald writes in an excellent article, The Drone Mentality, “huge numbers of Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — defend Obama’s massive escalation of drone attacks on the ground that he’s killing Terrorists even though they — and, according to the Wall Street Journal, Obama himself — usually don’t even know whose lives they’re snuffing out. Remember, though: we have to kill The Muslim Terrorists because they have no regard for human life.” Now in December of 2011, it is unknown how well the GWOT will have preserved “the common defense” and security of our nation. One thing is known; we have lost more and more of our moral and ethical bearing in the process. From the destruction of domestic and foreign liberty to the slipping regard for human life, the American public needs to be brought back to its senses. What use is championing altruistic values if we cannot practice living according to the principles of basic rights and human dignity that we claim to hold dear?
There are very real people and very real consequences on the receiving end of our foreign policy. This is just a slice of the fallout from the past decade of American warfare. Torture, suspension of Habeus Corpus, creation of the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the Palestinian diaspora, and violation of American civil liberties are some of the other results stemming from the GWOT. The stories of innocent victims like Tariq, Waheed, and countless others need to be heard. Without those stories, the public consciousness will remain rooted in a comfortable comatose of ignorance, allowing the lives of innocents to suffer.