The NYU School of Law sponsoreda panel discussion titled “Views from the Ground: Investigating US Drone Strikes on October 29, 2013. The GPB was there, and here’s what happened:
First, Robert Greenwald, director of the new documentary, “Unmanned: America’s Drone War,” introduced a clip from the film.
The clip vividly describes a drone strike on October 24th, 2012 in North Waziristan, a strike that killed Momina Bibi, while she was picking okra for dinner with her granddaughter Nabila. Momina Bibi’s son and grandson, Rafiq ur Rehman and Zubair ur Rehman joined Greenwald on the stage. They described the strike and the death, the heartache, the injuries, and the fear and hatred the strike has produced. Zubair ur Rehman who was injured in the strike is always scared now and is afraid to go outside.
Next, panelists from Amnesty International (Mustafa Qadri), the UN (Christof Heyns, download his report “Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”), Human Rights Watch (Letta Taylor), and the American Civil Liberties Union (Hina Shamsi) told us how their organizations are either gathering information about drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, or discussing what might and might not be legal in the killing department. At the end of their speeches during the question period, Phyllis Cunningham of the Granny Peace Brigade posed this question for each panelist. “Based on the evidence we now have, do you think that the US should stop completely its drone attacks, right now, right now?” Panel moderator Steve Coll gave an embarrassed little laugh and said, “Well that question is clear.”
You can’t say that for the answers. Not one of the panelists said yes! They didn’t answer no either. Letta Taylor of Human Rights Watch did say this: 1. Public opinion is not in favor of ending drone strikes and, 2. Public tolerance in the U.S. for deaths by terrorist attacks is zero, and she added that we need to rethink this. Then she said people in other countries die in large numbers in terrorist attacks. She didn’t follow the logic of this thread any farther. Where might rethinking take us?
We can shed some light on public fear of death by terror attack by looking at how we assess risk. Sudden, rare, out of control events like terror attacks or nuclear power plant meltdowns capture our imaginations. We drastically over-estimate risks from these events while underestimating risks of frequent occurrences like car accidents, toxic emissions from coal plants, accidental ingestion of illegal drugs or falling down the stairs.
Ms. Taylor did call attention to an issue we need to address: hysteria in the U.S. about terrorism. Who profits from this hysteria? Who encourages it? In order to stop drone strikes we need to change public opinion. It looks like we won’t be getting much help from any of these panelists. So it’s up to us. Let’s get to work.
In peace always,
– Eva-Lee Baird
for the Granny Peace Brigade