Friday, 5 October 2012

Drones and Revenge:

How a Pashtun Man Pursues Justice
by Medea Benjamin           Pub. by Common Dreams                 October 4, 2012

During the CODEPINK delegation to Pakistan, the delegates had a chance to meet with many of the drone victims and family members from Waziristan. One man they met was Karim Khan, from the village of Machikhel in North Waziristan. Khan, a man in his fifties with striking features, and wearing traditional tribal garb, surprised them when he revealed that he spoke English and has worked as a journalist for outlets such as Al Jazeera.  Khan told how on December 31, 2009, a drone strike leveled his home, killing his 18 year-old son and his brother. The third man that died the night of that strike was a stonemason who had come to the town to work on the village mosque.
The news reports alleged that the target of the drone had been a Taliban commander, Haji Omar, but Khan insisted that Haji Omar had been nowhere near the village that night. He also said that the Taliban commander was reported dead several times by the media and Khan wondered aloud, how many times could this man be killed?
Khan said his son had just graduated from high school, and his brother was a teacher at the local school. Khan’s brother tried to teach his students that education was far more powerful than weapons. The drone strike that killed him sent them a very different message. Khan became visibly upset as he showed the photos of his dead son and brother, and recalled picking up their body parts to prepare them for the Muslim burial.
A CODEPINK delegate asked Khan how the US government could make amends. Would he accept an apology and compensation? He scowled at the idea of compensation. “How can money ever replace the loss of my beloved son?” As for apologies, he ridiculed the idea. “You can say sorry, you can say sorry twice, you can say sorry three times, but I will never accept it.” He went on to explain that revenge is a key part of Pashtun culture. “I will never, never, forget or forgive what the Americans did, and if I had the chance to kill an American soldier, I would do it.”
This seemed inconsistent coming from an educated man, a journalist, who until then had maintained a warm demeanor. He seemed very far from someone who would pick up a gun. Some people in the delegation were clearly jarred by this blunt response, thinking he seemed like someone an who would pursue a more nonviolent approach, but then he reminded us that US culture is not that different. “After 9/11,” he asked, “would the Americans have accepted an apology from Al Qaeda? Never.” True enough. The torrent of violence the US has unleashed in exacting revenge post-9/11 has by far surpassed the number of people killed in the 9/11 attack.
Leah Bolger, president of the antiwar group Veterans for Peace, tried to convince Khan that it wouldn’t be right to exact revenge upon US soldiers because they’re not the ones responsible for the policy, but Khan would have none of it. “I hold the American soldiers directly responsible for the death of our loved ones,” he said. “They should not even be in this region.” Khan insisted that there would never be peace until the Americans leave Afghanistan.
After the meeting broke up, Toby Blome, a delegate from San Francisco who has spent many days and nights vigiling outside of the Creech Air Force Base where the drones are remotely piloted, asked what he would do with drones if he had access to the technology. He said he would use the drones to attack other drones. When asked if he would fly a drone over the United States and drop missiles, he looked astonished at the mere suggestion. “Of course I wouldn’t do that,” he said, “because I might kill innocent people.”
Blome, recalling the exchange, was moved by Khan’s insistence that innocents not be caught up in his desire for revenge, unlike the American response to 9/11, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan. “How ironic that through the eyes of Americans, said Blome, “that it is Khan who would be considered the terrorist.”
A year after his family was killed, Karim Khan spoke outside a police station after he had lodged a complaint. As Robert Naiman, a delegate and policy analyst with Just Foreign Policy, pointed out, “While Karim Khan talks about revenge, he lives his life in an exemplary fashion, using nonviolent means to pursue justice.” The US government would do well to follow his example.        [Abridged]

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