Notes From the Margins…

Robert Greenwald’s ‘Unmanned’: Essential Public Service Journalism

  • November 02, 2013
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After various attempts, the CIA appears to have finally killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a drone strike in North Waziristan.   The United States hasn’t confirmed the hit yet, though a White House spokeswoman has declared that if these reports are true, they would represent a “serious loss for the Taliban.”

Perhaps.  But the strike might also be a serious loss for Pakistan, which was about to begin peace talks with the TTP,  with American support.     Now the Taliban has vowed revenge, and warned that “Every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber” – a threat that is more likely to be directed at Pakistani civilians, scores of whom have already been killed by the TTP.

Not surprisingly, the Pakistani government is furious, especially since it’s only a week since it asked the Obama administration to stop the drone attacks. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar has called the strike “the murder of all efforts at peace” and the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) is meeting to review bilateral ties with the US.

All this might just be political theatre, or it may be that Pakistan has reached the limit of its tolerance.   Not only do drone attacks essentially negate its claims to territorial sovereignty, but they also represent a tool of American foreign policy that is at odds with Pakistan’s own domestic interests.

After all, there isn’t much point in entering into peace negotiations with your enemies if your erstwhile friends unilaterally decide to execute them without even telling you, and a government that allows such things to happen is not a government with much credibility.  The question is, why would the United States carry out such a high profile execution-by-drone, if it knew that peace negotiations were underway?   The most obvious answer is that it actively wanted to sabotage them, but that might imply more rationality than the drone program actually contains.

I’ve just watched Robert Greenwald’s excellent documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars, which is available for free for a limited period at this link.   Greenwald has done a superb job in analysing the destructive impact of America’s drone wars, focusing mainly on Waziristan.

He has interviewed numerous survivors and eyewitnesses of drone attacks, such as the family of Momina Bibi, the 67-year-old midwife blown up in a drone strike in her garden in October last year.   And survivors of the attack on the tribal jirga in 2011 that killed 40 of its participants.

Greenwald puts names and faces on a society that barely even registers in American consciousness or the consciousness of the West, except as a target.   He shows football players, primary school teachers, community leaders, lawyers, and schoolchildren, all of whom have been affected by the drone war, and US government claims that civilians are not being killed as dishonest and deceitful.

In addition he has interviewed an array of journalists and legal experts who testify to the illegality of many drone strikes.   He speaks to military men like Lawrence Wilkerson, Andrew Bacevich and David Kilkullen, all of whom testify to the ineffectiveness of the drone program from the perspective of antiterrorism or conflict reduction.

Greenwald exposes a policy of killing that appears to have no coherent strategic objectives beyond a smaller scale version of the Vietnam-era body count syndrome, and seems indifferent to the claims from both Pakistani and sections of the US military itself that drone strikes are manufacturing more militants than they actually kill.

The killing of Mehsud belongs to the same trajectory.     The US government will undoubtedly present this strike as a vindication of its drone program.  Greenwald’s  essential and groundbreaking public service journalism makes it clear that such actions are unlikely to benefit anyone,   except the arms manufacturers who are falling over themselves to produce new UAVs.

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1 Comment

  1. Richard Carter

    2nd Nov 2013 - 11:52 pm

    My first reaction on seeing this news was that it was a stupid act, but then I began to think, perhaps it was a deliberate attempt to torpedo the peace talks.

    But then, thinking further, and bearing in mind the extraordinary litany of idiotic and self-defeating foreign policy decisions by the US over the past half century (Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Iraq, Afghanistan, to mention only four), I decided it was indeed simply a huge piece of stupidity by the world’s best experts at stupid decisions. How utterly depressing!

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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