The magical realism of body counts

The following article appeared on Al Jazeera. (in Spanish in Rebelión). You can hear my interview with PressTV here. Andrew Sullivan quotes me on his influential blog the Daily Dish and Natasha Lennard quotes me over at Salon.

Gravediggers of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been kept busy as the US drone war has expanded, but civilian deaths remain undercounted as mendacious officials build a myth of technological accuracy and violent ‘justice’ (REUTERS)

A gypsy named Melquiades who died many years ago in Singapore returned to live with the family of Colonel Aureliano Buendia in Macondo, because he could no longer bear the tedium of death. These are the kinds of characters that populate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magnificent work One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today they also seem to occupy the tribal badlands of Pakistan’s north-western frontier.

On June 3, when Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a US drone strike, he had already been dead for over a year. In September 2009, the CIA claimed that it killed Kashmiri along with two other senior Taliban leaders in North Waziristan. But the lure of the limelight was seemingly irresistible even in death, because on October 9, Kashmiri returned to give an interview to the late Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online.

Baitullah Mehsud, the former commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also rose from the dead many times. On at least 16 occasions, Mehsud was in the gun-sights when CIA drones loosed their Hellfire missiles. Yet, until August 2009, he proved unable to settle into the afterlife. Mullah Sangeen also experienced at least two resurrections.

Death is clearly not what it used to be.

Or perhaps the people who were killed in the other attacks were not Kashmiri, Sangeen or Mehsud. Indeed, the attack on a funeral procession on June 23, 2009, which killed Sangeen was supposedly aimed at the TTP chief. It killed 83 people who certainly were not who they were supposed to be.

These are not isolated events. At the end of 2009, the Pakistani daily Dawn calculated that, of the 708 people killed in 44 drone attacks that year, only 5 were known militants. Earlier that year, The News, Pakistan’s other major English-language daily, had calculated that between January 14, 2006, and April 8, 2009, 60 drone attacks killed 701 people – of whom only 14 were known militants.

You can read the rest here

3 thoughts on “The magical realism of body counts”

  1. A simply excellent article (though profoundly depressing). I imagine there is good money to be made in pedaling dubious stats to those eager for a cloak of legitimacy. It’s a shame, however, that the mainstream media is so willing to swallow them.

  2. That literally tears apart NAF and others of that ilk. Bravo Idrees!
    Daniel Luban also quoted you on lobelog.

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