Turn on the television and you won't have to channel-surf for long before you come across some stern-looking politician or pundit reminding us that Western Civilization is the pinnacle of democracy, freedom and civilization. The 800-year old Magna Carta codified into law, and seared into our collective consciousness, the idea of the presumption of innocence.
However, in his most recent book "Who Rules the World?" Noam Chomsky points out that in many Western nations, the presumption of innocence has vanished, especially in the United States, which he describes as a "leading terrorist state." The smoking gun, as it were, is the profligate use of lethal drones since the War on Terror began 15 years ago.
As much as the flag, or the bald eagle has become a symbol of justice, the drone missile has become the international system of American injustice, tantamount to an extrajudicial killing. Evidence of guilt is preferable but not necessary in the eyes of the Bush and Obama administrations and some drones are dropped merely because some stranger in a faraway land comes and goes at irregular hours. Collateral damage is hardly unusual.
This was the case last May when Afghan Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan's Balochistan province. But his cab driver, a hardworking father of four whose only crime was trying to feed his family, was also killed. From all accounts, he didn't even know the identity of his fare..
A few days ago, American journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem was targeted by a drone strike near Aleppo. Born in New York, Abdul Kareem is one of the last Western journalists to report from rebel-controlled territory in Syria. Fortunately, he survived the strike and immediately spread the word about what happened to him. Although it is unclear who was responsible – in Syria, weaponized drones are used by the United States but also by the United Kingdom, Russia and Iran – Abdul Kareem blamed Washington for creating the precedent for drone assassinations.
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This is irrefutable. From widely available sources, at least eight US citizens have been killed by drone strikes, each of them deprived of their constitutional rights, and downgraded to unpeople. And as we all know, it is quite in vogue to kill unpeople these days.
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Neither the deaths of these eight American citizens nor that of Mohammed Azam receives much scrutiny form the mainstream media or political elites in the West. The cries for justice are ignored, until someone inevitably becomes radicalized by the death and injustice visited on him and his community, and joins a militant group that vows to take an eye for an eye. Our world is one of death and retribution, played as if on a murderous loop.
On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama revealed that somewhere between 64 and 116 civilians have died in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. Apart from the fact that he Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the world's most drone bombed country, his numbers are short of the mark by at least a factor of 10.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based organization, the upper limit of the civilian death toll from drone strikes stands at more than 1,000 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And what is more, the Bureau estimates that just 4 percent of Pakistan's known drone victims were identified as members of Al Qaida.
To combat the lies and the silence, I launched in 2013 a website named Drone Memorial, a virtual memorial for drone strike victims from all around the world. In this moment, just the memorial itself, which is mainly based on independent research, includes 351 names of drone victims from Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, which is just a tiny fraction of the whole since the majority of drone strike victims are still nameless, faceless and invisible. And as we have witnessed, President Obama, who would seem more interested in his legacy than the truth, is just fine with that.