In the fall of last year I traveled to Pakistan. Reports of civilian drone casualties were beginning to permeate through American news outlets, prompting myself, and Brave New Foundation, to launch a full-length documentary investigation into the claims coming out of the tribal regions. In interview after interview I heard the stories of numerous victims and families who had relatives killed and maimed by drones.
It was then that I discovered the term ‘signature strike.’ These strikes are an exercise in profiling, absent of evidence or even names of targets — effectively acting as judge, jury, and executioners of tribal Pakistan. The confluence of testimonials from tribal people, and a new understanding of signature strikes brought me to one particular drone strike on the village of Datta Khel, North Waziristan and resulted in Brave New Foundation’s latest investigatory video.
On March 17, 2011 a CIA-controlled drone fired as many as four missiles at what they thought was a large group of militants in the village of Datta Khel. In fact, they targeted a peaceful Tribal Council, or Jirga, massacring over 40 tribal leaders and devastating entire communities… At Datta Khel, the CIA saw a large group of armed men gathering for a meeting and summarily nominated them for execution.
The self-deceit within the administration, and by extension the CIA, reached new heights when two months after 40 civilians were brutally slaughtered John Brennan stood up and claimed that there had been no civilian casualties in the past year.
Four tribal elders, first responders, and survivors of the attack were able to help me uncover the truth about the drone attack at Datta Khel. Tribal leader Jalal Manzar Khail remembers seeing the drones hovering in the sky that entire morning — sizing up their target. Minutes into discussions, drone strikes rained down on the gathering, recalls tribal Malik Ahmed Jan, rendering him unconscious and permanently injuring his legs. Relatives and neighbors rushed to the scene to encounter burning mass of bodies and dismembered limbs. Noor Khan had trouble recognizing his father, Malik Daud Khan, because of the severe burns to his body. Their testimonials are featured in Brave New Foundations investigation into the true cost of America’s Drone War.
As I listened to the stories of the survivors and victims, it became strikingly apparent that the CIA simply had no idea whom they were targeting. These strikes may be technically accurate, but the intelligence on which they are based is damningly flawed. Following President Obama’s Counter-terrorism speech last month, major news outlets mistakenly or wishfully reported the end of signature strikes. Make no mistake, they will continue in Pakistan. The Obama administration has altered its policy towards Pakistan in rhetoric only. Signature strikes account for the majority of the CIA’s attacks in Pakistan. And as long as they continue we will see more strikes like those Datta Khel, and more innocent civilians killed. In doing so they make each of us in United States and Pakistan less safe, and less secure, as we once more attempt to kill our way to security.
This investigation is the first step in a campaign to end signature strikes, and the first piece of a full-length film documenting the true cost of the U.S. drone war. Myself, and Brave New Foundation will be presenting a series of videos exposing the U.S. drone program’s failed policies. Sadly, minus a few voices, our political leaders have come to a bipartisan consensus to eschew debate of our unmanned systems program. By signing this petition, we can move on congress and present a broad-based consensus to end signature strikes.