by Jamison Maeda
Known as the most horrific episode of a horrible war, American soldiers slaughtered as many as 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in the Mỹ Lai Massacre in 1969. After an initial cover-up, an American whistle-blower named Ronald L. Ridenhour helped reveal the truth behind the massacre in 30 letters he sent to US government officials. But history seems to be repeating itself with the American Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper Program (drones) and the deaths of hundreds of civilains.
Since 2004, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates nearly 700 civilians have been killed in drone attacks, though exact figures are difficult to come by as the US government declared its drone program classified.
U.N. officials, foreign governments, and human rights groups have called for greater transparency in the reporting of the number of civilians killed by drone attacks, but little is said by the Obama administration, and the attacks continue.
Manama Bibi, a 68 year old grandmother was killed in Pakistsan by a drone attack as she picked vegetables. Her relatives were killed in a second attack as they ran to her aid.
Sixteen civilians in a wedding procession were killed in a drone attack in Yemen in December. Also in Yemen, Ali al-Qawli, an elementary school teacher, and his cousin Salim, a college student were killed by a drone attack.
Though lauded as a state-of-the-art and indespensible counter-terrorism tool, drones have been described as “ineffective” at combatting terrorism by US Congressman Alan Grayson who believes for every civilian murdered in a drone attack leads to sympathy for Al Qaeda and 50 to 60 new recruits.
“Video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon” says Heather Linebaugh, former imagery analyst in America’s drone program. “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel and not a weapon?”
In addition to international outrage regarding civilian casualties, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have serious concerns that multiple drone incidents have been clear violations of international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes.
The US government must be truthful about the failures of it’s drone program and publish accurate statistics on civilian deaths. By continuing the killings of unarmed civilians the US is creating a climate of distrust and international outrage which will only exacerbate the issue of terrorism that they claim to be eliminating.