The XX Factor

Women Are a Silent Presence in New, Devastating Report on U.S. Drone Strikes

Pakistani tribesmen gather around an injured boy at a hospital in North Waziristan on May 22, 2010, following a US drone attack. 

Photo by THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Because it can be hard for outsiders to interview women in the parts of Pakistan the U.S. regularly bombards with missile strikes, there are few quotes from women in “Living Under Drones,” a new report from the law schools of Stanford and NYU, which Glenn Greenwald alerted me to here. There are instead men talking about watching their mothers mourn their brothers, the wives of their dead neighbors forced to subsist on the charity of the village, and women cowering in fear at every loud noise. Some of the quotes give you a sense of what it’s like to live in a place where at any moment an explosive object might fall from the sky.

One mother who spoke with us stated that, although she had herself never seen a strike, when she heard a drone fly overhead, she became terrified. “Because of the terror, we shut our eyes, hide under our scarves, put our hands over our ears.” When asked why, she said, “Why would we not be scared?”

One father, after seeing the bodies of three dead children in the rubble of a strike, decided to pull his own children out of school. “I stopped [them] from getting an education,” he admitted. “I told them we will be finished one day, the same as other people who were going [to school] and were killed in the drone attacks.”

There are the people who have already been blinded or burned or left one limb lighter, and those who merely live in constant fear. The U.S. tends to hit the same place twice in succession, so helping friends half-incinerated in a molten house is a dangerous proposition. Gathering also seems to tempt falling fire; thus families in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas will avoid funerals, weddings, school. According to this Washington Post report, of the 581 militants killed by these drone strikes in 2010, two were on the most-wanted list. A “militant,” by the way, is just a military-age man the U.S. government has killed by drone. If you’ve got a certain kind of faith in bureaucracy, you’ll trust that those 579 were a threat to your freedom.

Next week two men who aspire to be president of the United States will debate one another on national television. During that debate no one will ask why the U.S. might need an arsenal of 7000 drones, how the U.S. government can conscionably call each military-age male it kills with those drones a “military combatant” just by virtue of having killed him, how it is that Barack Obama can refuse to offer any information at all on the process by which he decides whom to target. One sees the benefits of being a Democrat given to expand upon the wartime practices of your Republican predecessor. In a race against another Republican, the only critique of your foreign policy will be that you haven’t been belligerent enough.