Missing from the Drone Debate: Americans Aren’t the Only Ones Worthy of Human Rights

Rania Khalek

As the debate over drone strikes and targeted killings finally breaks into the mainstream, there remains a key aspect of the kill program that has been virtually ignored even by its most ardent detractors.

I’ve noticed that many of the people outraged over the kill program focusing solely about its potential impact on American citizens, which implies that it’s perfectly acceptable to subject non-Americans to due-process free execution. But what about the non-citizens at the other end of our drones and signature strikes? Don’t they deserve basic rights, too?

dronevictims

And let’s get real, we’re not talking about Canadians or Europeans, but ”Yemeni parents, Pakistani uncles and aunts, Afghan grandparents and cousins, Somali brothers and sisters, Filipino cousins”, as Falguni Sheth puts it. In other words, we’re routinely killing brown “others” whose lives have little value in the eyes of the American public. Otherwise there would have been an outcry following the a December 17, 2009, US strike in Yemen that wiped out entire families:

Among those killed that day were 22 children. The youngest, Khadje Ali Mokbel Louqye, was just one year old. A dozen women also died, five of them reportedly pregnant.

Yet these numbers mask the many individual families annihilated in the attack. Mohammed Nasser Awad Jaljala, 60, his 30-year-old wife Nousa, their son Nasser, 6, and daughters Arwa, 4, and Fatima, aged 2, were all killed.

Then there was 35-year old Ali Mohammed Nasser Jaljala, his wife Qubla (25), and their four daughters Afrah (9), Zayda (7), Hoda (5) and Sheikha (4) who all died.

Ahmed Mohammed Nasser Jaljala, 30, was killed alongside his 21-year old wife Qubla and 50-year old mother Mouhsena. Their daughter Fatima, aged 13, was the only survivor of the family, badly injured and needing extensive medical treatment abroad.

The Anbour clan suffered similarly catastrophic losses. Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye died with his wife, son and three daughters. His brother Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye’s seven-strong family were also wiped out.

Sheik Saleh Ben Fareed, a tribal leader, went to the area shortly after the attack and described the carnage to Al Jazeera reporter Scahill: ‘If somebody has a weak heart, I think they will collapse. You see goats and sheep all over. You see heads of those who were killed here and there. You see children. And you cannot tell if this meat belongs to animals or to human beings. Very sad, very sad.’

Our government has been terrorizing these communities for quite some time and aside from a handful of journalists and human rights organizations, barely anyone cared. But as soon as Americans became a target, things changed. And that’s not just speculation (emphasis mine):

A majority of Americans [59 percent] support using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects overseas, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But support drops [to 43 percent] when those suspects are American citizens.

Meanwhile, people laughed yesterday when Rand Paul expressed concerns that Americans could be targeted while “eating dinner” at home or “at a cafe.” But this isn’t a difficult scenario to imagine considering the routine targeting of funerals, weddings and even rescuers who come to the aid of victims in the aftermath of a (the infamous “double-tap“). As the Huffington Post points out:

Newspaper reports have identified signature strikes as the predominant type of drone attack. And because this type of strike targets behavior, such as clustering in groups, rather than individuals, they are prone to kill civilians.

A study last year by human rights researchers at Columbia University found that signature strikes make reliable tallies of the drone civilian death toll impossible to count. Even without deaths, the report added, the practice results in “constant fear” among citizens in Pakistan and Yemen, since they can never reliably know if their “behavior will get him killed by a drone.”

Children have been traumatized by this experience, researchers have reported — both by witnessing drone strikes and by living where they are common and seemingly random occurrences.

Administration officials, Brennan chief among them, have denied that drone strikesresult in civilian deaths, in part by relying on a metric that considers every military-age male to be a combatant unless definitively proven otherwise.

“Our children’s blood is not cheaper than American blood and the pain of losing them is just as devastating. Our children matter too,” writes Yemeni blogger Noon Arabia. Indeed, Americans aren’t the only ones who deserve basic human rights.

To those who object, perhaps you should look at the following pictures taken by Pakistani photojournalist Noor Behram to awaken your conscious:

UPDATE: The White House does not have the authority to target Americans with drone strikes on US soil, said US Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter to Senator Rand Paul. The letter was short and blunt:

It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: “Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.

Again, if it’s not okay on US soil, why is it acceptable anywhere else? Keep in mind that we never declared war on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or the Philippines, all of which have been targeted with drone strikes. If this isn’t a double standard, I don’t know what is.

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