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Archive for category WAR CRIMES

Question Everything! Bless our American traitors By Chris Hedges -Pakistanis Will Never Forget Shah Wali Pakistani Baby Killed By US Drone

Question Everything!

Bless our American traitors

By Chris Hedges

July 20, 2021
Daniel Hale, an active-duty Air Force intelligence analyst, stood in the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park in October 2011 in his military uniform. He held up a sign that read “Free Bradley Manning,” who had not yet announced her transition. It was a singular act of conscience few in uniform had the strength to replicate. He had taken a week off from his job to join the protestors in the park. He was present at 6:00 am on October 14 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his first attempt to clear the park. He stood in solidarity with thousands of protestors, including many unionized transit workers, teachers, Teamsters and communications workers, who formed a ring around the park. He watched the police back down as the crowd erupted into cheers. But this act of defiance and moral courage was only the beginning. 

At the time, Hale was stationed at Fort Bragg. A few months later he deployed to Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base. He would later learn that while he was in Zuccotti Park, Barack Obama ordered a drone strike some 12,000 miles away in Yemen that killed Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of the radical cleric and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been killed by a drone strike two weeks earlier. The Obama administration claimed it was targeting the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ibrahim al-Banna, who it believed, incorrectly, was with the boy and his cousins, all of whom were also killed in the attack. That massacre of innocents became public, but there were thousands of more such attacks that wantonly killed noncombatants that only Hale and those with top-security clearances knew about.

Starting in 2013, Hale, while working as a private contractor, leaked some 17 classified documents about the drone program to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, although the reporter is not named in court documents. The leaked documents, published by The Intercept on October 15, 2015, exposed that between January 2012 and February 2013, US special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. For one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 per cent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. The civilian dead, usually innocent bystanders, were routinely classified as “enemies killed in action.”

Hale was coerced by Biden’s Justice Department on March 31 to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 designed to prosecute those who passed on state secrets to a hostile power, not those who expose to the public government lies and crimes. Hale admitted as part of the plea deal to “retention and transmission of national security information” and leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. He is being held in the Alexandria Adult Detention Center in Virginia, awaiting sentencing on July 27. If he had refused the plea deal, he could have spent 50 years in prison. He now faces up to a decade in prison.

Tragically, his case has not garnered the attention it should. When Nick Mottern, of the Ban Killer Drones campaign, accompanied artists projecting Hale’s image on downtown walls in Washington, D.C., he found that everyone he spoke to was unaware of Hale’s plight. Prominent human rights organizations, such as the ACLU and PEN, have largely remained silent and uninvolved. The group Stand with Daniel Hale has called on President Biden to pardon Hale and end the use of the Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers, mounted a letter-writing campaign to the judge to request leniency and is collecting donations for Hale’s legal fund. 

“Daniel Hale is one of the most consequential whistleblowers,” Edward Snowden said on a May Day panel held at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers.  “He sacrificed everything — an incredibly courageous person — to tell us that the drone war, that, you know, is so obviously occurring to everyone else, but the government was still officially denying in so many ways, is here, it is happening, and 90 per cent of the casualties in one five-month period were innocents or bystanders or not the target of the drone strike. We could not establish that we could not prove that, without Daniel Hale’s voice.”

Speaking on Democracy Now! with host Amy Goodman a few weeks later, Daniel Ellsberg agreed that Hale “acted very admirably, in a way that very, very few officials have ever done in showing the moral courage to separate themselves from criminal activities and wrongful activities of their own administration, and resist them, as well as exposing them.”

Because Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, he, like other whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who spent two-and-a-half years in prison for exposing the routine torture of suspects held in black sites, was not permitted to explain his motivations and intent to the court. Nor could he provide evidence to the court that the drone assassination program killed and wounded large numbers of noncombatants, including children. He faced trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, much of whose population has links to the military or intelligence community, and whose courts have become notorious for their harsh sentences on behalf of the government. 

The 2012 “Living Under Drones” report by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic provides detailed documentation of the human impact of US drone strikes in Pakistan. Drones often fire Hellfire missiles that are equipped with an explosive warhead of about 20 pounds. A Hellfire variant, known as the R9X, carries “an inert warhead,” The New York Times reported. Instead of exploding, it hurls about 100 pounds of metal through a vehicle. The missile’s other feature includes “six long blades tucked inside,” which deploy “seconds before impact to slice up anything in its path” — including, of course, people.

The numbers of civilians dead from US drone strikes run into the thousands, if not tens of thousands. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization, for example, reported that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom an estimated 474 to 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

Drones hover 24 hours a day in the skies over Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Without warning, the drones operated remotely from Air Force bases as far away as Nevada, fire ordinance that obliterates homes and vehicles or kills whole groups of people in fields or attending community gatherings, funerals and weddings. The leaked banter of the young drone operators, who often treat the killings as if they are an enhanced video game, exposes the callousness of the indiscriminate killings. Drone operators refer to child victims of drone attacks as “fun-sized terrorists.”

“Ever step on ants and never give it another thought?” Michael Hass, a former drone operator for the Air Force told The Guardian.  “That’s what you are made to think of the targets — as just black blobs on a screen. You start to do these psychological gymnastics to make it easier to do what you have to do — they deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job every day — and ignore those voices telling you this wasn’t right.”

The ubiquitous presence of drones in the skies, and the awareness that at any moment these drones can kill you and your family, induces feelings of helplessness, anxiety and constant fear.

“Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities,” the 2012 report reads of the drone war in Pakistan. “Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”

Drones have become killing machines that mete out random death and usually permanently cripple those victims who survive.

“The missiles fired from drones kill or injure in several ways, including through incineration, shrapnel, and the release of powerful blast waves capable of crushing internal organs,” the report reads.  “Those who do survive drone strikes often suffer disfiguring burns and shrapnel wounds, limb amputations, as well as vision and hearing loss.”

Hale, now 33, always had doubts about the war, but he enlisted in 2009 when Obama assumed office. He hoped that Obama would undo the excesses and lawlessness of the Bush administration. Instead, Obama, a few weeks after he took office, approved the deployment of an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan where 36,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 NATO troops were already deployed. By the end of the year, Obama increased troop levels in Afghanistan again by 30,000, doubling U.S. casualties. He also massively expanded the drone program, raising the number of drone strikes from several dozen the year before he took office to 117 by his second year in office.  By the time he left office, Obama had presided over the killing of at least 3,000 suspected militants and hundreds of civilians. He authorized what are known as “signature strikes” allowing the CIA to carry out drone attacks against groups of suspected militants without getting positive identification. He spread the footprint of the drone war, establishing drone bases in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other overseas locations to expand attacks to Syria and Yemen. The Obama administration also indicted eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all previous administrations combined. The Biden administration, like the Trump and Obama administrations, continues to launch widespread global drone strikes.

“Before I joined the military, I was well aware that what I was about to enter was something I was against, that I disagreed with,” Hale says in the 2016 documentary film “National Bird.” “I joined anyway out of desperation. I was homeless. I was desperate. I had nowhere else to go. I was on my last leg. The Air Force was ready to accept me.”

National Bird / a film by Sonia Kennebeck

Three courageous whistleblowers break the silence around the U.S. drone war – a decision that will change their …

In the film, Hale alludes to a difficult and chaotic childhood.

“It’s kind of funny, a little ironic too because so far I’m the only adult male in my entire family, immediate and external, who had not been to prison so far,” he says. “I come from a long lineage of prisoners, actually, a very proud tradition of fuck-ups who get drunk and go driving, or sell pot, or carry a gun when they shouldn’t be carrying a gun, in the wrong place at the wrong time, a lot of that where I’m from.”

He was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg and underwent language and intelligence training. He worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst identifying targets for the drone program. His Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance gave him access to the vast, global drone war hidden from public view and Obama’s huge secret “kill lists.”

“There are several such lists, used to target individuals for different reasons,” he wrote in an essay titled “Why I Leaked the Watchlist Documents,” originally published anonymously in the book “The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program” by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. The book is based on the leaked documents provided by Hale that first appeared as an eight-part series called “The Drone Papers” published by The Intercept.

“Some lists are closely kept; others span multiple intelligence and local law enforcement agencies,” Hale writes in the essay. “There are lists used to kill or capture supposed ‘high-value targets,’ and others intended to threaten, coerce, or simply monitor a person’s activity. However, all the lists, whether to kill or silence, originate from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, and they are maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center at the National Counterterrorism Center. The existence of TIDE is unclassified, yet details about how it functions in our government are completely unknown to the public. In August 2013 the database reached a milestone of one million entries. Today it is thousands of entries larger and is growing faster than it has since its inception in 2003.” 

The Terrorist Screening Center, he writes, not only stores names, dates of birth, and other identifying information of potential targets, but also stores “medical records, transcripts, and passport data; license plate numbers, email, and cell-phone numbers (along with the phone’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity and International Mobile Station Equipment Identity numbers); your bank account numbers and purchases; and other sensitive information, including DNA and photographs capable of identifying you using facial recognition software.”

Data on suspects is collected and pooled by the intelligence agencies known as the Five Eyes, the intelligence alliance formed by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each person on the list is assigned a TIDE personal number or TPN.

“From Osama bin Laden (TPN 1063599) to Abdulrahman Awlaki (TPN 26350617), the American son of Anwar al Awlaki, anyone who has ever been the target of a covert operation was first assigned a TPN and closely monitored by all agencies who follow that TPN long before they were eventually put on a separate list and extrajudicially sentenced to death,” Hale wrote.

He also exposed that the more than one million entries in the TIDE database include about 21,000 United States citizens.

After leaving the Air Force in July 2013, Hale was employed by the private defense contractor National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a political geography analyst between December 2013 and August 2014. He said he took the job, which paid $80,000 a year because he was in desperate need of money and hoped to go to college. But by then he was disgusted with the drone program and determined to make the public aware of its abuses and lawlessness. Inspired by the peace activist David Dellinger, he, like Dellinger, had decided to become a traitor to “the American way of death.” He would make amends for his complicity in the killings, even at the cost of his own security and freedom. 

“When the president gets up in front of the nation and says they are doing everything they can to ensure there is near certainty there will be no civilians killed, he is saying that because he can’t say otherwise, because anytime an action is taken to finish a target there is a certain amount of guesswork in that action,” Hale says in the film. “It’s only in the aftermath of any kind of ordinance being dropped that you know how much actual damage was done. Oftentimes, the intelligence community is reliant, the Joint Special Operations Command, the CIA included, is reliant on intelligence coming afterwards that confirms that who they were targeting was killed in the strike, or that they weren’t killed in that strike.”

“The people who defend drones, and the way they are used, say they protect American lives by not putting them in harm’s way,” he says. “What they really do is embolden decision-makers, because there is no threat, there is no immediate consequence. They can do this strike. They can potentially kill this person they are so desperate to eliminate because of how potentially dangerous they could be to the US. But if it just so happens that they don’t kill that person, or some other people involved in the strike get killed as well, there are no consequences for it. When it comes to high-value targets, every mission you go after one person at a time, but anybody else killed in that strike is blanketly assumed to be an associate of the targeted individual. So as long as they can reasonably identify that all of the people in the field view of the camera are military-aged males, meaning anybody who is believed to be age 16 or older, they are a legitimate target under the rules of engagement. If that strike occurs and kills all of them, they just say they got them all.”

Drones, he warns, make a remote killing “too easy, too convenient.”

On August 8, 2014, the FBI raided his home. It was his last day of work for the private contractor. A male and female FBI agent shoved their badges in his face when he opened the door.

“Immediately behind them came about 20 agents, basically all of them with pistols drawn, some wearing body armor,” he says in the film. “At this point, I was extremely scared. I did not understand what was going on. Altogether, there might have been at least 30 to 50 agents in and out of the house at different points throughout the evening taking photos of every room and everything, searching for different things.”

By the time they finished his house was stripped of all electronics, including his cell phone.

For the next five years, he lived with the uncertainty of his fate. He struggled to find work, fought off depression and contemplated suicide. He was barred, by law, from speaking about his plight, even with a therapist. In 2019, the Trump administration indicted Hale on four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property. 

The thousands of targeted assassinations carried out by drones, often in countries that are not at war with the United States, are an egregious violation of international law. They are turning huge swaths of the planet against us. The secret kill lists, which include US citizens, have transformed the executive branch into judge, jury and executioner, obliterating the right to due process. Those that commit these killings are unaccountable. Hale sacrificed his career and his freedom to warn us. He is not a danger to the country. The danger we face comes from the secret drone program, which is spiralling out of control and ominously being adopted by domestic law enforcement agencies. If left unchecked, the terror we impose on others we will soon impose on ourselves.

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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Countering Terrorism, Immediate Actions Required – By Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi

Countering Terrorism, Immediate Actions Required 

By

Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi

There was a conference of political parties to take a joint stand against terrorism. While it is good to see them realize the threat and get together , the out come has been mixed.
 
It is heartening to see the Prime Minister lift the ban on hanging. Let us now see the action in short time . The sentenced terrorists must be hanged forthwith. The petitions / appeals lying with the Prime Minister / president must be disposed off/ rejected in all terrorism cases without further waste of time. The judiciary should be directed by the Chief Justice to process the cases of terrorism expeditiously.
 
The disappointing part is the decision to set up a committee of politicians to prepare a plan of action. Making of committees is the known way of putting off a decision. What expertise do our politicians have in combating terrorism??
 
green-ground-red-drones-blue-paf-strikes-dawn-20-june-2014This should have been a committee of military and civil experts. The ISI, IB, MI , Police and civil servants who have experience of dealing with Taliban / TTP would have delivered an action plan which would have been prepared without any political considerations. 
 
Now we are likely to see opposing points of views diluting any worthwhile suggestions. Imran Khan while condemning the attack still talked about alternatives. This conference has failed to come up to people’s expectations. We expected directives being issued to all the provinces to wipe out all terrorist cells in their respective areas. The DCO and the SPs must be made accountable and given the task to root out all extremism/ terrorism from his district. If any incident then occurs strict action to be taken against these officers.
 
The Conference should have issued a directive to the Armed Forces to use all means to wipe out this scourge as was done by Sri Lanka to wipe out the Tamil Tigers. Activation and release of funds for NACTA should have been announced
All these measures would have raised the morale of the nation and the Prime Minister would have seemed to have taken charge of this existential struggle. 
 
The Army Chief has done well to have taken the Afghan President and the ISAF Comdr  into confidence about the linkages across the border. They must cooperate otherwise Pakistan should consider other means to hit Fazlullah and others holed up in Kunar and sending these terrorists to hurt us. 
 
Such occasions show the worth of a nation and its leadership. Let us not fail this test of history otherwise it’s judgement can be very harsh.
 
Javed Ashraf
Terrorism 

Terrorists have struck again in Peshawar. The Army Public School was attacked and over a hundred children were killed through point blank firing. It is the worst incident to have struck Pakistan ever since these animals started attacking our public and the Armed Forces. 

All that we ever hear from our politicians is condemnation. They need to do more if the country is to be rid of this menace. 
 
The Army is fighting them but our Government has stayed executions of all condemned and sentenced terrorists. Even the killer of Salman Taseer continues to enjoy a VIP status in jail despite a death sentence because the Prime Minister and the President refuse to sign the black warrant under pressure from EU human rights group. 
 
There are now more then 8000 condemned prisoners in jails waiting for a jail break since our politicians would not carry out the sentence of death for their crimes.

The Army leadership has to get this stay lifted from the Prime Minister who should immediately order the start of executions instead of meaning less announcement of 3 days mourning.

The s at a large scale to hurt these animals. 
 
Anyone including Imran Khan and our religious parties who have been calling them as our people and speaking favorably about TTP must come out and condemn them with no holds barred. 
 
We can not afford to have these terrorists living in our midst. 
 
The Prime Minister must call a meeting of national security council and also order the police in all provinces to launch a full scale operation against all known cells and extremist moulvis / Madrassahs which prepare and harbor these terrorists. 

We can not continue to remain quiet and indulge in power politics. The nation has to stand together and if some one does not stand up he should be condemned and isolated.

If at this moment the Prime Minister does not take charge and lead the fight, he should quit. 
 
If Imran does not stand with the nation, he should be told to get off as he is not fit to lead. 
 
The Army now has to not only assert itself with the Govt to issue necessary orders but also intensify their operations. We have suffered and our hearts ache for our brothers and sisters who have lost their dear children. May God bless these innocent souls. 

Let the nation rise and prove ourselves worthy of being a respectable nation. If we fail now we are not fit to survive as a country worth living and will soon have the likes of ISIS and TTP ruling this gutless nation.

Lt Gen Javed Ashraf
E-Mail
Javed Ashraf <javedaq41@gmail.com>

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ENCORE: US detention of Imran Khan part of trend to harass anti-drone advocates

The vindictive humiliation of Pakistan’s most popular politician shows the US government’s intolerance for dissent

 

    • Glenn Greenwald
    • theguardian.com, 
Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

Imran Khan, centre, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, with party’s supporters. He has led a high-profile campaign against US drone strikes. Photograph: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

Imran Khan is, according to numerous polls, the most popular politician in Pakistan and may very well be that country’s next Prime Minister. He is also a vehement critic of US drone attacks on his country, vowing toorder them shot down if he is Prime Minister and leading an anti-drone protest march last month.

On Saturday, Khan boarded a flight from Canada to New York in order to appear at a fundraising lunch and other events. But before the flight could take off, US immigration officials removed him from the plane and detained him for two hours, causing him to miss the flight. On Twitter, Khan reported that he was “interrogated on [his] views on drones” and then added: “My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop.” He thendefiantly noted: “Missed flight and sad to miss the Fundraising lunch in NY but nothing will change my stance.”

The State Department acknowledged Khan’s detention and said: “The issue was resolved. Mr Khan is welcome in the United States.” Customs and immigration officials refused to comment except to note that “our dual mission is to facilitate travel in the United States while we secure our borders, our people, and our visitors from those that would do us harm like terrorists and terrorist weapons, criminals, and contraband,” and added that the burden is on the visitor “to demonstrate that they are admissible” and “the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”

There are several obvious points raised by this episode. Strictly on pragmatic grounds, it seems quite ill-advised to subject the most popular leader in Pakistan – the potential next Prime Minister – to trivial, vindictive humiliations of this sort. It is also a breach of the most basic diplomatic protocol: just imagine the outrage if a US politician were removed from a plane by Pakistani officials in order to be questioned about their publicly expressed political views. And harassing prominent critics of US policy is hardly likely to dilute anti-US animosity; the exact opposite is far more likely to occur.

But the most important point here is that Khan’s detention is part of a clear trend by the Obama administration to harass and intimidate critics of its drone attacks. As Marcy Wheeler notes, “this is at least the third time this year that the US has delayed or denied entry to the US for Pakistani drone critics.”

Last May, I wrote about the amazing case of Muhammad Danish Qasim, a Pakistani student who produced a short film entitled “The Other Side”, which “revolves around the idea of assessing social, psychological and economical effects of drones on the people in tribal areas of Pakistan.” As he put it, “the film takes the audience very close to the damage caused by drone attacks” by humanizing the tragedy of civilian deaths and also documenting how those deaths are exploited by actual terrorists for recruitment purposes.

Qasim and his co-producers were chosen as the winner of the Audience Award for Best International Film at the 2012 National Film Festival For Talented Youth, held annually in Seattle, Washington. He intended to travel to the US to accept his award and discuss his film, but was twice denied a visa to enter the US, and thus was barred from making any appearances in the US.

The month prior, Shahzad Akbar – a Pakistani lawyer who represents drone victims in lawsuits against the US and the co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization, Foundation for Fundamental Rights – was scheduled to speak at a conference on drones in Washington. He, too, was denied a visa, and the Obama administration relented only once an international outcry erupted.

There are two clear dynamics driving this. First, the US is eager to impose a price for effectively challenging its policies and to prevent the public – the domestic public, that is – from hearing critics with first-hand knowledge of the impact of those policies. As Wheeler asks, “Why is the government so afraid of Pakistanis explaining to Americans what the drone attacks look like from a Pakistani perspective?”

This form of intimidation is not confined to drone critics. Last April, Ireported on the serial harassment of Laura Poitras, the Oscar-nominated documentarian who produced two films – one from Iraq and the other from Yemen – that showed the views and perspectives of America’s adversaries in those countries. For four years, she was detained every single time she reentered the US, often having her reporters’ notebook and laptop copied and even seized. Although this all stopped once that article was published – demonstrating that there was never any legitimate purpose to it – that intimidation campaign against her imposed real limits on her work.

That is what this serial harassment of drone critics is intended to achieve. That is why a refusal to grant visas to prominent critics of US foreign policy was also a favorite tactic of the Bush administration.

Second, and probably even more insidious, this reflects the Obama administration’s view that critics of its drone policies are either terrorists or, at best, sympathetic to terrorists. Recall how the New York Times earlier this year – in an article describing a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documenting the targeting of Pakistani rescuers and funerals with US drones – granted anonymity to a “senior American counterterrorism official” to smear the Bureau’s journalists and its sources as wanting to “help al-Qaida succeed”.

For years, Bush officials and their supporters equated opposition to their foreign policies with support for the terrorists and a general hatred of and desire to harm the US. During the Obama presidency, many Democratic partisans have adopted the same lowly tactic with vigor.

That mindset is a major factor in this series of harassment of drone critics: namely, those who oppose the Obama administration’s use of drones are helping the terrorists and may even be terrorist sympathizers. It is that logic which would lead US officials to view Khan as some sort of national security threat by virtue of his political beliefs and perceive a need to drag him off a plane in order to detain and interrogate him about those views before allowing him entrance to the US.

What makes this most ironic is that the US loves to sermonize to the world about the need for open ideas and political debate. In April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lectured the planet on how “those societies that believe they can be closed to change, to ideas, cultures, and beliefs that are different from theirs, will find quickly that in our internet world they will be left behind,”

That she is part of the same government that seeks to punish and exclude filmmakers, students, lawyers, activists and politicians for the crime of opposing US policy is noticed and remarked upon everywhere in the world other than in the US. That demonstrates the success of these efforts: they are designed, above all else, to ensure that the American citizenry does not become exposed to effective critics of what the US is doing in the world.

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Robert Greenwald’s war on drones : In Pakistan, “people are angry, upset, hurting, grieving.

Robert Greenwald’s war on drones

 

In Pakistan, “people are angry, upset, hurting, grieving. This is not something that makes sense either morally or from a national security point of view.”

 

By D.B. Grady | 6:05am EST

 

 

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in May. The Navy plans to have unmanned aircraft on each of its carriers to be used for surveillance and be armed and used in combat roles.

 

Earlier this year, Robert Greenwald, acclaimed director of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, turned his lens on the Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers.

 

Now his latest documentary is in post-production, and in it he examines America’s shadowy and shortsighted drone war. The film is set for release in October, on the anniversary of the death of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old boy from North Waziristan remembered by his friends and family for a love of soccer and an interest in filmmaking. Aziz and his 12-year-old cousin were killed in a U.S. drone strike. They are but two of the hundreds of children slain by U.S. missiles in the name of “fighting terror.”

 

Leading up to the film’s premiere, Greenwald’s production company, Brave New Films, has mounted a guerrilla marketing effort, releasing short issue pieces on the realities and consequences of drone warfare, with special emphasis on so-called “signature strikes,” which are missile strikes from drones aimed not at specific terrorists or even known members of terrorist organizations, but rather, “suspicious” people in far-flung areas. (Who can say what malevolent schemes vaporized 3-year-old girls in Pakistan and Yemen had planned?) 

 

The whole sordid affair is shocking to the point of disbelief — it seems almost impossible that a sitting president of the United States is an enthusiastic, public supporter of what many have credibly argued is a war crime, and that Congress has abdicated its constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities. The public, meanwhile, has largely been shielded from the realities of drone strikes. The entire program is classified. It’s so needlessly secret, in fact, that even the director of the CIA — the man who built the drone program — has called for transparency with regard to the deaths of innocent men, women, and children. 

 

With so much at stake and so little being said or done about it, the responsibility to find and expose the program’s failures falls to the press. Journalists such as Jeremy Scahill have done a heroic job pulling back the veil. Now Robert Greenwald has taken up the mantle. If the shocking and heart-wrenching clips released by Brave New Films are any indication, public awareness cannot be raised a minute too soon.

 

I recently spoke with Robert by telephone, and we discussed drones, terror, and presidential accountability. Here’s a (slightly edited) transcript:


What first led you to film a documentary on the drone program?

 

I was interested and concerned when I started seeing some of the initial articles come out. They were quoting unnamed sources about who we were killing, and we know from previous wars that “unnamed sources” are almost 100 percent inaccurate, and it’s abhorrent to me that essentially press handouts were being reprinted. 

 

And then when I went to Pakistan and interviewed numerous drone victims, there was no question in my mind that it was a very serious subject and one that was being ignored, and one that lends itself to a film because of the personal, human stories. Not all subjects are meant to be turned into films; some of them are better served with white papers or investigations or news articles. But this is one that has very important human elements to it, and that is where film is very strong.

 

What is the feeling on the ground based on Pakistanis you spoke with?

 

I wasn’t able to go into the tribal areas because the government and military won’t let you in. When I went to Islamabad, I talked to a large number of people, including drone victims who were brought into the city, politicians such as Imran Khan, who’s running for president, journalists, psychiatrists. It was very clear that, understandably, people are angry, upset, hurting, grieving, and this was not something that makes sense either morally or from a national security point of view.

 

What most surprised you about the drone program?

images-188 

The tremendous inaccuracies, the tremendous number of repeated mistakes from the CIA and the military. The notion of signature strikes profoundly makes no sense. To kill people because they’re sitting in a circle — you have no idea who they are, no judge, no jury, no trial — makes no sense. To kill people on a kill list when you don’t have firm evidence makes no sense. 

 

To kill people when there are no people on the ground providing accurate information makes no sense. We’ve seen this movie before. Guantanamo was filled with people who were there because of false reporting or because of bribery. And we’re seeing similar things happen now with drones. It’s about a policy that, even though people deny it, it’s a policy based on the idea that we can kill our way to security. That isn’t accurate, hasn’t been accurate, and won’t be accurate.

 

In spite of everything we know about civilian deaths, including hundreds of children, why does the Obama administration continue to pursue the policy of drone warfare?

 

The Obama administration doesn’t answer our questions, so — I stick with the facts, unlike people in the CIA and others in the White House, so I don’t know why they specifically stick with it. Dennis Blair, former director of National Intelligence, who we interviewed, says there’s a national security bubble and it is very hard to get other information through. 

 

So part of it is the president and his top advisers have been misled and misguided by CIA guys who think they are accomplishing something when they are not. And part of it is this bipartisan agreement that goes on year after year, war after war, death after death, that we’re making ourselves more secure by spending billions and billions by occupying, invading, destroying, and droning. All the evidence is in front of us that it is not working. But for some reason, people in high places continue to advocate this policy.

 

This is one of the few issues where there’s no dissent in government, and accordingly, it’s moving at a relentless pace in a frightening direction. What can the public do about this?

 

I think there’s an opportunity for us, despite the military-industrial-congressional complex. The opportunity is based on two factors coming together. One is the economic crisis in our country. Each time that there’s another story about millions or billions of dollars wasted for so-called security that in fact turns out to be about abuse or profiteering — there’s an increased opportunity there to talk about that financial cost and the huge, wasted percentage of our budget, when people can’t get healthcare, have homes, or go to college. And on top of that, you have two wars — three wars, actually — Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — that clearly did not make us any safer. 

 

People know it, they feel it, it’s in their gut, and the evidence is there. Conventional reporting talks about exhaustion from war. I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a profound sense that with the suffering, with the deaths, with the families destroyed across the world, that these wars have not made us safer and have not made the countries better. So those factors together, I believe, create an opportunity. Now, the military-industrial-congressional complex is not going to go quietly into the night, so it won’t be easy, but I believe the timing does serve us well.

 

What is the result of the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the drone program?

 

This really Kafkaesque secrecy where people can’t talk about something that everybody knows is happening has resulted in an extraordinary degeneration of democracy. Everything we know about democracy is being challenged. Presidents, officials who aren’t elected, officials who areelected, are killing in our name and spending enormous sums of money in our name. And secrecy prevents it from being talked about, and that is a travesty. 

 

There is absolutely no justifiable reason that drone strikes, which everyone knows are happening, should be classified. It’s absurd. Do you think that bad guys in the tribal areas don’t know there are drones? Why? Why is it secret? It only serves the interests of those carrying out the policy.

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