New Report Shows U.S. Drone Policy in Yemen Leads to Severe Trauma among Civilians and Sets Dangerous Precedent for International Community
A new report released in an online panel discussion by Alkarama on 24 June 2015 shows the traumatising impact that the U.S. drone policy has on civilians in Yemen, leading to considerable resentment and setting a dangerous precedent for the entire international community by trampling on fundamental rights and safeguards in complete secrecy and without accountability.
Based on the findings of a survey conducted between July and September 2014 on a sample of individuals living in areas of Yemen where the U.S. carries out drone operations, the report entitled “Traumatising Skies: U.S. Drone Operations and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” aimed to fill a gap in the existing literature on drone operations. Today, it is the first report on drones to focus essentially on the disastrous effects that the drone operations and policy have on the mental health of entire communities.
“Our goal was to understand whether or not civilians living under drones exhibited symptoms of PTSD similar to those who have directly lost a family member as a result of drone strikes. If they did, it would show that the mere fact of living under drones has psychological consequences similar to those caused by the loss of a relative in a drone strike,” explains Radidja Nemar, Alkarama’s Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf, the author of the report.
The findings presented in the report are unequivocal, showing generalised trauma among the civilian population, from not knowing when a drone might strike, why one’s relatives are targeted, how to obtain redress, or even which kind of behaviour a Yemeni civilian may or may not adopt so it doesn’t resemble a terrorist behaviour. The civilians surveyed display numerous PTSD symptoms, including deep emotional distress (94%), constant anxiety and fear (92% of the respondents), sleep-related issues (83%), as well as clear signs of depression.
Moreover, most of the respondents expressed anger and frustration towards the Yemeni and U.S. governments, an issue that Dr Mukhtar ul-Haq, Head of the Psychiatry Department at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital in Pakistan, also observed in his study on mental health of civilians living under drones in North Waziristan, victim symptoms similar as those observed by Alkarama in Yemen. “Children have stopped going to school, they keep asking question about drones about ‘why’ they are getting hit and ‘who’ is hitting them, they have started disobedience and are becoming more and more radicalised.”
“Obama’s drone-war is making more enemies for the United States,” added Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Author of a recent book on “Drones and Targeted Killing”, reminding the audience of a man named Faysal Shahzad who, as he was pleading guilty to attempting to detonate a bomb in Times Square, had told the judge that ‘When drones hit, they don’t see children;’ “this is what motivated him to try to kill Americans, and so I do believe Obama’s drone-war is counterproductive, I think it creates resentment against the United States that make the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism.”
Today, the U.S. drone programme is not only making casualties, but it is also setting a dangerous precedent for the whole world, and to start with on its domestic soil. “They’re going to try to further take that algorithm-type mentality of observing people in their environments and see if they can observe people doing something wrong and take is as a legitimate way of waging war,” said former drone operator Brandon Bryant. “Not only is the programme detrimental to lives, but it’s not even solving the issue of protecting our country, but what if we started doing that domestically? We had in January two Italian and an American citizens killed by accident. Are we going to continue justifying killing people on very little moral grounds because legally you can do whatever you want?”
For those who have missed the online launch of the report, you can watch it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy8NwkkO9LY
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About the Report
Carried out with the help of the National Organization for Drone Victims in Yemen, the survey was conducted on 100 of adults and 27 children, with an equal proportion of between men and women (50/50), boys and girls (14/13), civilians who have lost a relative to an attack and civilians who have not.
Alkarama is a Geneva-based, independent human rights organisation established in 2004 to assist all those in the Arab World subjected to, or at risk of, extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention. Acting as a bridge between individual victims of serious human rights violations and the United Nations human rights mechanisms, Alkarama works towards an Arab world where all individuals live free, in dignity and protected by the rule of law. In Arabic, Alkarama means “dignity”.
Thanks to Alkarama who wrote this article
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.