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An Unheard War

Sebastopol's Barbara Briggs-Letson returns from Pakistan determined to spread the word about U.S. drone strikes



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"They said to us, 'You're waging a war on terror by terrorizing our population,'" adds Benjamin, on the phone from San Francisco. According to "Living Under Drones," the report released by Stanford and NYU, the number of "high-level" targets killed makes up only 2 percent of total casualties.

Like an advanced and very deadly video game, the drones are piloted from sites like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, thousands of miles away from targets. According to the Stanford / NYU report, funerals have been bombed, as was a community meeting in which over 40 people were killed. Rescuers have been killed in "double-strikes," when a second missile is sent in soon after the first deadly attack. These actions amount to war crimes, says Benjamin. Supporters of drones claim that this tactic keeps U.S. soldiers safe from harm, while eliminating al-Qaida militants. But Briggs-Letson wonders about the moral implications of this new style of warfare.

"Is it OK to sit in a dark room, thousands of miles away, to push a button and then go home to eat supper with your children?" she asks.

In Pakistan, the deaths have left a deep desire for revenge, explains Briggs-Letson. She recounts the story of riding in a caravan to just outside of Waziristan, where the delegation was set to tour areas that had been hit by drone strikes. Briggs-Letson was prepared to speak and apologize to those who had lost family members, but after tribal leaders received credible threats from the Taliban that the Americans were going to be targeted with bombs, the trip was cancelled. Even within the safe confines of the compound, the group heard chants of "Go home! You're a terrorist!" explains Briggs-Letson.

The latest reports question the legal and international ramifications of drone policy, say critics. Considering that the United States isn't at war with Pakistan, what kind of precedent is being set when one country is allowed to kill citizens of another country without being held accountable for whether those citizens are innocents or combatants?

Benjamin says that it's time to call on the U.S. government to end the secrecy and to function with transparency and accountability in the use of drones. This includes holding the Obama administration accountable for its support of the current cloak-and-dagger approach.

"We're setting this horrible example of going anywhere we want, killing anyone we want on the basis of secret information," says Benjamin. "Somehow thinking this is not going to blow back, and that other countries are not going to do the same thing, is crazy."

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