Islamabad, Friday Oct. 5. This weekend I plan to spend traveling to Waziristan, the Pakistan province on the border with Afghanistan, where the CIA is currently waging its not-so-secret and entirely undeclared drone war. On Thursday, I was at the best-attended press conference I have ever witnessed - I counted television cameras from more than forty stations, including the United States and various European countries. It was, let's face it, mainly the appeal of the star of the Waziristan march, the cricket-legend-turned-politician Imran Khan.
Imran generously gave me credit for the idea of a march into the affected area. It is, indeed, something that I have wanted to do for a long time and I am glad to see so many coming along, despite the various efforts to frighten them out of it.
Since George Bush began the so-called 'War on Terror', many have argued that his legacy has been the revalidation of torture, previously consigned to medieval times. In truth, his most damaging legacy has been the reinvigoration of secrecy, the endless conflation of national security with political embarrassment. The previous movement towards freedom of information has been reversed, to the extent that his friend Tony Blair insisted that the FOIA law (not the Iraq War) was the worst mistake in his years as prime minister.
There have a series of experimental policies adopted by the United States, each intended to show that something is being DONE!. Each has been promoted with loud proclamations, but minimal transparency. Unfortunately, when the blinds have been drawn back, each has been seen to be a catastrophe.
Guantánamo Bay: it transpired, once lawyers got in there, that the "worst of the worst" terrorists in the world were no such thing. 779 'terrorists' have come to the prison, but more than 85% were later deemed to be cleared as no threat to the United States at all. Indeed, the Administration did not even claim the existence of a "High Value Detainee" there until September 6, 2006, when Khalid Shaikh Mohammed arrived.
Abu Ghraib: so they hoped that torture behind closed doors would expedite victory in Iraq; instead, the leaked photos merely ruined America's reputation. The Secret Prison in Poland, where torture could be practiced underground, was meant to produce evidence to prevent the next 9/11: it only served as the basis for the indictment of the head of the Polish security services.
Our secret liaison with Colonel Gaddafi was intended to lure a new ally in the 'War on Terror' - the enemy of our enemy. Instead, we alienated those who would prevail in the Arab Spring, and provoked a criminal inquiry by the Metropolitan police.
And so it will be with drones. We are told that they are surgical; I have met many survivors, and they were innocent before their lives were ruined. The Obama Administration classifies any "military aged male" as a militant unless he is proven innocent ... posthumously. Even George Orwell could not have come up with such a rule.
Several people who will join our march were targeted in recent 'Good Samaritan Strikes', on the assumption that those who seek to help the screaming wounded must also be terrorists. Jesus Christ will have to change his parable.
We are told that drones are our most potent weapon against terror; instead, the overwhelming evidence on the ground is that they have replaced Guantánamo as the most potent recruiting sergeant for extremism. The most recent poll suggests that 97% of those in Pakistan who know anything about drones at all believe that America is the enemy. Could anything else be done that would wreck a nation's reputation more thoroughly?
Most important to me - the father of a four year old child - the Obama Administration has never made public mention of the terror that drones inspire in the 800,000 civilians in Waziristan (many of them children now too afraid to go to school), none of whom has ever raised a finger against the United States.
My hope, then, is that if we open up Waziristan to transparent, public view, the United States will learn from its most recent, catastrophic mistake, and close down its illegal drone war against its ally, Pakistan. Is that hope worth the risk that we face this weekend? I hope so. Only time will tell.
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