ISLAMABAD, Oct 26: Jemima Khan and the Brave New Foundation released their latest documentary film, Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars on Saturday before an audience of 200 people from the diplomatic community, civil society and journalists.
Directed by Robert Greenwald and co-produced by Jemima Khan, the film investigates the impact of US drone strikes.
The film, which will be released in the US on October 30, is based on more than 70 separate interviews, including a former American drone operator, Pakistani families mourning loved ones and seeking legal redress, investigative journalists and some of the military’s top brass.
Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and staunch proponent of an end to drone strikes, congratulated and thanked Brave New Foundation for the film as the western public had no idea what the drones were doing.
He said that the drone strikes had been simplified to appear as “a cheap way to win the war by taking out the bad guys”.
He added that drones were counterproductive and against all humanitarian laws and values. There is a code of honour in the tribal areas which places utmost importance on hospitality and revenge - if there is collateral damage the people of that area will retaliate.Stating categorically that the drone attacks were a war crime, he added that recent figures of the casualties presented to the Peshawar High Court showed that the strikes were also highly ineffective as of the 1,500 people killed, only 47 were militants and an additional 330 civilians had been maimed.
Greenwald had made a short video recording letting the audience know that the trip to Pakistan had had a profound effect on him and there was a commitment to tell the story. He also thanked Shahzad Akbar, a Reprieve Fellow in Pakistan for facilitating the making of the documentary.
The film began with Brandon, a drone operator who had joined the US Air Force in part because of student loans but also because he wanted to be on the right side in the fight between the good guys and the bad ones.
It tells the story of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old soccer and Lady Gaga fan, who attended an anti-drone conference in Islamabad in 2011 because he was concerned about the deaths in his area. Seventy-two hours later, he was killed by a US drone.
No explanation was given for his death and none was needed as the profiling for terrorists seems to be, as far as the documentary portrays, as all-encompassing as male, between the ages of 14 and 60 in Waziristan, or in other cases simply for being seen as moving in the region.
In an effort to get the voices of the victims to the world, Greenwald and his crew interview survivors, family, people who live in fear all the time as the drones are “buzzing” over them 24 hours of the day.
Shahzad Akbar says, “The film is important but it is already late. At least now people are realising that there is something wrong with drones in concept and in practice. They have achieved no clear objective in nine years and killed hundreds.”
The documentary is certainly deeply affecting, parts make your skin crawl as you see that for the victims, even when they are terror suspects, there is no lawyer, no judge and no jury - but there is an executioner.
Nevertheless, it is also as Romano Karim, a freelance fixer, says, “It is one sided. What about the tribals who live in fear of militants and see drones as doing a necessary job. The film never spoke to anyone with a different point of view. Everything that western media school teaches you not to do!”
Tahira Abdullah, a human rights defender, says, “The documentary on the US government’s drone warfare carries a strong punch and is a devastating indictment of the illegality, injustice and inhumanity of drone strikes.
It further reinforces, at the international level, what the drone survivors, Pakistani and other human rights activists have been saying for nine long years now. I hope it gets wide coverage and a huge viewership worldwide, as that is the way to build a global movement.”
Yasmin Zaidi, a gender specialist, thought that it touched all the right chords and thought it would be shattering to live in continuous fear of drones flying virtually invisible thousands of miles overhead.
Khawar Mumtaz, Chair of the National Commission on the Status of Women, reiterated that it was one side of the picture certainly and an alarming example of technology being used for destruction.
Of the horror of the killings, the impact of the dehumanisation of the decision-making process in killing someone – anyone, militant, civilian, human, animal – is one that is most frightening.
Walking away from the film perhaps the future as drones proliferate and machines tell other machines to press a button to kill, the multi-billion dollar arms industry comes away the only winner.