Flickr Photo: Charles McCain

(update below)

Four missiles struck a village in South Waziristan in Pakistan on Sunday morning and killed ten “suspected militants,” who had gathered at a funeral to mourn the death of “two fighters” killed  in a drone strike just the day before. At least, that is what the Associated Press and other media outlets are reporting.

Here is the story reported by the AP:

Ten more people have been killed by a US drone strike against suspected militants in Pakistan, with the aircraft firing its missiles into a gathering mourning one of two fighters killed in a similar atttack the previous day.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials say four missiles were fired at the village of Mana Raghzai in South Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan on Sunday morning.

At the time of the attack, suspected militants had gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another US unmanned drone attack on Saturday. The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning attack. The Pakistani officials said two of the dead were foreigners and the rest were Pakistani.

One can accept that this strike on a funeral (which on its own poses a set of moral issues) actually killed “militants,” “suspected militants,” “fighters,” “terrorists,” or whatever term one wants to use to describe really bad dudes who hate America and just might be planning attacks against the US—They can accept it is righteous and just if one believes the two fighters being mourned were in fact really bad dudes.

That is how the strike yesterday was reported by the AP:

An American drone fired two missiles at a motorbike in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing two suspected militants, officials said, as the U.S. pushed on with its drone campaign despite repeated Pakistani protests. [emphasis added]

But, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Chris Woods, who has done extraordinary work analyzing and cataloging reports on US drone strikes, sent an email to Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald that suggested the motorbike may have been “accidentally hit.” It likely involved civilian deaths.

This leaves open the distinct possibility that the people being mourned weren’t in fact the “terrorists” that the US government would claim were killed and the people mourning them may not have been people, who were also “terrorists.” It also points to a trend in US drone strikes that involves targeting funerals. (Woods has helped to uncover and highlight this in his work.)

As Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald stated in a post yesterday:

…If drone strikes kill nobody other than “militants,” then very few people will even think about opposing them (and that’s independent of the fact that the word “militant” is a wildly ambiguous term — militant about what? — though it is clearly designed (when combined with “Pakistan”) to evoke images of those who attacked the World Trade Center). Debate-suppression is not just the effect but the intent of this propaganda: like all propaganda, it is designed to deceive the citizenry in order to compel acquiescence to government conduct.

So, here we have twelve people who are dead. Their names are unknown. They are killed in an area of Pakistan largely closed off to journalists. The names of the victims will go unreported because officials know that if victims are able to get their stories to the media they will undermine drone policy and the larger “war on terror.” (Recall, when Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old of Anwar Al-Awlaki, was executed in a drone strike, media reported, “Abdulrahman was five years older than his actual age, had been militant like his father and, that a high-value Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) target was also among the dead.” This was all incorrect.)

Senior officials in both Pakistan and the US have a policy of not talking to media about strikes. Journalists and news media organizations, however, regularly contact officials. So, in Pakistan (and other countries like Yemen), “senior officials” give people the bare minimum amount of information necessary to report a story. That essentially means the press and public gets a kind of police blotter report. It is what those engaged in the “war on terrorism” claim happened. The report (not surprisingly) covers up any deficiency in the decision-making that went in to choosing to launch the attack in the first place. It does not typically report when an attack didn’t transpire as planned.

Despite all this, the dead are reported “militants” or “suspected militants” and they are still reported as such, even though in the aftermath of a major New York Times feature story the world now knows that “all military-age males in a strike zone” are considered “combatants” unless “there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” This means who the US is killing exactly is contested and hard to verify.

But it isn’t just that drone strikes are reported individually one after the other without really questioning whether the people killed are, in fact, even “suspected militants.” As the recent drone strike in Pakistan demonstrates, media organizations like the AP rely on previous reporting that essentially amounts to propaganda for the “war on terror” in order to report on the latest drone attacks. This guarantees the official story of those attacks will be wrong or, at best, not the full story of what happened.


The Pakistan-based Dawn has a report on the strike highlighted here that indicates “one of the commanders killed in the attack was identified as Ghulam Khan belonging to the Maulvi Nazir group.” Maulvi Nazir is believed to be a Taliban faction based in Waziristan. It is, therefore, a main group the US government is targeting in the “war on terrorism.” This just serves as a reminder that the drone war in Pakistan is an extension of the war in Afghanistan.

There have been attempts at negotiating with the Taliban. As recently as the NATO summit in Chicago, it was seen as something that should continue to be considered. Of course, how can one expect negotiations with a group that knows it has members on your kill list to go well? It should come as no surprise that negotiations have not gone so well.

The US now is publicly decreasing the resources it invests in Afghanistan. Troops will be withdrawn. Whether the Obama administration will abandon its plans against the Taliban seems unclear because the administration now has drone warfare it can use in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. That will undoubtedly keep the Afghanistan war going and continue to perpetuate terrorism violence in both countries.
Finally, this seems similar to what happened to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. From the New York Times story published on May 29:

…in August 2009, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, told Mr. Brennan that the agency had Mr. Mehsud in its sights. But taking out the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mr. Panetta warned, did not meet Mr. Obama’s standard of “near certainty” of no innocents being killed. In fact, a strike would certainly result in such deaths: he was with his wife at his in-laws’ home. “Many times,” General Jones said, in similar circumstances, “at the 11th hour we waved off a mission simply because the target had people around them and we were able to loiter on station until they didn’t.” But not this time. Mr. Obama, through Mr. Brennan, told the C.I.A. to take the shot, and Mr. Mehsud was killed, along with his wife and, by some reports, other family members as well, said a senior intelligence official…

Obama or Brennan likely knew there were people surrounding Ghulam Khan. He weighed the decision and decided to take out Khan just like he chose to take out Mehsud. The people around him, who were mourning the loss of Khan’s brother, were insignificant. And this is why it is easy and reasonable to call this policy murderous.

The administration knew people would be killed at this funeral. They were willing to let them become—Oh, what’s that imperial-sounding phrase that conditions people to not feel like their government is committing crimes? Right, collateral damage. In order to get Khan, it was okay to get the nine other people.