Better late than never… I talked about Robert Greenwald‘s Unmannedbefore – the video documentary he produced to accompany the Stanford/NYU report Living under Drones – and I’ve now discovered you can still watch all 61 minutes here.
Beginning at 39:08 there is a harrowing account of the murder of Mamana Bibi in Waziristan on 24 October 2012. There is a detailed investigation in Amnesty’s Will I be next?and its forensic detail is compelling,but watching and listening to the surviving members of her family adds a new dimension to the horror.
So too, though in a radically different way, does reading C. Christine Fair‘s partisan dismissal of both the Amnesty report and the testimony of the Rehman family here. It was published under the title ‘Ethical and methodological issues in assessing drones’ civilian impacts in Pakistan’ – without a trace of irony – but for once the comments below the line give me hope…
FOOTNOTE: I’ve been asked to elaborate that last paragraph. Fair suggests – on the flimsiest of bases – that the strike was carried out by the Pakistan Air Force, and clumsily attempts to discredit both Reprieve and Amnesty’s research. I’ve written before about the PAF’s repeated assaults on the FATA – here and here for example – but here is part of a report from the Guardian on the murder of Mamana Bibi that describes how Amnesty’s local researcher Mustafa Qadriwent about his work:
Qadri reached out to trusted sources in North Waziristan. The family members and their neighbors were interviewed independently on multiple occasions, unaware that a human-rights group was behind the questions they were asked. Over the course of many weeks, Qadri found the family’s account to be consistent. He determined it was highly unlikely that any militants were present at the time of the strike and that the missiles were likely fired by a US drone.
“It was a number of things,” Qadri told the Guardian. “We got the missiles, the large fragments that the family has that we got analyzed by [an] expert who says this is very likely to be a Hellfire missile. We also had family members who saw drones physically. We also have the eyewitness of the family who said they heard the noise of missiles fired from the sky and then separate noises of missiles impacting on the ground. We have the evidence of a double sound, with each single strike.”
I doubt that he needs any lessons on ethics or methodology.
Robert Greenwald‘s feature-length documentary film Unmanned: America’s drone wars is being released on 30 October: it will be streaming online for a limited time, but if you sign up here you will be able to watch it thanks to Brave New Foundation free of charge (and no, this isn’t piracy). Thanks to Jorge Amigoand Sara Koopman for the heads-up.
As I noted last summer, Greenwald prepared the video to accompany the Stanford/NYU report Living under Drones, and you can find more about the background to the film in George Zornick‘s article for the Nationhere. Like the crew that made Madiha Tahir‘s Wounds of Waziristan, Greenwald travelled to Pakistan, but the twist here is that Greenwald is bringing some of the witnesses to Capitol Hill this week:
“What we’ve been able to do is put a face to policy. Bring over living, breathing, human beings who can look the camera, or the congresspeople, or reporters, in the eye and say, ‘Yes, my grandmother was in the field. She was killed by a drone,’ ” he explained. “ ‘My mother, who I miss every day, was killed by a drone. How could she possibly, under any set of circumstances, be called a terrorist?’”
For more details on the project to bring them to the United States and the horrors that they witnessed, see Ryan Devereux‘s chilling report here about the murder of Mamana Bibi.
‘Zubair, now 13, said the sky was clear the day his grandmother died. He had just returned home from school. Everyone had been in high spirits for the holiday, Zubair said, though above their heads aircraft were circling. Not airplanes or helicopters, Zubair said.
“I know the difference,” Zubair said, explaining the different features and sounds the vehicles make. “I am certain that it was a drone.” Zubair recalled a pair of “fireballs” tearing through the clear blue sky, after he stepped outside. After the explosion there was darkness, he said, and a mix of smoke and debris.
“When it first hit, it was like everyone was just going crazy. They didn’t know what to make of it,” Zubair said. “There was madness.” A piece of shrapnel ripped into the boy’s left leg, just above his kneecap. A scar approximately four inches in length remains. “I felt like I was on fire,” he said. The injury would ultimately require a series of costly operations.
Nabeela, the little girl, was collecting okra when the missiles struck. “My grandma was teaching me how you can tell if the okra is ready to be picked,” she said. “All of the sudden there was a big noise. Like a fire had happened.
“I was scared. I noticed that my hand was hurting, that there was something that had hit my hand and so I just started running. When I was running I noticed that there was blood coming out of my hand.”
Nabeela continued running. The bleeding would not stop. She was eventually scooped up by her neighbors. “I had seen my grandmother right before it had happened but I couldn’t see her after. It was just really dark but I could hear [a] scream when it had hit her.”
This is the same attack detailed in Amnesty’s report, Will I be next? last week. Amnesty’s account of the strike, on Ghundi Kala in North Waziristan on 24 October 2012, included this photograph showing the position of Mamana Bibi‘s family when the drone struck while she was working in the fields:
This is exactly that I meant when I said that all these targeted killings – and this was one which surely went hideously wrong (though I’m not sure what going right would look like) – have effects that reach far beyond the individual victim. The ‘individuation of warfare‘ is never confined to an individual; and in this case, like so many others, it’s not warfare either.
UPDATE: The Independent carries an early report of the testimony of Mamana Bibi’s son here and the Guardianhere (‘Bibi’ simply means ‘grandmother’ and is an honorific – the family name is Rehman).
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman said, through a translator. “Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.”
Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: “Not a militant but my mother.”
“In urdu we have a saying: aik lari main pro kay rakhna. Literally translated, it means the string that holds the pearls together. That is what my mother was. She was the string that held our family together. Since her death, the string has been broken and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost.”
In the image below, her grand-daughter is holding her drawing of the attack.
Read this alongside Kenneth Anderson and Benjamin Witteshere – with their double-act doublespeak of Amnesty International’s ‘coyness’ and its ‘blithe claims’ (do they know what these words mean??) – and retch.