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

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 has not 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.’

Maybe.     But it might also be a serious loss for Pakistan, which was about to begin peace talks with the TTP, apparently with American support.     Now the Taliban has predictably 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 at this humiliation, coming only a week after 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 blatantly 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, as the Pakistan government seems to be suggesting.   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 exposes the lies and deceit from a US government that insists that civilians are not being killed.

In addition he has interviewed an array of journalists and legal experts from various countries 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 is strategically bankrupt,   which appears to have no coherent objectives beyond a smaller scale version of the disastrous Vietnam-era body count syndrome, and which appears entirely oblivious to the persistent claims from both Pakistani and sections of its own military 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 another step towards some kind of victory,   and a vindication of its drone program.

Greenwald’s   essential and groundbreaking public service journalism demonstrates that such actions are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of revenge that benefits no one,   except the arms manufacturers who are currently falling over themselves to produce new drones.