Through news coverage, media outlets know of alleged CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and beyond. Photo: Salon.com

“They make a desert and call it peace.”

– Gaius Cornelius Tacitus

At Christmas, Santa scolds us for not being truthful – a fact we must deal with, whether we are children or jaded adults – bitter, battered and bereft of hope. A man must come to terms with himself, sooner or later.

So let’s tell the truth about America. Seriously, let’s talk truth … let’s lay it on the line … no bullshit.

The truth is …. through a worldwide drone war it commenced two decades ago, the US has invented a new form of terror for millions of people across the world.

Merry bloody Christmas.

The truth is …  the US continued to escalate this war in 2019, yet there’s no way to say exactly how much, because the US government refuses to tell its citizens the basic facts about it. So much for democracy, folks.

The truth is …  the best sources of information on this war are two underfunded outfits – the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Airwars – that aren’t even based in the United States.

The truth is … these journalists can’t be sure which air strikes are being carried out by drones and which by conventional manned aircraft.

The truth is … the US drone war is like some undersea leviathan, the nature and size of which we can only guess at when parts of it briefly surface.

Kill, kill … and kill again.

The truth is … the US fleet of killer drones were likely aloft on Christmas Day, circling endlessly as intelligence analysts decide whether to pronounce a death sentence on people thousands of kilometers away.

People you don’t know, and don’t care about, because they have a different religion, they dress differently, and they think differently. The ultimate sin.

The truth is … as you and I opened presents, America’s death machines looked for victims … so-called enemies of the state. Point, click, destroy.

The truth is … there have been six Democratic presidential debates this year, and during these six debates, the number of times the US worldwide drone war was debated was zero.

According to a special report by Elise Swain and Jon Schwarz in The Intercept, it’s possible you’ve heard about a US drone strike a few weeks ago in the Khost district in eastern Afghanistan. A 25-year-old Afghan woman there named Malana had recently given birth to her second child.

When Malana developed postpartum complications at home, her father-in-law, mother-in-law and sister-in-law took her in a car to a clinic. On their way back home, all four family members, plus the car’s driver, were killed by an American missile launched from a weaponized drone. All were burned to ashes.

Think about that, for a minute … imagine your family, burned to nothing … with no one held accountable.

Al Jazeera reported that Malana’s father, Gulu, is now looking after her two young children.

This was horrific enough to merit a brief article in The New York Times. It was so bad, in fact, that the article included Malana’s name. It was not bad enough for it to include the names of America’s four other victims.

Eighteen years after September 11, 2001, this is the pattern with America’s drone war: The worst of the atrocities briefly make an appearance in the media.

“We are aware of the allegations of civilian casualties and working with local authorities to determine the veracity of these claims,” Colonel Sonny Leggett, a military spokesman, said about Malana’s death. The news flits across the screen that 30 Afghan pine-nut farmers were killed by a US drone strike.

For Americans, the killings subside into the electronic maelstrom, never to be heard of again. Mainstream media is looking for sexier stuff, stories that are hip and edgy. Collateral damage doesn’t sell.

For the most part, the drone war grinds on with no notice taken  at all.

Meanwhile, people in an uncertain number of countries live under the unblinking gaze of drones.

Consider the fear of being vaporized to nothing, just because you’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

We can say that the military’s overt program has conducted drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya. In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency has a classified program that it does not acknowledge.

Through news coverage, media outlets know of alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and beyond. CIA strikes may be spreading further into West Africa, as the CIA runs counterterrorism missions out of Niger and Somalia.

Once upon a time, humans killed one another with rocks, close up. Then swords, then guns, then planes. But even with bombing campaigns of the past, there were humans up there, and eventually they had to fly away. Today, swaths of countries live under drones monitoring them around the clock.

Their constant, distant humming quietly informs the people beneath them that they and everyone around them might be killed at any time by invisible strangers across an ocean – in a top-secret base outside Las Vegas, Nevada, where the operators are not even allowed pee breaks and are castigated for raising ethical concerns.

“From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead,” according to David Rohde, who was kidnapped and held captive for months by the Taliban. “The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death. Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone’s victim never hears the missile that kills him.”

“When [children] hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them,” explained a man in Pakistan who collected his cousin’s body after a drone strike. “Because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed – women, men, and children.… Twenty-four hours, [a] person is in stress and there is pain in his head.”

Four years ago, in 2015, The Intercept published “The Drone Papers,” based on a large cache of leaked classified documents. That reporting provided, for the first time, a glimpse into then-US president Barack Obama’s secretive kill list and assassination program.

It was shocking, for anyone with the capacity to be shocked.

The Obama administration eventually released official numbers for its drone program. Between the time Obama took office until the end of 2015, it said, the US killed 2,436 people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Between 64 and 116 were civilians. That official civilian death toll appears low, and that was the point.

From the “Drone Papers” reporting, we learned that the US policy was to declare anyone killed in those strikes an “enemy killed in action,” or EKIA. They remained on the books as such, unless posthumously proven otherwise.

One of the leaked documents revealed that according to the Pentagon’s own numbers, nine out of 10 people killed in “Operation Haymaker” in Afghanistan during a five-month period were not the “intended targets.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated a somewhat higher total toll: 2,753 people. But the number of civilians killed, it determined, was six times what the Obama administration claimed.

That brings us to where we are today.

Through executive order, President Donald Trump has made drone strikes less transparent by eliminating an Obama-era mandate that compelled the Defense Department to report its civilian-death-toll estimate every year.

So far in 2019, the BIJ believes that the US has conducted 5,425 air strikes, five times as many as the number of airstrikes in 2016. In the month of September, the US upped the pace to almost 40 air strikes per day.

Merry, bloody Christmas.

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