I’ve noticed that some time ago I stopped paying attention to the huge numbers of people being killed in the Middle East and North Africa by my employee, the United States Government. As if speaking to a house cleaner, I said: “Just clean up this mess, would you?” I did not need, I thought, to be concerned with what cleaning products would be used. I had other things to preoccupy me: vacation plans, for example.
So now I just pay the bill each year when I file my tax return.
But now, as always, reality has intervened with some inconvenient truths.
A few days ago the Director of National Intelligence released a report stating that the United States has killed up to 116 non-combatant civilians in counter-terror strikes in the seven years from January 2009 through December 2015. These deaths resulted from 473 strikes, including attacks by drones, in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. However, the figures do not include strikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, which the U.S. considers areas of active hostilities.
Many non-governmental agencies have come up with death tallies that are two to three times higher than the U.S. calculations. And, of course, if innocent civilian deaths in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan were also included, the numbers of casualties would probably rise into many tens of thousands.
So I seem to be getting my money’s worth for my taxes, right?
Probably, like you, dear reader, I have seen on television the gutted remains of Syrian towns destroyed by Syrian and Russian air force bombs. I saw with horror the bodies of hundreds of small children lined up, waiting to be buried. I saw the devastation of the families, and the incredible fear of the survivors, now homeless and still in danger.
Now, it is true that our government is not participating in mass uncontrolled bombing in the same way. We just pick our targets carefully. Those 473 strikes also killed up to 2,581 combatants.
Our country is not at war with Pakistan, Somalia, Libya or Yemen. Yet the people we elect and the armed forces we pay for are sanctioning the deaths of thousands and the wounding of tens of thousands in these countries. And we are spending hundreds of millions each year in the pursuit of these “combatants”. Who knew that Libya and Yemen were a threat to the United States?
I ask you to ask yourself if we are suffering an outbreak of mass moral blindness in America. Is it justifiable to be killing these thousands because they are “Islamic terrorists” even when there is no clear and present danger to the USA? Is it acceptable to kill hundreds of non-combatants – just collateral damage – in the hunt for terrorists? Would we be as unaware of these deaths if it was Europeans we were killing? Is their religion and skin color enough to make them invisible people with no rights, no significance?
Did you know that there are algorithms to determine if an aerial strike should take place that factor in the likely number of innocent bystanders who will be killed if a specific target is bombed? Yes, a calculus for weighing deaths.
We were horrified at the end of World War II to see how many Germans were complicit or turned a blind eye to the murder of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists and other targets of Nazi violence. Are we not now also turning a blind eye to what is being done in our name? We are full of fear and loathing for the indiscriminate killings by Islamic State and Al Quaeda. Do you not imagine that the citizens of these Islamic countries also feel the same towards us for the terror that we inflict from the sky?
Our government still conceals the identities of people it has killed, how many were killed in particular strikes, the specific methods it uses to decide who can legitimately be targeted and how it investigates wrongful killings. In brief, we have no way to check even the accuracy of the numbers we are killing. Can you imagine Donald Trump being in charge of this power?
Many of the attacks seem to be used to support particular factions or destroy opponents of our favored regimes in these countries. We are the professional hit men. And we are asking our military and CIA personnel to shoulder the moral responsibility and the psychological trauma of carrying out these sanctioned killings. That is a burden that is causing huge mental health problems for these young people. They get to watch the deaths real-time on video displays from cameras in the drones they operate. And they see the bloody aftermath.
The Administration justifies these ongoing killings by referring to legislation that was passed after 9/11 fifteen years ago to authorize the pursuit of those responsible for that horrific event. It seems that no one in Washington wants to examine the legality or the morality of prosecuting a never-ending war against any kind of radical Islam or take the responsibility for the deaths of innocent people in far-away places.
How long will we look the other way? The terror we ourselves create is also going to create more terror coming our way.
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