In a recent TV interview, Professor Christine Fair, Georgetown University, made the following unfair (I can’t resist the pun here) statement in response to another expert’s views, contrary to hers, on the question of US drone attacks in Pakistan and their linkage to the accentuation of radical responses to the United States by the Taliban and the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan:
I take extreme exception top [sic] the way my colleague characterized the drones,” Fair said. “Actually the drones are not killing innocent civilians. Many of those reports are coming from deeply unreliable and dubious Pakistani press reports, which no one takes credibly on any other issue except for some reason on this issue. There’ve actually been a number of surveys on the ground, in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]. The residents of FATA generally welcome the drone strikes because they know actually who’s being killed. They’re very much aware and who’s being killed and who’s not. (Cited from Jermey Sahil, The Nation. “Georgetown Professor: ‘Drones Are Not Killing Innocent Civilians’ in Pakistan.”) [Emphasis mine]
Trained as a literary critic, I cannot help but dwell on this passage before moving on to the context of this statement. Professor Fair’s statement is a truth claim asserted at the very beginning: The drones are not killing innocent civilians!!! That statement is offered without any need for proof; it is just a statement of fact, which the professor, by the power vested in her person as the expert on the region and all the other credentials attached to an intellectual life, claims in this case. The statement says: I am a truth claim and I am sufficient unto myself.
I have highlighted certain portions of the statement to analyse the argument, an argument that maintains the truth claim but casts doubts on any challenge that might be posed, might have been posed, or might eventually be posed to the truth claim. So drones, says Professor Fair, so unfairly, are not killing any people: that is a fact. And any information otherwise is based in, of course, “deeply unreliable and dubious Pakistani” media. Now this statement about the suspect Pakistani media also does not need any justification in the metropolitan double-speak; the sources are dubious because they are Pakistani sources. The Pakistanis cannot claim any legitimacy even though they probably have unembedded journalists on ground who also, strangely, might even speak the language of the people they are covering. No, they are unreliable just as any other claims to truth by the so-called third world journalists are unreliable when put to the test of the high standards of media ethics applied in the United States (Think Fox News as a US standard!!!)
The second highlighted statement is even more interesting: this goes on to suggest that not only are the drones not killing civilians but the “natives’ actually LIKE IT! So, now professor Fair’s argument is mobilizing the natives of FATA as the supporters of drone attacks. So suddenly, this entire region of Pakistan, where every intrusion of the federal government is seen as suspicious and unwelcome, has now become quite open to drone bombings in their own “free” lands. I would love to see the surveys that the professor mentioned and also in which langauge they were distributed, how large was the sample, and how did they manage to do it without those surveys being contaminated by the local “unreliable” survey workers. Somehow, I cannot imagine young Pashtun men in FATA sitting in front of their computers answering a survey, in Pashto, administered by RAND corporation or Heritage Foundation. In fact, now that I have tried to imagine it, I have to stop typing to get the laughter out of my system.
But going beyond this absurd moral certitude of professor Fair, one could argue that her absolutist statement rests on an assumption that drones do not and have not killed any civilians. Furthermore, refutations, if any, must come from the “respected” and “reliable” US media. But since the statement is a statement of fact, just one civilian death–intentional not accidental–would be enough to refute this claim. I will try to do just that.
Last year, a drone strike successfully killed Baitullah Mehsud, the then leader of Pakistani Taliban. I actually wrote a brief blog entry about it. Here is how the strike was reported by the Guardian, a reliable metropolitan news source, on August 7, 2009:
Kafayat Ullah, an aide to Mehsud, told the Associated Press news agency that Mehsud and his second wife were killed in Wednesday’s missile attack in South Waziristan. He would not provide any further details.
Mehsud is said to have died when a drone plane fired two Hellfire missiles at a remote farmhouse where he was sheltering, early on Wednesday. (The Guardian)
Naturally, I could have not cared less about Baitullah Mehsud’s death; I had titled my blog on him as “Death of a Murderer,” but it is the figure of his “second wife,” killed along with him, that has haunted me since. Was she not a civilian? Was she guilty simply because she was his wife? Who made the decision, sitting in a safe bunker while guiding an airborne, technologized weapon delivery system, that it was OK to kill a powerless woman in the process of killing her husband. I am not talking about accidental deaths here: someone somewhere in the grand hierarchy of American military “decided” that it was OK to kill a civilian if a worthwhile “target” could be eliminated in the process. So killing one of the many women that the United States had planned to “liberate” was OK? But, maybe, now, she has come to speak to us from the other side of this death-world that the foundational intellectuals have helped to create in their uncritical servitude to power. She is your one dead civilian Professor Fair: deal with her ghost now.
So you see, professor Fair, we can now account for at least one civilian, a woman, who WAS killed by a drone as so many reliable “western” sources mentioned without dwelling on it much. Does that prove your statement wrong? I guess not, for your kind–the foundational intellectuals–are not really about truth. You are needed to offer your rationalizations for the actions of the powerful and obviously you will continue doing so, no matter what we offer as a refutation.