Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the win against SOPA, and instead this week has been crushingly sad. Aaron Swartz was a friend, and we went to his funeral Tuesday.
Aaron was behind so much of the amazing activism you see on the web. He helped Lessig start Creative Commons and helped get Reddit off the ground. With David Segal he founded Demand Progress. He gave us tons of advice and encouragement on Fight for the Future and even swooped in to fix our website at a crucial moment in the first SOPA protest (it was amazing to watch him work).
The tool that delivers your letters to Congress when you take action on our sites? He built that. Probably in a day or two.
It’s fun and comforting to be in awe of him. But all that “boy genius” stuff is not the important part. The thing that distinguished Aaron more than his intelligence was that he was political and effective. He didn’t use his ability to make apps– he used it to right wrongs. But he didn’t let the deep corruption in his Chomsky books turn him into a helpless cataloguer of the world’s sins and scams. He worked backwards to some steps he thought might–just maybe–make things better. Part of my horror at losing him is how clutch he was to have on our side. He was so powerful, versatile, and independent. If this was chess, they took our queen.
But that’s the one way he can be replaced. Not as a friend. And probably not by any single person on this planet. But by a network of people infected with his brazen courage.
I remember Aaron saying that one of the best things Fight for the Future could do– beyond stopping or even passing any piece of legislation– would be to encourage activists and geeks to think bigger and bolder. In a world where any one of us can build things or say things that mobilize millions, handfuls of people can do so much. So it matters what you think. It matters what your dreams are. And it makes a difference when you step up.
Seriously, this is 2013. Kickstarter exists. Bitcoin exists! Half the planet will soon have the Internet in their pockets, and most of them aren’t very happy with their governments or employers. That’s a lot to work with. So try something! :) In this email, there’s no simple link to an action you can take; it’s on you to make a plan. But once you do, post it to #ForAaron … we’d like to read it.
Aaron had so many friends and allies, and all of them want to make some lasting change in his memory, both to advance the causes he worked for and fix the unjust system that lead to his death. These include:
* Fixing the CFAA, the law used to prosecute Aaron that makes harmless “terms of service” violations felonies
* Requiring open access to *all* research that receives public funding
* Building ever greater archives of open data
* Creating consequences for prosecutors who bring disproportionate cases against the innocent or harmless
We’ll be helping on all of these fronts, personally or as FFTF. As Massachusetts natives, we’ll work to end the political careers of the prosecutors here who targeted Aaron.
Finally, if you do anything right now, learn about depression. Tiffiniy and I agree 100% with Aaron’s family and closest friends that the actions of federal prosecutors and MIT were what killed him. But there’s more to it than that, and we can’t shake the feeling that our community’s responses to depression are failing brilliant people like Aaron. Anyone who dreams big is going to encounter extreme stress. Anyone who works independently, driven by their own values and goals is especially vulnerable to spirals of guilt, frustration and depression when they hit a wall or push past their limits. The private, quiet lives that fuel our focus when we’re happy become hellish traps when depression starts. All of us someday will lose a parent, a partner, a sibling, or someone close to us. If it hasn’t happened to you, it will– and it can throw you, hard. So get help, don’t be afraid to rely on others (including doctors or therapists) and when it hits your friends, go above and beyond for them. If you have a project you’d like to pursue to address mental health issues at scale, using the Internet, be in touch– we’d love to help in some way.
With sadness, and love,
Fight for the Future
P.S. We’ll be launching something in the morning.
Breaking the taboo
Let us break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.Sign the petition http://www.breakingthetaboo.info/
Breaking the Taboo is a global grass-roots campaign website against the War on Drugs, run by the Beckley Foundation in association with The Global Commission on Drug Policy, Virgin Unite, Avaaz and Sundog Pictures. The Mission Statement of the campaign is the Beckley Foundation Public Letter calling for a new approach to the War on Drugs, signed by nine Presidents, twelve Nobel prize winners, and many other world figures. The site hosts a coalition of international NGOs, united in their belief that the War on Drugs has failed and that global drug policy can and must be reformed. An Avaaz petition is hosted on the site, which will be presented to the UN. We hope that by collecting together so many voices calling for change, we will finally be able to persuade governments and lawmakers into adopting a humane and rational approach to drugs.
The global war on drugs has failed. It is time for a new approach.
We call on Governments and Parliaments to recognise that:
Fifty years after the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was launched, the global war on drugs has failed, and has had many unintended and devastating consequences worldwide.
Use of the major controlled drugs has risen, and supply is cheaper and more available than ever before. The UN conservatively estimates that there are now over 250 million drug users worldwide.
Illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world, after food and oil, all in the control of criminals. Fighting the war on drugs costs the world’s taxpayers incalculable billions each year. Millions of people are in prison worldwide for drug-related offences, mostly personal users and small-time dealers.
Corruption amongst law-enforcers and politicians, especially in producer and transit countries, has spread as never before, endangering democracy and civil society. Stability, security and development are threatened by the fallout from the war on drugs, as are human rights. Tens of thousands of people die in the drug war each year.
The drug-free world so confidently predicted by supporters of the war on drugs is further than ever from attainment.The policies of prohibition create more harms than they prevent. We must seriously consider shifting resources away from criminalising tens of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens, and move towards an approach based on health, harm-reduction, cost-effectiveness and respect for human rights.
Evidence consistently shows that these health-based approaches deliver better results than criminalisation. Improving our drug policies is one of the key policy challenges of our time. It is time for world leaders to fundamentally review their strategies in response to the drug phenomenon.
At the root of current policies lies the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It is time to re-examine this treaty, which imposes a “one-size-fits-all” solution, in order to allow individual countries the freedom to explore drug policies that better suit their domestic needs.
As the production, demand and use of drugs cannot be eradicated, new ways must be found to minimise harms, and new policies, based on scientific evidence, must be explored.
Let us break the taboo on debate and reform. The time for action is now.
President Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia
President Otto Pérez Molina, President of Guatemala
President César Gaviria, Former President of Colombia
President Lech Wałęsa, Former President of Poland, Nobel Prize winner
President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Former President of Poland
President Jimmy Carter, Former President of the United States of America
President Fernando H. Cardoso, Former President of Brazil
President Ruth Dreifuss, Former President of Switzerland
President Vincente Fox, Former President of Mexico
Sir Richard Branson, Entrepreneur and Founder of the Virgin Group
Bernardo Bertolucci, Oscar-winning Film Director
Carlos Fuentes, Novelist and essayist
Sean Parker, Founding President of Facebook, Director of Spotify
Thorvald Stoltenberg, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Asma Jahangir, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Execution
Louise Arbour, CC, GOQ, Former UN High-Commissioner for Human Rights
Professor Sir Anthony Leggett, Physicist, Nobel Prize winner
Dr. Kary Mullis, Chemist, Nobel Prize winner
Maria Cattaui, Former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce
Wisława Szymborska, Poet, Nobel Prize winner
Professor Sir Harold Kroto, Chemist, Nobel Prize winner
Professor Sir Harold Kroto, Chemist, Nobel Prize winner
Gilberto Gil, Musician, former Minister of Culture, Brazil
Professor Thomas C. Schelling, Economist, Nobel Prize winner
Professor Sir Peter Mansfield, Economist, Nobel Prize winner
Professor Niall Ferguson, Professor of History at Harvard University
Professor Colin Blakemore, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and University of Warwick
Professor David Nutt, Former Chair of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs
Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Professor of Economics at Cambridge
Dr. Julian Huppert, MP, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform
Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, MBE, Former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain
Trudie Styler, Actress and producer
Professor Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University
Lord Mancroft, Chair of the Drug and Alcohol Foundation
Professor A. C. Grayling, Master of the New College of the Humanities
General Lord Ramsbotham, Former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
Lord MacDonald, QC, Former Head of the Crown Prosecution Service
Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, Former Editor of The Sunday Telegraph
Tom Brake, MP, Co-chair of the Lib Dem Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities Parliamentary Policy Committee
Professor Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT
George P. Schultz, Former US Secretary of State
Yoko Ono, Musician and artist
Mario Vargas Llosa, Writer, Nobel Prize winner
Jaswant Singh, Former Minister of Defence, of Finance, and for External Affairs, India
Sting, Musician and actor
Michel Kazatchkine, United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS
John Whitehead, Former US Deputy Secretary of State
John Perry Barlow, Co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Javier Solana, KOGF, KCMG, Former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy
Professor Kenneth Arrow, Economist, Nobel Prize winner
Jeremy Thomas, Film Producer
Professor John Polanyi, Chemist, Nobel Prize winner
Pavel Bém, Former Mayor of Prague
Dr. Jan Wiarda, Former President of European Police Chiefs
Professor Lord Piot, Former UN Under Secretary-General
Professor Martin L. Perl, Physicist, Nobel Prize winner
Lord Rees, OM, Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Former President of the Royal College of Physicians
Professor Trevor Robbins, Professor of Neuroscience at Cambridge
Caroline Lucas, MP, Leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton
Professor Jonathan Wolff, Professor of Philosophy at UCL
Carel Edwards, Former Head of the EU Commission’s Drug Policy Unit
Professor Robin Room, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne
Gary Johnson, Former Republican US Presidential Candidate
Bob Ainsworth, MP, Former UK Secretary of State for Defence
Nicholas Green, QC, Former Chairman of the Bar Council
Peter Lilley, MP, Former Secretary of State for Social Security
Tom Lloyd, Former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire
Professor Robert Grayling, Dean of School of Medicine, KCL
Paul Flynn, MP, Labour MP for Newport West
Dr. Patrick Aeberhard, Former President of Doctors of the World
Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation
Sara Kruzan (d.o.b. January 8, 1978) is a survivor of child molestation, rape, of child-sex trafficking and of intimate battering. March 10, 1994, when child-sex captor G. G. Howard was motioning to rape Sara inside of a hotel room, Sara let off the fatal gunshot that ended her sex-captors life. A year later on May 10, 1995, at the age of 17, Sara was convicted of the first degree murder [PC 187] of George Gilbert Howard. Sara was sentenced to life in prison, plus four years, with no possibility of parole. Signed on December 31, 2010, the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, commuted Sara’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole, come 2020. 
Sara Kruzan grew up in Riverside, California with an older sister and a single mother on welfare. Sara’s father was an ex-convict and heroine addict. On one of three occasions when Sara met her father, she witnessed him shooting up heroin in a bathroom. Sara’s mother was mentally ill, emotionally unstable and addicted to cocaine. She battered Sara and Sara’s sister physically and psychologically since they were infants. In one of Sara’s earliest memories, her mother smacked her across the face until blood splattered from her nose onto a nearby dresser. Child Protective Services opened an investigation in 1989, due to being notified (by Sara’s school) of bruises on Sara’s body. In 1993, Child Protective Services determined it to be unsafe for Sara to reside with her mother.
Sara was molested by several of the men her mother brought home. Sara’s earliest memory of molestation is cited at age five. As these incidents persisted, Sara’s mother did nothing to stop them, but instead displayed jealousy and blamed Sara. Sara was exposed to her mother’s sex and drug activity. By fourth grade, Sara started cutting. By age 11, Sara began to leave home without permission. Sara’s mother showed no sign of concern. Instead, she physically assaulted Sara and forced her out of her residence. At age 11, Sara was hospitalized for attempted suicide. Rather than to provide Sara with adequate safety, the State sent Sara home. 
At age 11, George Gilbert Howard picked up Sara as she was walking home from school. G. G. bribed Sara with ice cream, then took her to his residence, where he undressed her and molested her, thereby committing a first degree felony sexual assault. From that date forward, G. G. Howard indoctrinated Sara into the child-sex trade. At age 12, Sara’s mother set Sara up with a 23 year old “mentor”, who furnished Sara with alcohol and raped her repeatedly over the course of a year. [In the State of California under PC 261.5, sex with a minor is defined as rape.]  At age 13, Sara was gang raped by three men. Sara’s mother refused to allow Sara to press charges. She insisted it would backfire and that Sara had “asked for it”.
At age 13, 33 year old George Gilbert Howard raped Sara Kruzan [PC 261.5] then immediately began to sexually exploit Sara, selling her body for three years in the child-sex trade. G. G. Howard threatened Sara and set her in dangerous situations, in addition to the dangers of prostitution. At age 15, Sara was hospitalized when she survived a fatal car crash. Sara was then placed in five or six foster care homes, while she repeatedly ran away to return to G. G. Howard over the course of five months. 
Plans to Escape
November of 1993, Sara attempted to escape a life of prostitution by going to Ontario with a 15 year old male friend. Sara’s mother threatened to report kidnap, ergo Sara returned to her mother’s neighborhood. Sara’s friend found a place where the two could temporarily stay with a friend’s uncle, James Earl Hampton. “James Earl” was a convicted felon and drug dealer out on parole. (James E. Hampton, Prisoner ID P23654, has since been convicted of rape and attempted murder, and is serving out a life sentence in the State of California.)  As James Earl bragged of the murders he committed and threatened to take Sara’s friends life, Sara hoped to borrow money from G. G. to get her own apartment. When James Earl caught wind of this, he demanded Sara follow his instructions to rob and murder G. G. if she wished that she and her loved ones survive.
The Crime Scene
March 9, 1994, James Earl Hampton garnered Sara Kruzan with a pistol and a pager. He ordered Sara to call G. G. Howard to arrange that the two of them meet. James Earl Hampton brought Sara to where G. G. picked her up to take her to a movie theater. Sara began to receive several pages from James Hampton, instructing “187″ (as she knew to be the California Penal Code Section for Murder). G. G. escorted Sara to the same hotel room where he had raped her on prior occasions. While G. G. payed for the room, Sara called James Earl and asked to speak with her friend. James Earl declined to allow it and threatened Sara that she would not survive if she did not follow through with the murder and robbery of G. G. Howard.
Passed midnight, in the hotel room, 36 year old G. G. Howard put on a pornographic movie and began undressing and touching 16 year old Sara. G. G. took out a large sex toy. Sara dreaded being raped by G. G. Howard. When G. G. turned to plug the sex toy into the wall, Sara shot him. Sara took G. G. Howard’s money and keys, but left behind her purse, identification and shoes. She delivered the car and money to James Earl. James held a gun to Sara’s head and instructed her of what to say if she were questioned. James Earl brought Sara to some other residence where he ordered she be kept locked away in a room. When James Earl brought Sara to his mothers house, she was arrested. Sara initially repeated the story that James Earl demanded, yet she soon confessed to the shooting.
Her Life Sentence
Sara was 16 years old and had no priors. The convicted James Earl Hampton and the minor (then a friend of Sara’s) were never brought to trial. Sara’s defense counsel, David Gunn, advised Sara to take the case to trial. Sara Kruzan was tried in Riverside County Superior Court, with Judge J. Thompson Hanks presiding. The testimony lasted two and a half days. The jurors were not aware that George Gilbert Howard had sexually assaulted, raped and indoctrinated Sara into the child-sex trade for five years. While no expert witnesses spoke in Sara’s defense, Sara agreed to nearly every leading question the prosecutor asked. The probation officer assigned to Sara Kruzan’s case overlooked PC 190.5, that granted court discretion to sentence minors convicted of first degree murder to 25 to life with the possibility of parole. The officer incorrectly stated that State law required the court to sentence Sara to life without possibility of parole. On May 10, 1995, at the age of 17, Sara was sentenced to life in prison, plus four years, without possibility of parole.
Two key experts independently concluded that Sara suffered from the effects of intimate partner battering at the time of the shooting and that expert testimony would have affected the outcome of the criminal proceedings. After a thorough evaluation of Sara Kruzan and her documents, Dr. Linda S. Barnard concluded that, “Sara was suffering from the effects of intimate partner battering in March 1994 and her behaviors and actions were affected – if not controlled by – the years of abuse she endured. By failing to have an expert on intimate partner battering and its effects to explain the many complexities involved in this case, Sara Kruzan’s defense was severely limited.” Dr. Nancy Kaser-Boyd concluded, “Ms. Kruzan clearly suffered the common effects of intimate partner battering on the night of the shooting. Most young people [suffering from intimate partner battering and its effects] respond well to therapy and become healthy adults with therapeutic intervention.” 
Free Sara Kruzan
Free Sara Kruzan was founded in 2006, by Kim Deanne, whose dedication was inspired by her friend Sara Kruzan to combat her plight as a victim of child-sex slavery and subsequently being sentenced as a youth to life in prison with no possibility of parole. In 2012, Free Sara Kruzan is a Global Campaign run by three women (Kim Deanne, Jesaka Sekmet, Carrie Christie), whose mission is to raise awareness of Sara’s story, to facilitate her release from prison and to prevent all forms of child-sex slavery. With the aid of international supporters and Sara’s 2007 interview by Human Rights Watch (see: external links), on the last day of 2010, Sara’s sentence was commuted by Governor Schwarzenegger to 25 to life with the possibility of parole. Sara currently resides in an honors dorm in a women’s facility in the State of California. Sara has earned a college degree and has been named Woman of the Year by Correctional Officers. Sara’s final appeal to be released with time served was dated July 19, 2012, yet granted a 60 day extension. On September 18, 2012 Riverside District Attorney Paul Zellerbach will decide whether Sara will be released with time served. The Global Campaign to Free Sara Kruzan is currently petitioning, educating and demonstrating for Sara’s immediate release.  
THIS IS HOW A SECRET GUN PROVISION MADE ITS WAY INTO OBAMACARE LEGISLATION
There’s a widely-unknown provision in the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) — legislative wording that is capturing attention in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Pushed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), a newly-noticed regulation that was placed deep within the bill back in 2010, among other things, bans doctors from documenting patients’ answers to questions that focus upon guns.
The Washington Post first reported on Dec. 30 about the presence of this controversial wording. Under a section with the headline “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights,” the NRA-advocated wording is nestled deep within the law. The Post called the inclusion, “a largely overlooked but significant challenge to a movement in American medicine to treat firearms as a matter of public health.”
As the outlet also noted, it was in the final stretch of the debate over Obama’s health care legislation that the NRA successfully pushed to insert this language. Below, see the portions of the Affordable Care Act that include mentions of firearms and the parameters through which doctors must operate in questioning patients (read the entire health care bill here):
On Tuesday, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke on-air with “Situation Room” host Wolf Blitzer. The two discussed how the gun provision made its way into health care legislation, while also explaining portions of the text for viewers.
Gupta noted that the initiative to have the wording included during the contentious health care debate was rooted in the NRA’s stance that patients should not be penalized or discriminated against for owning firearms. As can be seen from the above portion of the legislation, while doctors are not banned from asking about guns, they are forbidden from documenting the information and using it for research purposes.
2013 is a big year for us!
We’re planning our very first project as an organization to work with the Barrio Planta Project, an amazing organization in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua that educates the kids in the city’s poorest community with an emphasis on arts and English as a second language. We’ll be onsite to lend our production and media skills to this awesome youth organization and their Winter Arts Workshop’s production of “Grease.” This annual program of over 100 children gives them a valuable creative and disciplined outlet during their school vacation and we are enthusiastic to that we get the chance to bring our talents to the community of San Juan del Sur. For more information about BPP: www.barrioplantaproject.org
Your donations will help us accomplish:
• Gwapa Project members will teach a variety of workshops (English/Spanish) to the children in
video production, set/costume design, theater lighting, yoga, and social media
• Gathering costumes, set materials, art supplies, and musical instruments and bringing them
down to San Juan del Sur
• Creating high quality videos, photos, and other publicity materials for BBP and to help promote their program internationally
Since this is our ﬁrst project and timing is tight for the show, we need to fundraise the good ol’ fashioned way. We have until Monday, January 21st to fundraise $3,000. We’re well on our way, having raised almost $600 already. But we still have about $2k left to go and we need your help to get there!
Please donate in any increment, $5, $50, $500–we won’t stop you OR any in-kind donations to
help us help the kids of San Juan Sur put on their best show yet!
Do you have any of the following to share with our project? Really? No way! Please send an email to INFO@GWAPAPROJECT.ORG.
- Circle Skirts
- Short Sleeve Blouses
- Art Supplies (Glitter, Markers, etc.) & Fabric
- Musical Instruments
We thank everyone in advance for your support!
With Love, The Gwapa Team
Half of all food ‘wasted’ report claims
As much as half of the world’s food, amounting to two billion tonnes worth, is wasted, a UK-based report has claimed.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers said the waste was being caused by poor storage, strict sell-by dates, bulk offers and consumer fussiness.
The study also found that up to 30% of vegetables in the UK were not harvested because of their physical appearance.
The institution’s Dr Tim Fox said the level of waste was “staggering”.
‘Waste of resources’
The report said that between 30% and 50% of the four billion tonnes of food produced around the world each year went to waste.
It suggested that half the food bought in Europe and the US was thrown away.
Dr Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today.
“It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.
“The reasons for this situation range from poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure through to supermarkets demanding cosmetically perfect foodstuffs and encouraging consumers to overbuy through buy-one-get-one-free offers.”
And he told the BBC’s Today programme: “If you’re in the developing world, then the losses are in the early part of the food supply chain, so between the field and the marketplace.
“In the mature, developed economies the waste is really down to poor marketing practices and consumer behaviour.”
The report - Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not - also found that huge amounts of water, totalling 550 billion cubic metres, were being used to grow crops that were never eaten.
The institution said the demand for water for food production could reach 10 to 13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050.
The United Nations predicts there will be an extra three billion mouths to feed by 2075 as the global population swells to 9.5 billion.
Dr Fox added: “As water, land and energy resources come under increasing pressure from competing human demands, engineers have a crucial role to play in preventing food loss and waste by developing more efficient ways of growing, transporting and storing foods.
“But in order for this to happen governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN must work together to help change people’s mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers.”
President, CJI: Stop Rape Now!
December 17, 2012
Some dead children are mourned; others are dehumanised.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th December 2012
“Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts … These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”(1) Every parent can connect with what Barack Obama said about the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. There can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people of that town.
It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them; no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers; no interviews with grieving relatives; no minute analysis of what happened and why.
If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as “bug splats”, “since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.”(2) Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”(3)
Like Bush’s government in Iraq, Barack Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom 64 were children(4). These are figures extracted from credible reports: there may be more which have not been fully documented.
The wider effects on the children of the region have been devastating. Many have been withdrawn from school because of fears that large gatherings of any kind are being targeted. There have been several strikes on schools since George W Bush launched the drone programme that Obama has expanded so enthusiastically: one of Bush’s blunders killed 69 children(5).
The study reports that children scream in terror when they hear the sound of a drone. A local psychologist says that their fear and the horrors they witness is causing permanent mental scarring. Children wounded in drone attacks told the researchers that they are too traumatised to go back to school and have abandoned hopes of the careers they might have had: their dreams as well as their bodies have been broken(6).
Obama does not kill children deliberately. But their deaths are an inevitable outcome of the way his drones are deployed. We don’t know what emotional effect these deaths might have on him, as neither he nor his officials will discuss the matter: almost everything to do with the CIA’s extrajudicial killings in Pakistan is kept secret. But you get the impression that no one in the administration is losing much sleep over it.
Two days before the murders in Newtown, Obama’s press secretary was asked about women and children being killed by drones in Yemen and Pakistan. He refused to answer, on the grounds that such matters are “classified”(7). Instead, he directed the journalist to a speech by John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism assistant. Brennan insists that “al-Qaida’s killing of innocents, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its appeal and image in the eyes of Muslims”(8). He appears unable to see that the drone war has done the same for the United States. To Brennan the people of north-west Pakistan are neither insects nor grass: his targets are a “cancerous tumour”, the rest of society “the tissue around it”. Beware of anyone who describes a human being as something other than a human being.
Yes, he conceded, there is occasionally a little “collateral damage”, but the US takes “extraordinary care [to] ensure precision and avoid the loss of innocent life.” It will act only if there’s “an actual ongoing threat” to American lives(9). This is cock and bull with bells on.
The “signature strike” doctrine developed under Obama, which has no discernable basis in law, merely looks for patterns(10). A pattern could consist of a party of unknown men carrying guns (which scarcely distinguishes them from the rest of the male population of north-west Pakistan), or a group of unknown people who look as if they might be plotting something. This is how wedding and funeral parties get wiped out; this is why 40 elders discussing royalties from a chromite mine were blown up in March last year(11). It is one of the reasons why children continue to be killed.
Obama has scarcely mentioned the drone programme and has said nothing about its killing of children. The only statement I can find is a brief and vague response during a videoconference last January(12). The killings have been left to others to justify. In October the Democratic cheerleader Joe Klein claimed on MSNBC that “the bottom line in the end is whose 4 year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4 year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”(13) As the estimable Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, killing 4 year-olds is what terrorists do(14). It doesn’t prevent retaliatory murders; it encourages them, as grief and revenge are often accomplices.
Most of the world’s media, which has rightly commemorated the children of Newtown, either ignores Obama’s murders or accepts the official version that all those killed are “militants”. The children of north-west Pakistan, it seems, are not like our children. They have no names, no pictures, no memorials of candles and flowers and teddy bears. They belong to the other: to the non-human world of bugs and grass and tissue.
“Are we,” Obama asked on Sunday, “prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”(15) It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.
4. International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and Global Justice Clinic at NYU School Of Law, September 2012. Living Under
Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan.
6. International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and Global Justice Clinic at NYU School Of Law, September 2012, as above.
8. John Brennan, 30th April 2012. The Ethics and Efficacy of the President’s Counterterrorism Strategy. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/the-efficacy-and-ethics-us-counterterrorism…
9. John Brennan, as above.
10. International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School and Global Justice Clinic at NYU School Of Law, September 2012, as above.