I’ve noted on multiple occasions the existence of several databases that try to track US drone strikes. The three most widely used are the Bureau of Investigate Journalism, the Long War Journal (Pakistan here and Yemen here) and the New America Foundation, while Forensic Architecture is working on its own online platform (which will break new and vital ground by including Afghanistan and occupied Palestine – long overdue) which it calls UAV: Unmanned Aerial Violence.
I’ve just encountered a new one that compiles data on US drone strikes and targeted killings in Pakistan. It comes from the University of Massachusetts, and is the creation of Matthew Fricker, Avery Plaw and Brian Glyn Williams, who have published several articles on the subject: see, for example, Plaw and Fricker’s ‘Tracking the Predators: Evaluating the US drone campaign in Pakistan’ [International Studies Perspectives 13 (4) (2012) 344-65] and Williams’s ‘The CIA’s covert predator drone war in Pakistan 2004–2010: the history of an assassination campaign’ [Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 33 (10) (2010)]. Williams also has a book out next month, Predators: the CIA’s drone war on Al Qaeda (Potomac Books).
They call their database UMass DRONE: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Research on Operational Neutralization Events.
That’s right: ‘operational neutralization events’.
It’s no secret that the language used to describe the instruments of military violence is never innocent; some terms trumpet what is being done (‘Predator’, ‘Reaper’) while others seek to muffle the drums of war (‘executive action’, ‘collateral damage’). Acronyms play their part in this desperate game of Camo-Scrabble too, and most of them have been created by the military; in order to do my work on later modern war I’ve had to learn to speak their language, which includes an alphabet soup of shorthand.
But the spectacular insensitivity of this one truly takes my breath away. The killing of people thousands of miles away reduced to an ‘operational neutralization event’ for the sake of a clever-clever acronym.
The site, incidentally, includes a page devoted to profiles and even photographs of ‘HVTs [High Value Targets] killed’, which I assume is intended to provide a silent justification for the strikes. Unlike the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s recent project, the rest remain nameless: ‘collateral damage’?
And my title? Look it up.