Decolonizing Bolivia’s History of Indigenous Resistance: An Interview with Elisa Vega Sillo by Benjamin Dangl (from Upside Down World, 19 Feb 015)
Shortly after the October 12th elections last year which granted President Evo Morales a third term in office with over 60 percent of the vote, I visited the government’s Vice Ministry of Decolonization. The Vice Ministry is the first of its kind and a center for the administration’s efforts to recover Bolivia from what is seen by much of the country’s indigenous majority as 500 years of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism since the arrival of the Spanish.
The walls of the Vice Ministry’s offices were decorated with portraits of indigenous rebels Túpac Katari and Bartolina Sisa who fought against the colonial Spanish in 1781. I sat down to talk with Elisa Vega Sillo, the current Director of the Depatriarchalization Unit in the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, a former leader in the Bartolina Sisa indigenous campesina women’s movement, and a member of the Kallawaya indigenous nation. In the interview Vega spoke about the unique work of the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, the role of historical memory in the country’s radical politics, and the importance of decolonizing Bolivia’s history of indigenous resistance.
Ben Dangl: Could you please describe the type of work you do here in the Vice Ministry of decolonization?
Elisa Vega: We develop public policies against racism, against discrimination toward people with different abilities, the elderly, indigenous people. We also work on issues related to machismo and patriarchy. These are things we discuss and work on with young people, to help them question and raise awareness about these issues, because no one is questioning them… Another part of our work involves the issue of decolonization and the recuperation of our [indigenous] knowledge and skills.
BD: What does decolonization mean politically and in everyday life to you?
EV: Decolonization means a lot to me, it means recuperating… our own path, something which we’ve been forced to lose, this [indigenous] path, this wisdom, this knowledge has been devalued, minimized as though it weren’t knowledge at all. And so now we are recuperated this, and we’re doing so in our own way. This for us is decolonization, a process which is done via the state but also via the social organizations, because this is an issue of how to organize, how to speak of our ancestral technologies. Yes, many things have been modernized, but in many cases we have a necessity to recuperate our own principles and values as indigenous peoples.
BD: Could you speak of the role of historical memory and how, as a Vice Ministry, you rescue pre-colonial history and knowledge, as well as myths and stories?
EV: For the indigenous people this continues to be a part of our everyday lives. […] In our organizations, we speak a lot about colonialism, neoliberalism, imperialism. And we realized that it’s not [foreigners] that are oppressing the indigenous peoples, but now it’s a system that has been constructed, and we have accommodated this system. […] So we have to look behind us, but also ahead and ask ourselves ‘who are we and where do we want to go?’ These are the questions we raise in order to recuperate our identity.
BD: Could you speak of the legacy and the history of Bartolina Sisa and Túpac Katari in this context, in terms of the work you do here in the Vice Ministry?
EV: [T]his is something we work on and look at each day. Our questions have to be: Why were they sacrificed? Why were they struggling and what was it like? For us, you could say that Túpac Katari is like our grandmother, our mother. And it is the same with many of our past leaders – they are a part of our process of struggle.
BD: How do you rescue an anti-colonial vision from history? How do you gain lessons, for example, from the histories of Katari and Sisa?
EV: We try and recover an anti-colonial vision above all, because the [official] history that’s been recovered of Bartolina, of Túpac Katari was this: that the rebel indians were so bad, they laid siege to the…poor Spanish…the Indians are savage animals – this was the history they told us. But in reality [the indigenous people] rebelled to get rid of oppression, the slavery in the haciendas, the taking over of land, of our wealth in Cerro Rico in Potosi, our trees, our knowledge – they rebelled against all of this. But in the official history, the colonial history, they tell us that the bad ones were the indigenous people, and they deserved what they got. So we recuperate our own history, a history of how we were in constant rebellion and how they were never able to subdue us.
The Shoah was an act of self-destruction by the Jews. This is the view that emerges from the new volume of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, edited by Peter Trawny and soon to be published by Klostermann (Gesamtausgabe 97, Anmerkungen I-V). The 560 pages of new material date from the crucial 1942-1948 period and contain the notebook for 1945-1946, which was thought to have been lost but was in fact located last spring.
The final years of global conflict, Germany’s defeat and the Allied occupation of Germany form the backdrop to what Heidegger elsewhere calls the “history of Being”, philosophy’s way forward to the salvation of the West. After 1945, there is no break. Instead, the path twists on itself in a series of sharp turns and diversions. Heidegger continues to seek a new beginning, the dawn of Europe, despite the near impossibility of finding any bearings. The ruins of Germany bear unequivocal witness to the failure of the mission entrusted to the German people. In the midst of this historic disaster, Heidegger was living through his own academic downfall. In 1946, the former rector of Freiburg university was banned from teaching.
Volume 97 of the Black Notebooks offers a fresh insight into Heidegger’s thought.Like earlier volumes, it combines philosophical reflection with detailed analysis of historic events. But Volume 97 is destined to be remembered primarily because it belies one of the platitudes of 20th-century philosophy regarding Heidegger’s “silence” after Auschwitz. If the Jews play a leading role in the earlier Black Notebooks, which cover 1931 to 1941, and if the Jewish question is closely bound up with the question of being (as I attempted to show in my recent book), it is no surprise that Heidegger should discuss the Shoah and consider it from both philosophical and political viewpoints. Selbstvernichtung - self-destruction - is the key word. The argument is that the Jews destroyed themselves and no fingers should be pointed at anyone except the Jews themselves. The term “self-destruction” made its first disturbing appearance as early as the 1940 and 1941 Notebooks, when the need for a “purification of Being” was advanced.
Rigorous and coherent, Heidegger does no more than draw his conclusion from everything he has said previously. The Jews are the agents of modernity and have disseminated modernity’s evils. They have besmirched the spirit of the West, undermining it from within. Accomplices of metaphysics, the Jews have everywhere brought about the acceleration of technology. The charge could hardly be more serious. Only Germany, with her people’s iron cohesion, could stem the devastating impact of technology. This is why the global conflict was primarily a war of Germans against Jews. If the Jews were annihilated in the death camps, it was because of the mechanism that they fomented by plotting to achieve world domination. The link between technology and the Shoah should not be disregarded: it was Heidegger himself who alluded to it elsewhere. What is Auschwitz if not the industrialisation of death, the “fabrication of corpses”?
In line with his metaphysical anti-Semitism, Heidegger sees extermination as “self-destruction”. In 1942, he wrote that the Judenschaft, the “community of Jews”, is “in the age of the Christian West - the age of metaphysics - the principle of destruction”. A little further on he adds: “Only when what is essentially ‘Jewish’, in the metaphysical sense, combats what is Jewish is the peak of self-destruction in history reached”.
The Shoah is presented as playing a decisive role in the history of Being because it coincides with the “supreme fulfilment of technology”, which consumes itself after devouring everything else. In this sense, the extermination of the Jews represents the apocalyptic moment when that which destroys ends up destroying itself. As the peak of “self-destruction in history”, the Shoah makes possible the purification of Being.
But is this peak reached? Did world Judaism self-destruct at Auschwitz? In the end, there should be no victors or vanquished, which are again metaphysical categories. Instead the Jew is simply the end that must simply come to an end. Only in this way can a new beginning emerge and the new European morning be glimpsed. When Heidegger was writing in 1942, Hitler’ death factories were working flat out. Yet after the war, the peak of self-destruction did not appear to have been reached. The self-destructive mechanism’s agents could even, despite the millions of deaths, appear to have won. In that case, they would constitute a mortal danger for the Germans by drawing them into the mechanism of death. After 1945, Heidegger observed that “extraneous elements” continue to disfigure “our defrauded essence”. He asks himself about the Germans, about the “ease with which they allow themselves to be seduced by foreigners”, about their “political incapacity” and about the “radicality with which they make the most glaring errors”.
At the end of the day, Heidegger’s position is not dissimilar to that of Carl Schmittand many other Germans who feel defeated, but only in a military sense and only temporarily. The Jews, now purged from the body of the nation, are perceived as a ghostly, awkward-to-handle presence. In this regard, Volume 97 of the Black Notebooks contains a lengthy note by Heidegger that is bound to create controversy. The cue comes from the leaflets handed out to the people of Germany by Allied High Command which said, under photographs of the liberated concentration camps: “This is Your Fault!” Heidegger replies: “Is not the failure to acknowledge this destiny (the destiny of the German people), and repressing our will for the world, a ‘fault’, and an even more essential ‘collective guilt’ whose enormity cannot be measured against the horror of the ‘gas chambers’, a guilt more terrible than all the officially censurable ‘crimes’, for which no one will apologise in future? It can already be perceived that the German people and German territory are a single concentration camp (ein einziges Kz) such as the world has never seen and never wants to see, a not wanting much more willed and consensual than our absence of will in the face of the feralisation of national socialism”.
The Allies failed to understand the Germans’ mission and stymied their global project. This crime is held to be more serious than all the other crimes. This guilt has no term of comparison, not even the “gas chambers” [quotation marks in the original!]. For the history of Being, the real immeasurable misdeed is the one committed against the German people, who were supposed to save the West. But Heidegger does not think that all is over, precisely because the “peak of self-destruction” has not been reached. There is still a future for Germany and for a Europe led by the German people. At this point, the questions come thick and fast. Did Heidegger contemplate a Fourth Reich? Why was he planning to publish the Black Notebooks in the mid Seventies? What did he expect from the Europe in which we live today?
It would be all too easy, as Emanuele Severino appears to suggest, to set the Black Notebooks to one side. But Heidegger himself rules this out. Here we are looking not at historical documents, as in the issue raised decades ago by Victor Farías), but at the philosopher’s own writings with intimate links to the rest of his oeuvre. We can now understand the need to reread, for example, Being and Time, as the young Israeli philosopher Cédric Cohen-Skalli did at the Paris convention, comparing Heidegger to Walter Benjamin. This does not mean, as some would argue, that we should proscribe or ban Heidegger but it does entail dealing with the complexity of his thought in an open, critical fashion. It could perhaps be an opportunity for philosophy to contemplate the Shoah in all its bottomless profundity.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The lawyer for Jameis Winston's accuser says ''the fix was in'' when Florida State cleared the star quarterback of violating the school's code of conduct.
Baine Kerr, one of the woman's lawyers, said the university did not conduct a fair hearing earlier this month.
''I don't want to impugn the proceeding as corrupt, but I think it was biased and the fix was in,'' Kerr said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''It's all about a football game 10 days from today. It turned out to be just a predetermined whitewash to keep a guy playing football.''
A two-day hearing was held this month to determine whether the 2013 Heisman winner violated sections of the conduct code- two for sexual misconduct, two for endangerment.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding ruled the evidence was ''insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.'' Prosecutor Willie Meggs made a similar decision a year ago when he decided not to criminally charge Winston, citing lack of evidence.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has supported Winston throughout the process and said there's a sense of relief now that the quarterback has been cleared. The Seminoles play Oregon in the semifinal of the first College Football Playoff on Jan. 1.
''I felt very happy for him and his family and the people involved with him,'' Fisher said. ''We've dealt with it in our own ways, but it is a relief. Especially for him.''
While Florida State is looking forward, Kerr said they are not ready to move on and are pondering the next step. The woman has five school days to file an appeal, but Kerr said they have not decided whether or not to pursue that course of action.
''The proper forum to getting to the truth is going to be the court of law, not, essentially, a sham court like this one turned out to be,'' Kerr said.
Kerr does not believe the subject of consent was properly vetted. The woman testified that she asked Winston to stop and the code of conduct states that clear verbal consent must be given.
According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, Winston gave a statement during the hearing that detailed his account of the night. He exercised his right to decline to answer questions from the judge and the woman. Winston, however, did answer one question about consent. He said she verbally and physically consented by ''moaning'' during the sexual encounter.
''Moaning cannot possibly count as any evidence of consent,'' Kerr said. ''There has to be clear verbal consent. That's not verbal and it's not clear. Moaning can be from pain.
Winston said in his statement that woman was an active and willing participant in sexual acts that evening.
Kerr called the hearing a ''mockery ... that ignored what the evidence was.''
''It was not an impartial ruling,'' Kerr said. ''It was a ruling that went to great lengths and improper lengths to try to find a way to exonerate Winston.''
Winston's family adviser David Cornwell declined comment through email Monday.
A university spokeswoman declined comment outside of the statement released by school president John Thrasher. Thrasher said the university selected the former state Supreme Court justice to remove any doubt about the integrity of the process.
''He (Harding) conducted a thorough Student Conduct Code hearing and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of evidence generated by three other investigations, and we would like to thank him sincerely for his service,'' Thrasher said.
In the meantime, Florida State continues to prepare. Fisher said there's no feeling of vindication.
''He's on to his next thing,'' Fisher said of Winston. ''He's focused on the team, like he always is.
''You hate for those situations for all parties involved. ... There was a lot of scrutiny on it, but glad it's over with and move on.''
“It is irresponsible to draw connections between this movement and the actions of a troubled man who took the lives of these officers and attempted to take the life of his ex-partner, before ultimately taking his own,” said Ferguson Action in a statement issued Sunday. (Photo: Webfan29/Wikimedia Commons)
A declaration by the New York Police Department Union that it will engage in “wartime policing” in response to Saturday’s killing of two city law enforcement officers has raised alarm among protesters and civil rights advocates, who ask: “Have we learned nothing?”
A statement released Saturday by the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association—the union for the NYPD—reads, “The mayor’s hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words actions and policies and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”
Steven Thrasher, writing for the Guardian, responds, “Wartime? These are the marching orders to the 35,000 armed members of the biggest police department in the United States. This is the message now sent to protesters around the nation who have been finding novel and peaceful forms of expression to resist oppression—who have been protesting in reaction to police violence, not causing it.”
Meanwhile, Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, made the unverified claim at a press conference on Saturday that ongoing protests and mobilizations are to blame for the killing of the police officers, stating, “There is blood on many hands tonight. Those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it shouldn’t be tolerated.”
But Ferguson Action, a broad, Ferguson, Missouri-based coalition behind mass organized response to police killings and violence, declared in a statement, “It is irresponsible to draw connections between this movement and the actions of a troubled man who took the lives of these officers and attempted to take the life of his ex-partner, before ultimately taking his own,” referring to reports that the gunman shot a woman in Maryland prior to the incident in New York.
“Today’s events are a tragedy in their own right,” the statement continued. “To conflate them with the brave activism of millions of people across the country is nothing short of cheap political punditry.”
New York-based Communities United for Police Reform agrees. The campaign stated, “As the details of today’s shootings continue to come to light, there are people who would seek to exploit this tragedy and use it to condemn the growing national movement to end police violence and discriminatory policing. Attempts to link today’s tragic events with a movement that holds justice, dignity and respect for all as its core values are cheap political punditry, and dangerous in their divisiveness.”
#BlackLivesMatter, which describes itself as “a national grassroots and social media driven movement at the heart of much of the recent mobilizations against police violence,” said in a statement, “Our hearts grieve with New York, a community already reeling from the losses of Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, Akai Gurley, Islan Nettles and many more. An eye for an eye is not our vision of justice, and we who have taken to the streets seeking justice and liberation know that we need deep transformation to correct the larger institutional problems of racial profiling, abuse, and violence.”
The statement continues:
At the heart of our movement work is a deep and profound love for our people, and we are rooted in the belief that Black people in the U.S. must reassert our right to live be well in a country where our lives have been deemed valueless. Together, we champion a complete transformation of the ways we see and relate to one another.
Now is our moment to advance a dramatic overhaul of policing practices. Now is the time to direct more resources into community mental health services and practices. Now is a moment for empathy and deep listening. Now is the time to end violence against women and trans people. Now is our moment to come together to end state violence.
“Our movement, grown from the love for our people and for all people, will continue to advance our vision of justice for all of us. Let’s hold each other close as we work together to end violence in our communities—once and for all.
The coroner in the case of Eric Garner ruled that his death was a result of homicide. That murder, effected with the use of a chokehold banned by the NYPD two decades ago, can be seen by everyone on video. The barbarous excuses about the officer being frightened for his life can't possibly be applied here. To put it plainly: a grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime.
And we can't just blame the prosecutors for stitching this up. Because: a Staten Island grand jury watched Daniel Pantaleo choke the life out of Eric Garner and refused to see a crime. This is not just police racism, it is not just state racism: this is popular racism. This is about the people who refuse to 'see' a crime, even one that is recorded, if it is committed by a police officer against a black person.
Obama talks about 'bodycams' as an answer to police misconduct. Allow me to re-emphasise: a grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime. Against this almighty ideological armoury, a 'bodycam' is about as much use as a lucky heather.
>Notably, another Staten Island grand jury decided to indict Ramsey Orta, who filmed the murder, accusing him of being in possession of a firearm. Orta argues, plausibly, that this is police revenge for his filming the murder. He might have added that the police stand to gain from criminalising him in an obvious way: the NYPD cop union is already blustering that crooks like Orta stand to benefit from the demonisation of good police, and so on. What is certain, though, is that the jury which decided to indict saw far less evidence of his alleged crime than everyone saw of Pantaleo's murder of Garner.
To reiterate: a grand jury watched a police officer murder a black person and refused to see a crime; but they think the guy who made the film is guilty as sin. This, to further underline the point, is about popular racism. And it tells us something about the nature of race, and about the nature of the state.
Racism does not just come top-down, from the state. Race is nothing but a series of effects of social and political struggles. These struggles are given a particular materialisation in the institutions of the state, in the forms of political domination, in the ideologies of crime, and in the apparatuses which enforce the ideological category of crime.
The politics of race in the United States are primarily struggled over and settled through the criminal justice system. And that system depends not only on its articulation with other dominant institutions such as the mass media. It also depends upon popular participation for its grids of surveillance, its authoritative verdicts, its ideological legitimacy: snitches, witnesses, jury members, 'citizen journalists' and other bottom-feeding internet warriors, neighbourhood watch, pro-cop demonstrators, tea partiers, conservative activists, and so on.
The criminalisation of Michael Brown was essential to Darren Wilson walking free. One would be a holy fool to think that 'criminalisation' here just means fingering Brown as a prime suspect in the theft of cigars from a local store. Even if Wilson had known of this, it doesn't carry a death penalty, any more than does walking in the middle of the road, which is what Wilson in fact stopped Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson about. Several layers of criminalisation needed to be added to this to make murder acceptable.
And this was not just the work of Darren Wilson, through his interpretation of the black neighbourhood around Canfield Drive as ‘hostile’, and his fantasy of being grossly out-sized, menaced by a 'bulking up' black youth almost impervious to bullets - a genre of popular television and Hollywood myth-making. It was not just the work of Ferguson Police Department, in its strategic leaks and dissembling about what had taken place, from the early claims that Brown had broken Wilson's eye socket to the release of autopsy details about Brown smoking pot. It was not just the work of the mass media, from New York Times's "no angel" piece, in which rapping and growing up in a rough patch is adduced as evidence of sub-angelic status, to the obsessive pursuit in all outlets of "black-on-black crime".
The criminalisation of Michael Brown was also the work of a popular racist backlash. This was evident in the mulch of racist social media memes, and the sewer of right-wing blogs and 'news' sites, asserting that Brown had flashed 'gang signs' (an obsession in the US), that his father was a 'Blood', and that his family was violent. It was apparent in the pro-cop rallies with Klan members prominently involved, the polling data showing that most whites did not blame Wilson for Brown's death.
All of these criminalising discourses build on a racist 'common sense' regarding what 'everyone knows' about black people, black communities, and black families: Their families are unstable, often fatherless. There is a "culture of poverty". Their communities are filled with crime and violence. They rap, and throw gang signs. Cops are courageous just to enter these neighbourhoods, and anyone who doesn't comply with an officer has it coming. These, and similar ideological understandings, will determine how 'probable cause' is interpreted. They will determine a juror's sense of the probabilities, their view of the likely dispositions of the cop and the civilian, their sense of what testimony is dependable and what is not, what the best interpretation of physical evidence is. They will shape the perceptions of witnesses, as to whose behaviour is reasonable, as to who looks menacing, as to what a particular physical gesture might mean, as to what is staggering and what is charging.
The state can blitz a jury with expertise, images, footage, technical detail. They can overwhelm juries with seemingly 'hard facts'. But without the racist 'common sense' that fills in the narrative gaps in the police yarn, and makes a spurious sort of sense of these 'hard facts', a prosecution stitch-up would have been hard to achieve. And in the case of Eric Garner, to reiterate: a grand jury watched a police officer choke a black man to death, and refused to see a crime.
There is an organic relationship between popular racist politics and the legal/police networks that enact racist terror. The 'filaments of racist ideology' protruding from the material apparatuses of the state have both efferent and afferent conduits.
Any movement against state racism is at one and the same time a struggle against popular racism.
Art Basel Miami Beach 2014 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
I spent hours today inside the Miami Beach Convention Center, taking in the thousands of artworks at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair and gawking at the colorfully dressed collectors as they casually committed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cell phone service was spotty at best, but when I emerged in the late afternoon, I opened Twitter to discover that, only a week after the grand jury in St. Louis failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Mike Brown, the grand jury in Staten Island has failed to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner.
Protests have now erupted in New York City and throughout the country in response to the decision. And, unsurprisingly, the best expression of the cognitive dissonance I’m once again feeling — living simultaneously in the real world and the art world, which feel so frustratingly far apart — comes in the form of a tweet from artist Beth Whitney:
To put those images directly back to back, that’s protesters staging a lie-in at American University in Washington, DC:
And Marina Abramović’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, where she is tucking visitors into beds when they’re hit by fairtigue:
The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a villagein Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur.
Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.
However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.
Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.
A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.
Reprieve, sifting through reports compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, examined cases in which specific people were targeted by drones multiple times. Their data, shared with the Guardian, raises questions about the accuracy of US intelligence guiding strikes that US officials describe using words like “clinical” and “precise.”
The analysis is a partial estimate of the damage wrought by Obama’s favored weapon of war, a tool he and his administration describe as far more precise than more familiar instruments of land or air power.
“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.
Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.
In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.
Available data for the 41 men targeted for drone strikes across both countries indicate that each of them was reported killed multiple times. Seven of them are believed to still be alive. The status of another, Haji Omar, is unknown. Abu Ubaidah al-Masri, whom drones targeted three times, later died from natural causes, believed to be hepatitis.
The data cohort is only a fraction of those killed by US drones overall. Reprieve did not focus on named targets struck only once. Neither Reprieve nor the Guardian examined the subset of drone strikes that do not target specific people: the so-called “signature strikes” that attack people based on a pattern of behavior considered suspicious, rather than intelligence tying their targets to terrorist activity. An analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations tally assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.
As well, the data is agnostic on the validity of the named targets struck on multiple occasions being marked for death in the first place.
Like all weapons, drones will inevitably miss their targets given enough chances. But the secrecy surrounding them obscures how often misses occur and the reasons for them. Even for the 33 named targets whom the drones eventually killed – successes, by the logic of the drone strikes – another 947 people died in the process.
There are myriad problems with analyzing data from US drone strikes. Those strikes occur under a blanket of official secrecy, which means analysts must rely on local media reporting about their aftermath, with all the attendant problems besetting journalism in dangerous or denied places. Anonymous leaks to media organizations, typically citing an unnamed American, Yemeni or Pakistani official, are the only acknowledgements that the strikes actually occur, or target a particular individual.
Without the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command declassifying more information on the strikes, unofficial and imprecise information is all that is available, complicating efforts to independently verify or refute administration assurances about the impact of the drones.
“The only people that we fire a drone at [sic] are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level after a great deal of vetting that takes a long period of time. We don’t just fire a drone at somebody and think they’re a terrorist,” the secretary of state, John Kerry, said at a BBC forum in 2013.
A Reprieve team investigating on the ground in Pakistan turned up what it believes to be a confirmed case of mistaken identity. Someone with the same name as a terror suspect on the Obama administration’s “kill list” was killed on the third attempt by US drones. His brother was captured, interrogated and encouraged to “tell the Americans what they want to hear”: that they had in fact killed the right person. Reprieve has withheld identifying details of the family in question, making the story impossible to independently verify.
“President Obama needs to be straight with the American people about the human cost of this programme. If even his government doesn’t know who is filling the body bags every time a strike goes wrong, his claims that this is a precise programme look like nonsense, and the risk that it is in fact making us less safe looks all too real,” Gibson said.