Lives Under Drones: Civilian Consequences of Drone Warfare

By Cole Manley and Ebony Childs

“Hayatullah stopped, got out of his own car, and slowly approached the wreckage, debating whether he should help the injured and risk being the victim of a follow-up strike. He stated that when he got close enough to see an arm moving inside the wrecked vehicle, someone inside yelled that he should leave immediately because another missile would likely strike. He started to return to his car and a second missile hit the damaged car and killed whomever was still left inside. He told us that nearby villagers waited another twenty minutes before removing the bodies, which he said included the body of a teacher from Hayatullah’s village.” [1] 

“Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing . . . cards–no matter what we are doing we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.” [2]

Drone warfare is stressed by government officials as being scientific and precise in its killing of “militants”, but as recent investigative publications reveal, civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and other countries bear the heaviest emotional, physical, and psychological toll. The Obama administration defines militants as “all military-age males in a strike zone” unless proven otherwise posthumously, rendering civilian causalities and injuries an inevitable result of this new “remote control” warfare. The rhetoric around drone strikes glazes over its failure in counterterrorism efforts and the suffering of innocent people  under constant threat of death from drones in the sky. Democracy Now cites the recently released drone report “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan” by the Stanford and NYU law schools, saying that in Pakistan “…most of the militants killed in the strikes have been low-level targets whose deaths have failed to make the United States any safer. Just 2 percent of drone attack victims are said to be top militant leaders.” The report also reveals the effects of drone attacks on civilian life aside from fatalities, including mental illness, economic hardships, and the risk of harm to rescuers of victims. Beyond an estimated 474-881 civilians who have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan alone from June 2004 through September 2012, [3]  there are so many thousands more who endure the daily threat of drone bombings. The report describes the experience: “…drones hover twenty-four hours a day in communities in Northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.”

To examine the human consequences of drone warfare in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, Stanford Says No to War is hosting a panel discussion entitled “Lives Under Drones”. Featured panelists are third year Stanford Law School student and one of the co-authors of “Living Under Drones,” Omar Shakir; Code Pink co-founder and author of the book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, Medea Benjamin; and Stanford Religious Studies Professor Shahzad Bashir, co-editor of the book Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands. The moderator will be the other editor of the book Under the Drones, Professor Robert Crews. The panel discussion will take place this Friday, Nov. 9 from 4:15-6:30pm at Building 200, Room 205. There will be a Q&A. The event is free and open to the public. “Lives Under Drones” is co-sponsored by the Muslim Students Awareness Network, Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, Pakistanis at Stanford, Stanford Asian American Activism Committee, Stanford STAND, Stanford NAACP, CDDRL Program on Human Rights, Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, and STATIC.


Cole is the Financial Officer for Stanford Says No to War, and Ebony is the Communications Officer.

[1] International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law, Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan 75-76.
[2] Ibid. 82.
[3] Ibid. 10.
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