It’s a sunny, warm afternoon. Your grandchildren are frolicking around the garden, running and laughing in the family gardens as they help you pick vegetables. Your 68-year-old hips creak a tad as you bend down in the fields, but you don’t mind. It’s a beautiful day with your family and, surrounded by your grandchildren, you feel blessed. Something tears across the sky, but you don’t notice because you’re focused on your vegetables and how well they turned out. They’ll make a good dinner for your husband and the rest of your family.
We hear about drone strikes in the background all the time. “Oh, another drone strike. That’s shady. Oh, our government. Oh, Obama. Oh, America. That’s too bad.”
But it’s always just talk and shaking of the head. It’s just a fact in the background that happens, far away, and some of us might even vehemently oppose it, but only with words.
While drone strikes have their merits – quick, detached, stealthy – they have serious implications and very grave consequences. It’s too easy to kill the wrong people. And even if you do have your doubts, you’re just some person in a room who has to press a button. What’s it to you if you kill a couple civilians so long as you get the bad guy? They’re just people on a screen, and while their deaths are unfortunate, you got the bad guy, and that is what’s important.
Though many countries look at us angrily for using drones and explicitly condemn our drone use, they do grudgingly concede that they help us neutralize threats to America. However, our drones have killed too many civilians too many times. Are we willing to let one hundred die to ensure one bad guy dies, or willing to let one hundred innocents live, even if it means that the bad guy still lives?
Just last year in Pakistan alone, US drone strikes killed 19 innocent civilians, including a Pakistani grandmother who was picking vegetables with her grandchildren. Five of the grandchildren were wounded, including a three-year-old little boy. Five wounded children on a sunny afternoon, all hurt, stunned, and staring at the gruesome corpse of their grandmother.
Yesterday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports that focused on the wrongful death of innocent civilians due to US drone strikes. This pair of human rights organizations has long been looking into America’s covert drone program, and accuse the US of unlawful killings. The reports go into depth regarding the many cases where they allege that the US has breached international law.
The author of the report, Mustafa Qadri, said, “There are genuine threats to the US and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or a grandmother surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.”
America’s use of pilotless targeted killings via drone strikes is currently one of the most controversial human rights issues today. While the US claims that its drone strikes are extremely accurate and based on dependable intelligence, it seems critics are correct in arguing that drone strikes are often indiscriminate, target people who were not legitimate or verified threats, and have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent bystanders. Because it is a covert program, details of drone strikes are not released, and seeking recompose for wrongful deaths is nearly impossible. The family of that grandmother, Mamana Bibi, has little hope for finding justice or compensation for their beloved one’s death. Because of the secretive US, the family has never even received an acknowledgement that it was the US that killed their grandmother.
One of the wounded grandchildren in Mamana Bibi’s case, eight-year-old granddaughter Nabeela, told reporters this: “I wasn’t scared of drones before, but now when they fly overhead I wonder, will I be next?”
Because we are the United States of America, because we are the world’s superpower, and because we don’t feel like we answer to anyone, the US has historically had no problem shucking international obligations or defying international law. But this, this is the kind of offense that people will truly condemn you for. Skirting legal things that only governments and their lawyers care about and understand, the people usually shake their heads but carry on. This has transcended international politics and power plays and government games and esoteric treaties and obtuse legal jargon. This is something that the people will truly feel and remember.
An innocent little girl who was spending an afternoon in the gardens with her siblings and grandmother, now has to wonder whether she is next.
It is abominable and ridiculous that this child must bear this concern.
Almost as abominable and ridiculous as a drone targeting and killing a 68-year-old grandmother as her grandchildren surrounded her.