(First Published On Personal Blog 1/11/2012)
A lot can happen in a week in the world of drones and I am pleased to say that there is now much more media interest in reporting the many aspects of drone warfare than when I first began writing on “target killing” several years ago. One article that was welcomed was the Glenn Greenwald piece in the Guardian “US detention of Imran Khan part of trend to harass anti-drone advocates”http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/28/detention-imran-khan-dronesThe author highlights a series of incidents where anti -drone advocates including film-makers and a lawyer have experienced difficulties trying to enter the United States such as being denied visas. However Mr Greenwald failed to mention that the same is happening with anti- drone activists trying to enter Pakistan as I know only too well with my colleague documentary maker Yacine Helali and I being denied visas to film Imran Khan’s peace march to Waziristan last month. We weren’t the only ones nor is harassment new but it does appear to be increasing http://www.lhrtimes.com/2012/10/01/im-facing-visa-problems-for-pakistan-to-participate-pti-waziristan-march-against-us-drone-strikes-carol-grayson/#ixzz284R5j
I reflect back to May 2011. At that time I had written a series of articles on drones for our website Asia Despatch which was set up by my colleague investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad and also for my blog http://activist1.wordpress.com/2011/05/ Saleem and I covered a series of drone stories, including the first legal case in Pakistan in 2010 and Imran Khan’s dharnas (peaceful demonstrations) against drones including blocking the NATO supply line. Saleem had contacts in every direction to enhance his reporting. He was also a regular visitor to the Tribal Areas so through ongoing discussions and new contacts I started to question official narratives on drone warfare including the number of civilians killed.
Saleem and I and close associates had planned to film a documentary on drones, we did not hide that fact and were vocal also regarding planning a drone conference in the UK with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national centre for peace and justice in Oxford and our intention to invite Imran Khan as our guest speaker.
At that time I was receiving feedback regularly both for and against drones after each article I wrote but one person stuck out in my mind for his comments, he called himself “Muhammad Atta in Hell” (MAIH) a name designed to draw attention and referring to one of the men who flew into the Twin Towers (slightly different spelling) causing such devastation on 9/11http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/23/september11.education
I am used to heated debates on drones and relish discussion but this felt different. My every word was being scrutinised by someone who was clearly articulate with a detailed knowledge relating to the “war on terror” conflict and security issues. My adversary showed he was well versed in the politics of Israel/Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Caucasus, Vietnam… whatever I wrote on he replied covering the historical context and up to the moment current affairs. I was impressed by his range and depth of learning.
It has always been important to me to cover all sides of the drone debate (which does not mean I necessarily agree with certain views) but I do believe in investigating different narratives and freedom of speech. I interacted with MAIH, taking time to respond to all points raised. Then I noticed MAIH becoming increasingly aggressive in his comments with veiled threats… it was clear he was unhappy with me writing on drones and criticised any mention I made of “insurgents” (which is all part of the drone debate). There was also a suggestion I should be careful and may come to harm.
When his words exceeded what I considered to be acceptable behaviour, I took the unusual step of warning him that due to his attitude and perceived threats I would no longer respond. On 24th May, 2011 I wrote, “@Muhammad Atta in hell…(I believe that’s your full name on blog)… your most recent comments (not published) 1) have turned into personal attacks on my family and I and 2) are not addressing the subject on the blog. I find them highly offensive. If in the future you can stick to the subject in question and refrain from personal insults, perhaps we can continue our debate” …His last comments I declined to post but did keep.
During that period towards the end of May 2011 I was uneasy, something felt amiss, a “gut feeling” but tried to dismiss my concerns. I took a break from writing one day and headed into town to buy some needed items and whilst in Boots department store was seized by an overwhelming sense of “doom”. The feeling struck me so hard I felt faint. A shop assistant saw me grab hold of a counter and came to my aid… my heaving indicated I was about to vomit. I aimed for the carrier bag she grabbed and held in front of me and was violently sick.
When I had calmed down a little I headed home, once there, the first thing I did was check my emails, only to discover that my colleague Saleem Shahzad had gone missing on his way to television studios for an interview. I was briefed very closely from then on regarding developments from contacts within Pakistan. Not long after he disappeared Saleem was found dead, tortured to death. I was confronted with graphic images of my friend on the front pages of international press for days to come!
It would appear some were not happy with his reporting and the fact that he knew too much on a number of issues, one of these I suspect was droneshttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13599172 To report objectively and factually (a reporters task) is a dangerous profession. Just four days after Saleem was murdered, Ilyas Kashmiri, a militant whom Saleem had interviewed for a book he was writing was also suddenly located and killed in a drone strike… coincidence, I think nothttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13653324 Advocates for drone victims and their families continue to challenge “target killing” through different channels despite what at times can amount to intimidation.
In recent days there has been action in the High Court in London with claims that UK support for US drone strikes in Pakistan may be a “war crime”. The action is stepping up. This question is now being echoed by the United Nations (UN) and human rights groups such as Amnesty International. The High Court case is brought by lawyers for Noor Khan (27) whose father was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristanhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/23/uk-support-us-drones-pakistan-war-crime
One question that arose during the case was the role of Pakistan in drone strikes and whether questioning of authorities there could take place. This past week also saw former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf being issued with a notice by Peshawar High Court for allegedly allowing drone strikes over Pakistanhttp://tribune.com.pk/story/456278/phc-issues-notice-to-musharraf-for-allowing-drone-campaign/ Questions raised in the British court included whether for example an intelligence officer could be held to account for his actions whilst a drone operator or his superiors may be legally protected in the US. It is going to be a complicated affair.
This legal case comes at a time when Britain is increasing investment in drones and a new squadron will operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) out of Waddington airbase in Lincolnshire http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2012/10/unmanned-drone-squadron-stood-up-at-raf-waddington/ There have already been peaceful protests, photos can be seen on this link http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/10/501880.html Anti -drone activism is escalating globally as awareness grows with demonstrations, petitions and peace camps alongside research projects and articles from both mainstream and independent media highlighting legal and moral arguments. What we also have is a growing number of arrests of demonstrators whilst those using methods of “terror” and “target killing” remain freehttp://thesop.org/story/20121031/peace-activists-arrested-for-blocking-main-gate-to-beale-afb.html
Then there is the Imran Khan “inquisition”. Mr Khan, a popular politician who many think is on the road to becoming Pakistan’s next prime minister was scheduled to fly from Canada to New York to attend a fund raising event last week when he was removed from the aircraft for questioning regarding his stance on drones. He tweeted, “I was taken off from plane and interrogated by US Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop.” I received a photo of Imran at the airport looking somewhat fed up at the delay and a further tweet read, “missed flight and sad to miss the Fundraising lunch in NY but nothing will change my stance. Still looking forward to meet PTI family there.”
However, although late, a determined Imran Khan was soon to be captured on video addressing an enthusiastic and very welcoming crowd in New York on his interrogation and the reasons why drones should be stopped. He was reported in International News as saying, “I am cool. Such intimidating tactics cannot faze me. I am absolutely not upset at having to spend three or four hours at an airport against my will. It’s not a big deal for me”. I am sure this incident will only serve to increase his action on drones along with other activists. Let’s hope Mr Khan makes it to Slough later this month without any similar incident at a UK airport!
Anti-drone activism is expanding and new initiatives are now taking place, an All Party Parliamentary Group (UK) is being chaired by Tom Watson MP and I look forward to meeting him soon to discuss some of my concerns. The Ummah channel ran a televised debate last night attended by Asif Khan a Pakistan Tehreek –Insaf (PTI) representative for Imran Khan (which stands for Justice, Humanity, Self Esteem). I also gave my contribution by phone. On the 29th November a debate will be held at the House of Lords around the book, “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” written by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun, Chair of Islamic Studies and Professor of International Relations at American University, Washington DC http://www.brookings.edu/experts/ahmeda I look forward to being on the discussion panel.
There are many ways to try to shut down campaigners. I have had attempts to discredit me following Saleem’s death with accusations of “yellow journalism”, that I am a “CIA operative” which I joke means “Carol In Action” as I am in no way attached to any security services. Neither am I part of any major news corporation or aid organisation. I remain fiercely independent and let’s make it perfectly clear, despite harassment and intimidation, I will continue as ever … anti- drone activists are most definitely here to stay!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.