Sunday, 12 July 2015

Born free and equal

I don't often start my blog with a quote from British Prime Minister, David Cameron, but bear with me on this one.  After the horrific attack on tourists on a Tunisian beach in June, David Cameron was quick to reassure the British public of his resolve to tackle terrorism….

"We can only defeat terrorism by promoting the British values of 'peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom".

We've become all too familiar with the subject of terrorism at the top of news agendas on an almost daily basis;  the dreadful Charlie Ebdo attack in Paris, the murder of soldier, Lee Rigby in Britain, the terrible recent events in Tunisia and the coverage of Islamic State activities in Iraq or elsewhere, not to mention the re-emergence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as  a threat.

It appears to be a clear cut case of the good guys vs the bad guys… Or more eloquently put by Mr Cameron…..

"They are cowards who murder defenceless people on a beach. They stand for oppression; we stand for freedom, and a peaceful, tolerant way of life."

Here are some descriptions of just a small number of innocent, defenceless people, killed by violent acts of terrorism as they went about their daily lives….


  • A father of 3 and primary school teacher
  • A 40 year old of father of 7
  • 3 generations of the same family - father, grandfather and nephew
  • A midwife and 67 year old grandmother of 9
  • A church going couple
  • A university student who ran his own taxi service
  • Grandparents of 10 children
  • A 24 year old photographer
  • A 26 year old traffic cop

What do you see when you look at this list?

These could be generic descriptions - maybe you know people who fit some of these descriptions?  However, they are all real descriptions of innocent people, dying at the hands of a killer who didn't know them and didn't care about their loved ones left behind.


All ordinary people with families, responsibilities, hopes, dreams, ambitions, struggles,   some having lived long and seen their children and grandchildren come into the world.  Some just starting out, with hope for their future careers and a long life ahead…..  But all taken too soon.

And the devastation for those left behind - parents losing an only child,  families losing a breadwinner, children orphaned, communities losing those important to them.

When you look at each description, perhaps you try to imagine the person's life?  The school teacher surrounded by excited children in a leafy suburban primary, or the 67 year old midwife who didn't want to retire because her community relied on her.  The young traffic cop catching speed freaks on the motorway or the 40 year old father of 7…. trying to squeeze all his kids into his VW Touran for a weekend trip to grandma's.  Or maybe you can relate to the university student who ran a small taxi service in his spare time to raise money for his parents who are suffering ill health?


It is a natural reaction to relate to victims because in finding a connection, we develop empathy.  This maybe then explains why so many people were ready in January to sign up to the collective cry of "I am Charlie!" after the horrific terrorist attack in Paris, but weren't so interested in the fact that 2,000 innocent civilians had been massacred by Boko Haram in one town in Nigeria that same week.




So what don't you see when you look at this list?  

You don't see names, you don't see faces and most importantly, you don't see their nationalities.  You also don't have information about what happened…  Were they victims of Al Qaeda, ISIL, or some affiliated group?  Maybe they were victims on 9/11 or 7/7 ?

One big difference is in the media coverage they received.  Half of the tragic victims on this list received a great deal of media coverage on TV, in print and online for what happened to them because in this list are indeed descriptions of just some of the victims of the Tunisia attack.

The rest have received almost zero media coverage at all…...In fact, to be precise…..the school teacher, the midwife, the traffic cop, the father of 7 and the student. You won't have heard about them or about what happened to them, despite them also being "defenceless people" similarly murdered by cowards.

Why?  Because they were victims of US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.   They were killed in their own countries, by bombs dropped by unmanned drones, operated by people they'd never met who, after they've done their 'days work', get to go home every day and live a normal life, never knowing the carnage they've inflicted on families and communities far away.

They were victims of the US' so called 'war on terror',  using drones to 'target' key terrorist operatives, predominantly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.  Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, John O Brennan said "The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to US persons' lives".  But statistics from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism indicate that only 4% of victims so far named in Pakistan were found to be Al Qaeda members.

Their project 'Naming the Dead' seeks to identify all those killed in Pakistan by US Drone strikes.  One of those identified was the 67 year old grandmother of 9 - Bibi Manama, who was picking Okra and tending to livestock outside her family home when the drone struck.  Her grandchildren were injured during the same strike which used several missiles and directly struck Bibi, blowing her to pieces.

Statistics shared with the Guardian by the human rights group Reprieve last November, stated that 41 men had been targeted but 1147 people had been killed in drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan up to that point.


A recent case in Yemen, which killed Waleed, the 26 year old traffic cop (left) and 40 year old father of 7, Salem (below right), is gaining a little more media attention because their family is taking out a federal law suit to seek the truth and an official apology from Obama.


All they are asking for is the same treatment given to the families of two western hostages (an American and an Italian) who were mistakenly killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in January this year.

Following that attack, the President made the following statement:

"I profoundly regret what happened.  On behalf of the US Government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families… I directed that the existence of this operation be declassified and disclosed publicly.  I did so because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth.  And I did so because….. the US is a democracy committed to openness in good times and in bad."  


So Western families deserve the truth, while the families of Bibi, Waleed, Salem and hundreds of others  must wonder why their loved ones were murdered by a distant government with no care for the consequences.

Article 1 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights".

Isn't it about time we started putting these ideals into practice universally rather than just wheeling them out in defence of our own?

And more information is coming out from GCHQ documents revealed by Edward Snowden which expose Britain's role in the drone war.  As published recently by the Guardian, its clear that Britain is directly involved in intelligence gathering and information sharing leading directly to the murder of people outside "recognised war zones", declared as illegal in a published opinion by a leading QC in Britain last year.

Senior Tory MP and now Deputy Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones, David Davis has gone as far as to say Britain is "one removed from an internationally illegal act in terms of providing information (for drone strikes) to the Americans".


In an interview with the Bureau of Investigate Journalism, he described Britain's involvement in drone strikes as being "in the same moral space…. as collusion in torture".  Is that what David Cameron meant by "promoting British values of peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom" ?

When Obama and Cameron preach of British and American values while they drop bombs on innocent men, women and children in far away lands and hope you won't notice,  is it surprising that the communities on which they inflict terror might get a little angry?  It certainly doesn't serve the purpose which the US Government would like to believe, that drone strikes help to keep Americans safer.  In fact a former State Department official in Yemen was quoted as saying that every US drone strike in Yemen creates another "40 - 60 new enemies of America" because they take so many innocent lives alongside those they target.


As the new leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula, Qasm al-Raymi has confirmed in his first speech since his predecessor was killed by the US in Yemen in June, it seems drone strikes have only served to increase the likelihood of further terrorist attacks, rather than defeat them.  One of his first acts as leader was to call for further attacks on America and the west.

If we really "stand for freedom, and a peaceful, tolerant way of life" perhaps its about time we start to challenge our western democracies to live up to their values instead of falling for the platitudes, and sucking up the lies and fear mongering.   Because when those self proclaimed good guys start inflicting terror on innocent "defenceless people",  it becomes difficult to distinguish them from the 'bad guys'.