Families of the dead ultimately received $5,000 each, plus one goat.
March 11, 2015 6:21 PM   Subscribe

 
Pilot: They’re praying.

Sensor: This is definitely it. This is their force. Praying? I mean, seriously, that’s what they do.

Mission intelligence coordinator: They’re going to do something nefarious.

posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:34 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


They hate us for our freedoms.
posted by nevercalm at 6:43 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thank you. Important article.
posted by standardasparagus at 6:50 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pilot: At least one child . . . Really? Listing [him as a] MAM [military-aged male] – that means he’s guilty.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:50 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Families of the dead ultimately received $5,000 each, plus one goat.

The 40 acres and a mule of the 21st century?
posted by zachlipton at 6:56 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Not another mouth to feed."
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:13 PM on March 11, 2015


Wikipedia says a Hellfire missile costs US$110,000. They fired three of them, plus some 2.75" rockets, so the armament alone cost them more than $330,000.

The total "compensation" the US paid for the deaths was less than $120,000.

Somebody must have done the sums, much have figured out how much compensation to pay: you don't want to pay too little and look cheap, but you don't want to pay too much and run the market up. After all, there are going to be more killings in the future and you don't want the greedy locals extorting ol' Uncle Sam for the price of some dead mother-in-law. So $5,000 plus a goat will do; if you look at things broadly the killing actually cost the USA around $20,000, plus the cost of helicopter time, drone time, the helicopter pilots, their accommodation, the drone pilots, their accommodation, training, administration ... there's no point punishing the USA twice, is there?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:14 PM on March 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


All the people pushing for more intervention in Syria and Iraq? This is what you're pushing for. Dead mothers, death fathers, dead children.
posted by Justinian at 8:00 PM on March 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


To put things in perspective, $5000 is enough to buy a house free and clear. Not nearly enough to compensate for a life (is there a dollar amount that can do that?), but not quite as paltry as it might sound to Western ears.

It's good to see these stories, which are widely told, with plenty of corroborating evidence, in Pakistan, make it to a relatively mainstream outlet.
posted by bardophile at 8:54 PM on March 11, 2015


Bardophile, I don't dispute that that the payment is locally significant - it's that it's far, far, far below what would represent an actual cost to the USA. I think that the USA should have shown proper remorse for this and for other wrongful killings. I don't know what that would involve - lots of money? scholarships for survivors? US citizenship? I'm just sure that "$5,000 and a goat" makes the USA look mean.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:17 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, I agree completely, Joe in Australia. Just providing some additional detail. The US could easily spend a lot more, in terms of money as well as thought, on attempting to atone for this and other similar wrongful deaths.
posted by bardophile at 9:44 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


All the people pushing for more intervention in Syria and Iraq? This is what you're pushing for. Dead mothers, death fathers, dead children.

QFT.

So it turns out to be obvious that detonating explosives anywhere near folks who are not actively engaged in trying to kill you is, if any of them die, murder, and there aren't really any extenuating circumstances if you detonated those explosives willingly. Convoluted apologetics and handwaving about "minimizing civilian casualties" and "collateral damage", and insulting relatives of people you murdered with gifts of goats are all behaviours which can be exposed as disgusting by anyone who can manage even one minute's simple reflection under conditions of detachment from their tribal loyalties. I submit that the willingness of the various NATO publics (mainly the US public) to accept as anything other than straight-up, Pol Fucking Pot-level atrocities the activities of their various airborne warriors and robots over the last 70-odd years, is a consequence of probably the Greatest Propaganda Coup Of All Time.

Seriously: as we speak, I bet Kanye is stealing the mic from the ghost of Ed Fucking Bernays at the Mendacious Bullshit Awards and going on a rant about how the glory really belongs to whoever made it so the US public didn't haul every president since FDR in front of an ad hoc war crimes tribunal in light of all the aerial bombing of civilians that's gone on since my grandparents (one of whom survived the Blitz...) were kids.

One of the Great Big Lies of the mid/late 20th and early 21st centuries is evidently that atrocities dispensed anonymously from the air are not as bad as atrocities carried out face-to-face. The precedent was set when the horrors of, e.g., Nazi crematoria were frankly and factually exposed, and rightly denounced as horrors, while the use of incendiary munitions to render Dresden and Tokyo crematoria for civilians was classed (by the perpetrators, who were also the judges) as mere acts of war. Unimaginable horrors have been visited on millions of people, from the air, in the past century or so. Early in the history of murder-of-civilians-by-airplane, this provoked shock, outrage, Picasso paintings, etc., but after WWII -- in which all sides bald-facedly murdered thousands of civilians in their beds with explosives dropped anonymously -- the fact that the people meting out the war crimes punishment were also (factually) guilty of war crimes created a situation in which the options were exposure to accusations of hypocrisy or Orwellian ideological gymnastics that eventually led to a situation where millions of people have been effected in one horrible way or another by 60+ years of bombing and there is still maddening reticence about calling this shit what it is.

In Iraq and Syria, by all accounts, Da'esh have committed and are committing numerous atrocities that warrant unequivocal condemnation and that ought somehow to be stopped. However, it's only by appeal to the viscera, not to any sort of rational moral criterion, that beheading a civilian is "worse" than rending one to bits with a missile fired remotely from thousands of miles away. I think this type of thing is insufficiently recognized.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:49 PM on March 11, 2015 [46 favorites]


My god yes. That exactly.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:57 PM on March 11, 2015


busted_crayons: In Iraq and Syria, by all accounts, Da'esh have committed and are committing numerous atrocities that warrant unequivocal condemnation and that ought somehow to be stopped.

So then, what's your alternative?
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:03 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]




Sensor: Hey, MC.
Mission intelligence controller: Yes?
Sensor: Remember, Kill Chain!
MIC: Will do.
That's a reference to part of the standard procedure for using tactical chat (that is, IRC--for real) when you're preparing to fire a weapon: Before you fire, you're supposed to type "KILL CHAIN" into the room which lets everyone know that things are now serious and they should stop extraneous chatter. If you're interested in the military's manual on how to use IRC, there's a PDF here: TACTICAL CHAT: MULTI-SERVICE TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES FOR INTERNET TACTICAL CHAT IN SUPPORT OF OPERATIONS.

For a little bit about the software that the military uses to aid in situational awareness (mIRC, Google Earth, FalconView) and the way it biases or modulates perception, this blog post is a start.

Chris Csikszentmihályi is one of the first people I saw talking about the hermeneutic nature of drone imagery and its significance in the now highly networked process of military violence. PDF here: "Automatic Rumor"
posted by jjwiseman at 2:00 AM on March 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I prefer drones to boots on the ground, where those are my choices. Pol Pot-level atrocities? I'm sorry, I disagree.

You think drones are indiscriminately murderous? Try a scared shitless 19-year-old kid with rifle in his hands.

I could tell stories of smaller scale incidents like this that I'm sure happen with regularity, but don't make the news because it's one young man killing one other person due to fear, mistaken identity, and so on.

While drones seem to have become the villain du jour, I would bet the body count from the shitty little one-on-one events is higher.

If you say we shouldn't be there at all, that our original good intentions have been washed away in a flood of greed, incompetence and blood, sure. I agree. While we are still fighting there, though, and Taliban are still trying to kill soldiers, I think drones are just one of many tools being used to try to kill them before they kill us.
posted by atchafalaya at 2:13 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pilot: They’re praying.

Sensor: This is definitely it. This is their force. Praying? I mean, seriously, that’s what they do.


Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God's Messenger. Salat: ritual prayer five times a day. Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy. Sawm: fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, if one is able.

Hadiths on the importance of prayer in Islam.

Pilot: Yeah, review that shit . . . Why didn’t he say possible child, why are they so quick to call fucking kids but not to call shit a rifle.

This brought tears to my eyes.
posted by fraula at 2:24 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are there any relatively objective studies of how much "collateral damage" happens in face to face encounters versus remote bombing? I understand that the risk to the bombing forces is considerably reduced, but it seems counterintuitive to me that a kid with a machine gun kills more innocents than a kid with a Predator.

fraula: That quote really hit me hard, as well. What does it take for someone for it not to be obvious why one would err on the side of declaring unknown people innocent rather than hostile?
posted by bardophile at 4:50 AM on March 12, 2015


Related piece by Cockburn, suggests folly of "the mystique of high-value targeting."
posted by CincyBlues at 5:08 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are there any relatively objective studies of how much "collateral damage" happens in face to face encounters versus remote bombing? I understand that the risk to the bombing forces is considerably reduced, but it seems counterintuitive to me that a kid with a machine gun kills more innocents than a kid with a Predator.

There was an FPP about that a while back, and I've seen a bunch of other articles about it as well. People argue strongly about the details and numbers, but yes, even despite the terrible incidents with drones (that tend to get underreported here, of course), the civilian deaths are much lower than with infantry, and orders of magnitude lower than with old-style bombing from jets.

How you measure the anger and resentment that drone attacks generate, however, is a different issue; I suspect that in most cases those impacts far outweigh whatever strategic benefits the attacks create.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:17 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You think drones are indiscriminately murderous? Try a scared shitless 19-year-old kid with rifle in his hands.

As somebody who once was that kid, I have to wonder if you have any idea what you're talking about.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:48 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ratio of Military to Civilian Deaths by Conflict

World War I : ~40% Civilian casualties. (Mostly flu and famine)

World War II: ~60% Civilian casualties. (Mostly caused by terror bombing.)

Korean War: ~70% Civilian casualties. (War.)

Iraq War: ~77% Civilian casualties. (War.)

Drone Strikes: Honest stats can't even be tracked. The "official" numbers show something like a 3% collateral damage rate, but since the US considers anyone who is male and aged 18+ killed by these things as a legitimate target unless posthumously proven innocent, who the fuck knows? I've seen estimates as high as 90%, which doesn't seem as ludicrous as all of that considering that the rules of engagement allow the US to drone a soccer match to kill one target and classify the other 21 players as combatants.
posted by absalom at 6:20 AM on March 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Seriously, how can we trust ANY stats on drones when...


Pilot: At least one child . . . Really? Listing [him as a] MAM [military-aged male] – that means he’s guilty.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:29 AM on March 12, 2015


Well yes, but were infantry soldiers less likely to make that same call?
posted by bardophile at 6:45 AM on March 12, 2015


Well yes, but were infantry soldiers less likely to make that same call?

Why is the comparison to what infantry soldiers would do relevant? There's no law of conservation of terribleness; an assertion that one form of warfare is atrocious need not come bundled with a claim that some other warfare is not, or is less, atrocious. I don't see how this thread's recently-introduced "19-year-old with a rifle" is at all relevant, at least until we establish what seems to be implicit in several people's comments, namely that some type of military activity is desirable in the circumstances in question, which I don't think is at all clear. Refraining from the deployment of both drones and human soldiers in the situations in question is in fact an option, so criticism of drone attacks (or aerial bombing of populated areas in general, which was the target of my complaint) doesn't automatically entail a need for discussion of the relative nastiness of the activities of infantry soldiers.
posted by busted_crayons at 7:22 AM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


That they use IRC to communicate just boggles the mind. Literally everything I learn about the drone program is the worst thing.
posted by odinsdream at 7:36 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another difference from prior wars is that the drone strikes are carried out against random actors that are not part of a state on whom we've declared war.

I confess, I get just as mad as the next person when I hear about the activities of some of these groups (ISIS especially). I don't frankly care if every member of ISIS dies in the most horribly painful way possible. No amount of persecution justifies their actions. However ... the reality is that there's not an easy way to separate the bad guys from the general population. Even worse, for every nut-job with a gun (ISIS) you have 5 guys with guns who have a more legitimate reason to be fighting ... against Assad, defending against ISIS, defending against sectarian violence, just general fear of the Taliban leading to a desire to be armed, etc. That part of the world is so jacked up, thanks in large part to the prior actions of the US and other Western states, that continuing to try to take out the high-value targets just makes things worse.

It's like having a leaking pipe and bragging about having cleaned up this or that puddle. It's pointless and solves nothing.*

*Note that in this analogy, the puddles are named "Al Qaida #2" etc. We must have killed the #2 guy 50 times; it's a bad joke at this point.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:40 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


To clarify my prior comment, I am well aware that the linked story is in Afghanistan and has nothing to do with ISIS. I was just extending to the general region because we use similar policies in every place that has militants we don't like. Also, ISIS are the worst people in history, so they make a good example when doing thought experiments related to "how far should we (the US) go ...".
posted by freecellwizard at 7:43 AM on March 12, 2015


it's actually harder to get people to kill other people in person, cf On Killing, On Combat etc
posted by beefetish at 9:57 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


..... ..... ..... ..... ...
posted by kagredon at 1:11 PM on March 12, 2015


Well yes, but were infantry soldiers less likely to make that same call?


Who knows, when we can't trust the stats?
posted by Drinky Die at 1:18 PM on March 12, 2015


The prayer comments... the whole thing is horrific, but that highlighted just how ignorant and badly trained these people are. It doesn't take more than the slightest knowledge of the practice of Islam to know that every believer prays multiple times a day. Even people who believe air and drone strikes work, surely they don't want them executed by morons?

Oh, I'm sure that they are perfectly adequately trained at the mechanics of their job, but the actual requires intelligence and analysis part? Apparently not.
posted by tavella at 1:45 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


As somebody who once was that kid, I have to wonder if you have any idea what you're talking about.

As somebody who led 132 of those kids, yes, I know what I'm talking about.

About the prayer: the drone operators are looking for go/no-go criteria that meet their expectations of enemy/non-enemy behaviors. When they saw those people pile out of their truck and start praying, to them it was most likely perceived as confirmation of a pre-attack behavior, not just one of several daily prayers.

On the efficacy versus horror of using drones: we are still fighting a war over there. While some people have rightly pointed out a lot of the stats are bullshit, I think it's pretty clear that using drones means fewer American casualties. In my opinion, it also very likely means fewer civilian casualties. So, yes, refraining from deploying soldiers is an option, but it's not the option we're exercising. As long as we're exercising that option, it's kind of disingenuous to single out drones as something especially bad.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:03 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


As long as we're exercising that option, it's kind of disingenuous to single out drones as something especially bad.

As far as I can tell, these people were killed for being 12 miles away from American soldiers while praying. That is especially bad regardless of the technology used to kill them.

You also ignore the cumulative effect of drone strikes on a community. The dead Afghans had families. How do you those family members feel about Americans now (and what about the ones we didn't pay compensation to)? What about their friends? It's not exactly easy to win an already impossible hearts-and-minds campaign when you're killing civilians based on shoddy analysis of a fuzzy video feed.
posted by zachlipton at 11:13 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


zachlipton: “[…K]illing civilians based on shoddy analysis of a fuzzy video feed.”
That's what really got me. They use the phrase "positive identification," PID in the jargon according to the article, but, at least at night, what they are looking at are amorphous blobs on a screen. They can't tell men from women from children. How is that positive identification of anything? Maybe PID should mean presumptive identification instead.

It's one thing if they see some figures actually shoot at troops and then catch them running away with the proverbial "hot gun," like they showed on 60 Minutes [Caution: Gunsight Footage]. It's something else entirely when they read sinister intent into the innocent movements of a civilian convoy.

Regarding prayers, they happen at predictable times every day. The day's prayer times are probably right in the first paragraph of the operation order, as they roughly correspond to the astronomical almanac times usually listed there. You'd think an intelligence analyst would notice such things.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:41 AM on March 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have never seen prayer times listed in any OPORD, at any time, anywhere. The idea that a drone team is going to see some guys praying and take a quick glance at the prayer chart and the clock is improbable.

You also ignore the cumulative effect of drone strikes on a community.

No, I'm explicitly stating that ANY OTHER FORM of interaction with the civilian population produces more dead innocent people, and more dead American soldiers.

Here's a case in point: A couple of weeks into my brief stay there, a report came down from a subordinate unit that one of their convoys had shot a man who was charging their perimeter, as they put it. The facts trickled in. The convoy had been parked on the side of the road, the man had approached, they had shouted, showed their weapons, attempted to speak to him in the two major languages of the area, and then shot him.

Okay, people said. It was a good shoot. Not that the outcome was good, but all the steps had been followed.

It later came out that the man was eighty-something years old. Just how fast was this guy charging their perimeter, I asked, but nobody was at all interested in digging any deeper.

Riots resulted, which may have caused more deaths. I don't know.

Here's another case: We had to drive from Kabul Airport to the Queen's Palace, where a COIN course was being held. The convoy bulled its way through town, shouldering the dense civilian traffic aside, bristling with arms and warning lasers. Many of us were discomfited about this muscular display, and were relieved to later hear that a new commander had told the drivers to tone it down and try behave a little more nicely. A few months after that, the convoy was attacked, killing four.

Situations like that are guaranteed when you have soldiers interacting with the civilian population in an insurgency.

If you want to say we should get the hell out of there, I agree. Until then, though, to say that drones are worse than any alternative other than total disengagement is inaccurate.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:20 AM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


The idea that a drone team is going to see some guys praying and take a quick glance at the prayer chart and the clock is improbable.

What I take from the original comment is not that we should literally be putting prayer schedules in briefings or that there should be a reference chart, but that, insofar as you should know some fucking basics about the theater you're operating in, it seems ridiculous that anyone should be surprised by frequent, routine praying when observing a group of presumably Muslim people throughout the day.

To then take that surprise and use it to further a case for attack is just ludicrous.
posted by odinsdream at 7:03 AM on March 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


atchafalaya: “I have never seen prayer times listed in any OPORD, at any time, anywhere. The idea that a drone team is going to see some guys praying and take a quick glance at the prayer chart and the clock is improbable.”
odinsdream: “What I take from the original comment is not that we should literally be putting prayer schedules in briefings or that there should be a reference chart, but that, insofar as you should know some fucking basics about the theater you're operating in, it seems ridiculous that anyone should be surprised by frequent, routine praying when observing a group of presumably Muslim people throughout the day.”
To clarify, what I meant is that the times for twilight, sunrise, and/or sunset are often listed in the same paragraph of an operation order as the weather conditions. With a few easy-to-remember additions, e.g."after local noon," these times more or less correspond to the times Muslim people are required to pray. I'm not saying that the platoon commander in the field should be looking at their watch and trying to put two and two together in the heat of battle, but a sensor operator sitting in an air-conditioned office in Nevada sure as hell should.

I'm curious if there is an institutional predisposition towards willful ignorance about Islam because knowing anything about it is perceived as disloyalty. That could make the difference between thinking "they pray before they attack" and knowing "they pray before dawn." The fact that the attack is at dawn is just common practice going back millennia.

atchafalaya: “Situations like that are guaranteed when you have soldiers interacting with the civilian population in an insurgency.

If you want to say we should get the hell out of there, I agree. Until then, though, to say that drones are worse than any alternative other than total disengagement is inaccurate.”
I do see your point. Thank you for your insights. Soldiers standing right there, able to see with their own eyes that it's only an old man, are just as libel to make a fatal mistake as a pilot in Nevada. Which goes to show that, as I always say, the brass and civilian leadership still haven't learned the lessons of the Peninsular War.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:23 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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