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Pakistani belief about drones: perceptive or paranoid?

By: Glenn Greenwald

Two weeks ago, President Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, excoriated the White House for its reliance on drones in multiple Muslim nations, pointing out, as Politico put it, that those attacks “are fueling anti-American sentiment and undercutting reform efforts in those countries.”  Blair said: “we’re alienating the countries concerned, because we’re treating countries just as places where we go attack groups that threaten us.”  Blair has an Op-Ed today in The New York Times making a similar argument with a focus on Pakistan, though he uses a conspicuously strange point to make his case:

Qaeda officials who are killed by drones will be replaced. The group’s structure will survive and it will still be able to inspire, finance and train individuals and teams to kill Americans. Drone strikes hinder Qaeda fighters while they move and hide, but they can endure the attacks and continue to function.Moreover, as the drone campaign wears on, hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan. American officials may praise the precision of the drone attacks. But in Pakistan, news media accounts of heavy civilian casualties are widely believed. Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk to our soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of warfare without cost to its own troops.

Though he obviously knows the answer, Blair does not say whether this widespread Pakistani perception about civilian casualties is based in fact; if anything, he insinuates that this “belief” is grounded in the much-discussed affection which Pakistanis allegedly harbor for fabricated anti-American conspiracy theories.  While the Pakistani perception is significant unto itself regardless of whether it’s accurate — the belief about drones is what fuels anti-American hatred — it’s nonetheless bizarre to mount an anti-drone argument while relegating the impact of civilian deaths to mere “belief,” all while avoiding informing readers what the actual reality is.  Discussions of the innocent victims of American military violence is one of the great taboos in establishment circles; that Blair goes so far out of his way to avoid discussing it highlights how potent that taboo is.

Last month, I interviewed Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which had just published a report conclusively documenting the falsity of John Brennan’s public claim that “in the last year, ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral death‘” from U.S. drone attacks.  Last week, the Bureau published an even more detailed report focusing on the number of Pakistani children killed by American drone attacks:

The Bureau has identified credible reports of 168 children killed in seven years of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These children would account for 44% of the minimum figure of 385 civilians reported killed by the attacks. . . .The highest number of child deaths occurred during the Bush presidency, with 112 children reportedly killed. More than a third of all Bush drone strikes appear to have resulted in the deaths of children. . . . President Obama, too, has been as Commander-in-Chief responsible for many child deaths in Pakistan. The Bureau has identified 56 children reported killed in drone strikes during his presidency . . . .

The report indicates that the number of Pakistani children dying from drone attacks has decreased substantially over the past several months — since September, 2010, when one man’s son, two daughters and nephew were all killed by a single U.S. strike — but such deaths nonetheless continue (including one in April of this year, in which a 12-year-old boy, Atif, was killed).  These facts make John Brennan’s blatant lie particularly disgusting: it’s one thing to kill children using remote-controlled weaponized air robots in a country in which we’re not formally at war, but it’s another thing entirely to stand up in public and deny that it is happening.

In several ways, the Bureau’s study significantly understates the extent of U.S.-caused civilian deaths in the region.  As Woods told me, the Bureau uses such a rigorous methodology — counting civilian deaths only when they can be definitively confirmed up to and including the victims’ names — that some deaths almost certainly go uncounted in the notoriously inaccessible Waziristan region.  Other credible reports provide an even starker assessment of the number of innocents killed.  Moreover, this latest report from the Bureau counts only child deaths, not those of innocent adult men and women in Pakistan, nor does it discuss the large number of civilian deaths from drones outside of Pakistan (Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq), nor the U.S.-caused deaths of civilians from means other than drones (such as the “amazing number” of innocents killed at checkpoints in Afghanistan).

Adm. Blair’s Op-Ed may have had a much greater impact had it included a discussion of these facts, rather than implying that the problem with American drone attacks is Pakistani paranoia.  That’s precisely why the Op-Ed — like most discussions in establishment venues of this topic — didn’t include those facts.

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  • GJC

    “Pakistanis do have a penchant for conspiracy theories, no one can deny that.”

    No, Dan. This phenomenon is universal. In America there are plenty of people -not Muslims, not Pakistanis, not Arabs- who have ready inclination to concoct and believe in conspiracy theories and weird explanations for everything. Have heard of those in America who say man never landed on the Moon, that all those pictures were taken in Neveda, Arizona, and other states? Have you heard of those in America who to this day believe that 9/11 was an “inside job,” whatever that means? Have you heard of those in America who, like those Pakistanis with penchant for conspiracy theories, believe OBL had died long time ago? And what about those here who believe JFK assassination was a conspiracy? And the biggest of them all here is that the state of Israel was created by God himself, and therefore no one dare oppose it.

  • Sam Seed

    Dan = Hater of Pakistan and Islam (most likely a Christian).

  • RDS

    English please, ladies and gents <_<

    Also, I firmly believe in Danios' narrative that there isn't any single good guys here, excepting the layperson who just tries to get by. In-between threats of Taliban terrorism, drone strikes, and hatemongering imams/mullahs/religious institutions embedded in the fabric of society, what's a regular man/woman to do?

    The only thing to hope is this entire thing is reversible. The steps will be painful and next to impossible: US and Taliban disengagement and defusing of hate/extremist rhetorics inside Pakistan itself.

  • ahmed

    Are yaar mujhe pata hai ke Pakistan kay bohot masle hain magar itna ghuza jayse Dan kabhee dihkahta hai woh kafi ghalat hai. 😀 😀

  • Khushboo


    yeh banda mujhe pagal lagta hai. sara waqt Pakistan ki burai.

  • Talisman


    Yes, that sums it up nicely. No sane logic…no facts either…

    Since Dan is so preoccupied with Pakistani births, I looked up their birthrate as compared to other countries. Pakistan is not even that high at 62nd in the world, after Honduras:

    Source: CIA World Factbook – Unless otherwise noted, information in this page is accurate as of January 1, 2011

    Niger is #1…I guess the US better attack them right away.

  • AJ

    Dan’s reasons for America to bomb Pakistan:

    1) “Pakistanis themselves continue to have more kids”

    2) “hatred of Jews is commonplace among Pakistanis”

    3) “Pakistanis continue to be slaves to the Saudi Arabs”

    4) (2 repeated) “anti-Semitism is commonplace in Pakistan”

    5) (1 repeated) “they should start using contraceptives and stop having more than 10 children”

    So in a nutshell Dan approves of America bombing Pakistanis since they have many children, hate the Jews and emulate the Saudis. What a logic!

  • Talisman


    About Dan…

    Ussay Pakistan ka Kia pata.. Uss ka damagh khalee hay laikin moon batoon say bhara howa hay. 😉

  • Khushboo

    “but of course that would mean they would have to against what they view as “God’s will”, because these people think God will take care of them while they send them off to either beg or be brainwashed by mullahs to blow themselves up”

    WTH! When is the last time a Pakistani blew himself up?? Many Pakistanis use contraceptives and don’t believe “God’s Will” to have 10 kids. Stop with your lies and exaggerations! I seriously doubt that you’re a Pakistani since you never did reply to me in urdu, not even once. Enough of the tough-love act! You really think Pakistanis, even innocent ones, deserve to be bombed?? Shame on you!!

    Talisman, I can’t agree with you more. Dan is no different than the Islamophobes with his passionate hate of Pakistanis because that’s all he talks about and never tells us what he thinks can fix the problems they have.

  • Talisman


    Do you know there is a direct correlation everywhere in the world between high levels of education/prosperity and low birth rates? Third world countries, Muslims or not, have a lot of kids. Again, blaming Islam exclusively for a wider problem.

    What is your solution? That’s what you don’t ever say. We get that you hate Pakistanis with a passion. You despise them and wish they’d stop reproducing and you think everything is their fault.

    So what then? Should we slaughter them all down to the last? Or maybe British Prime Minister Cameron is on the right track, giving them a billion pounds for education…saying that is the key to stability.

    You spew hate, but you don’t say what can fix the problem. My guess is you are some fundie Christian who went to Pakistan to evangelize. I don’t know that for sure, but I know others who have and you sound a lot like them.

    Also, why do you come to Loonwatch? Isn’t Atlas Shrugs, or at least Fox News, your natural habitat? You’ll find a lot of kindred souls there, where you can commune and hate…and still solve nothing.

  • Talisman


    I know a lot of Pakistanis and there is no antisemitism among fact they are critical of it. In any case, what IS your point?

    If a lot of Pakistanis don’t like Jews, it’s okay to unleash drones on them?

    Whatever the Pakistanis think, America is not innocent. Americans are blind to their own colossal theft and violence across the globe…and I’m American. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the US the “greatest purveyor of violence on earth.”

    You are typical in your finger pointing at others while making endless excuses for the West. You have yet to acknowledge a single America crime.

  • Danios


    Although I am highly critical of Pakistan in general (and there would much overlap between your and my views on these issues), I don’t think Pakistanis deserve or “had it coming” with regard to drone attacks by the United States. For all their intolerance, Pakistan never attacked us.

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