They–Rafeeq, Zubair, and Nabeela–travelled all the way from North Waziristan to give testimony to the US Congress about the devastation and suffering caused in their communities by the American and Pakistani drone attacks. It was the first time that victims of drone attacks were “permitted” to actually stand face-to-face with those defining and defending the war policies in the region and speak about the consequences of their decisions.
But no one turned up to listen.
But of course, a Congress that knows war well, and that is well aware of the horrors they carelessly and with casual hubris unleash upon the world, do not need to really hear a victim…
…which probably explains why only 5 Congresspersons actually bothered to sit through the children’s testimonies. There are 535 Congress persons – 100 Senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives. Only 5 came to listen. Many associate this with a planned callousness, which it may be. I however also suspect that it is a willed avoidance of embarassment at their own impotence. Few have made the connection between the increasing concentration of powers into the office of the President – a trend that began under Bush but that has continued at an even faster pace under Obama. The Congress today is a rubber-stamp institution that is used to ‘validate’ decisions that are made elsewhere. This has been a process that has been going on now for over 12 years. As Glenn Greenwald wrote some months ago:
Commencing immediately upon the 9/11 attack, the US government under two successive administrations has spent 12 straight years inventing and implementing new theories of government power in the name of Terrorism. Literally every year since 9/11 has ushered in increased authorities of exactly the type Americans are inculcated to believe only exist in those Other, Non-Free societies: ubiquitous surveillance, impenetrable secrecy, and the power to imprison and even kill without charges or due process. Even as the 9/11 attack recedes into the distant past, the US government still finds ways continuously to increase its powers in the name of Terrorism while virtually never relinquishing any of the power it acquires. So inexorable has this process been that the Obama administration has already exercised the power to target even its own citizens for execution far from any battlefield, and the process has now arrived at its inevitable destination: does this due-process-free execution power extend to US soil as well?
All of this has taken place with very little public backlash: especially over the last four years. Worse, it has prompted almost no institutional resistance from the structures designed to check executive abuses: courts, the media, and Congress.
In fact, the Congress has largely been absent from any debate or discussion that involves American war policies and practices not just internationally, but also domestically. They have obsequiesly rubber-stamped torture, mass surveillance, indefinite detention, renditions, racial profiling of America’s Muslim communities, multiple wars, pre-emptive strikes across borders, and the murder of even US citizens within or outside of the USA. It was then not so surprising that they would ‘disappear’ at a moment when some children travelled thousands of miles from their homes, at great risk to themselves, to seek some redress, to find some empathy.
They children came to the wrong address.