Drone strikes: We’re humans, not bugs waiting to be squashed

Published: April 19, 2014
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The 'NotABugSplat' initiative was introduced so that drone operators would see an actual face of a child instead of humans as mere bugs. PHOTO: NOTABUGSPLAT

Recently, a charity organisation in the UK by the name of Reprieve, along with the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), helped a group of artists install a giant portrait of a child victim of a US drone strike in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), using French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement.

Since humans seem like ‘bugs’ when viewed by drone operators, and like bugs, they are mercilessly crushed by drone strikes, the idea behind this initiative labelled ‘Not a Bug Splat’ was that it would arouse empathy and humanity in drone operators when they spot the face of a child.

Source: NotABugSplat

It is quite heart-rending that a massive portrait of a victim had to be brought to their attention to make them realise the horrific and senseless suffering that drone strikes bring. Despite resolutions condemning strikes in Pakistan’s Parliament, a United Nations (UN) resolution against drone campaigns and the European Parliament condemning them, they continue to hover in our skies above the tribal areas. The fact that they haven’t struck in a hundred days appeases me little, given the fact that to date there have been more than 300 strikes, killing more than 3,500 people – a significant 200 of these being children.

Families of drone strike victims narrate horrible tales of drones killing their families and livestock and causing untold suffering. They say that even when drones don’t kill, they hover in the sky 24 hours a day, seven days a week, causing fear, anguish, psychological trauma and bringing all human activities to a complete halt.

Most of the time, people get the bodies of their loved ones in pieces. They cannot even gather in groups as this attracts drone missiles. This is why funerals are also targeted; thus, denying people the right to live and die in peace. Sometimes, young children play with missile shrapnel scattered in fields not knowing in their innocence that the same missile had killed one or both of their parents. For them, the words ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’ and ‘war on terror’ may be alien for now but the reality of losing their parents may be all too familiar.

Source: NotABugSplat

In ‘secondary strikes’ – a tactic that strikes multiple targets in quick succession, not only civilians but innocent Samaritans attempting to rescue those very civilians get killed as well. Even when children survive these attacks, they often end up getting wounded and losing their limbs. Many have vivid nightmares and noble ideas about growing up to fight for their country.

When I talk to drone attack survivors, I find them to be better human beings than you and I could ever hope to be. Yet, they are reduced to no more than bugs within the blurry visions of the predator drones.

“Did we just kill a kid?”

These six words ended drone operator Brandon Bryant’s career a few years ago when he pushed a button and killed a child 6,250 miles away in Afghanistan.

The greater tragedy than an innocent child dying in a war is perhaps the irony that even then, hats off to drone technology, they were confused as to whether they had killed a child or a dog.

Perhaps, the giant poster of a drone strike victim staring up at the sky was much needed in a world which is still blind to the sufferings of the bugs splattered.

Mariam.Kizilbash

Mariam Kizilbash

The author read her LLM from University College of London and has worked in human rights NGOs in Islamabad and London. She is currently a legal researcher for Corruption Watch (UK).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.