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Dronestagram: Why Documenting The Horrors of Drone Attacks Is So Important

by Samuel Horti
9 March 2013 9 Comments

It’s hard to imagine the fear felt by families living in the North-West region of Pakistan, where unmanned drones hover 24 hours a day, but with Dronestagram, we can bring that grim reality a little bit closer to home...

The response to the recent tragic shooting at a US elementary school, in which 27 civilians – including 20 children – were killed in cold blood, has been unanimous in its support to the families of those involved, and the memories of the innocent have been mourned all over the world. From Barack Obama to QPR Football Club, messages of grief and solidarity have been flooding in to comfort those tending to their own physical and emotional wounds.

In 2012, America has launched more than one drone strike per day against targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia: places as far away, in many respects, as it is possible to be from Newtown, Connecticut. They’re countries that rarely come up in conversation, and seldom make their way into our thoughts. Which is probably why we don’t feel the same sense of sadness, day-to-day, at the loss of innocent life that those drone strikes bring about.

While exact figures about these attacks and the victims of them are hard to come by, the ones that we do have available tell a rather chilling tale. Only about 2% of the deaths from the strikes kill high-level targets, a Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law report – titled Living Under Drones – concluded earlier this year. The same report put the number of civilians killed by drones in the last 8 years, in Pakistan alone, at anywhere between 474 – 881, including 176 children.

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These strikes are generally kept out of the public eye. Out of popular sight and mind. That makes projects like Dronestagram of utmost importance. Dronestagram reports drone strikes via an Instagram feed, with Google Maps Satellite images of the areas targeted – most are remote and rural – posted to Twitter and a tumblr blog. It’s the brainchild of James Bridle, owner of popular blog “The New Aesthetic”, who aims to make the targeted locations “just a little bit more visible, a little closer. A little more real”.

Mr Bridle hopes that his project will make us all stop and think about the impact of modern warfare on the lives of people living in areas ripped apart by conflict. “These are just images of foreign landscapes”, he says, “yet we have got better at immediacy and intimacy online: perhaps we can be better at empathy too.”

And it’s hard to argue that these drone strikes, and their innocent victims, are not worth thinking about. After all, if we are to care about defenceless children dying in the U.S., or in our country for that matter, it makes sense to say that we should care at least a little about young Yemenis who have their life’s tragically ended, caught in the crossfire of a war that they didn’t subscribe to.

It’s hard to imagine the fear felt by families living in the North-West region of Pakistan, where the unmanned drones hover 24 hours a day, knowing that an attack could come at any time. It’s a sentiment summed up in Living Under Drones: “Kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere that the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe.”

This is not the only use of social media that aims to highlight the impact of the drone strikes. NYU student Josh Begley uses the Twitter handle @dronestream to chronicle every strike since 2002, including details of the victims of the attacks. He started tweeting 5 days ago, and he’s only just reached August 2010. Reports of civilian casualties are regular: faceless Afghans and Pakistanis having their lives cut short. 3 days ago, Begley tweeted about an attack on Sep 8, 2009. “A US drone killed 7. Elders in the area said many ‘were civilians staying in a village house’ (Pakistan)”. From earlier in the week: “: 12 people were killed in the 2nd drone attack in 24 hours, including 2 women and 3 children (Pakistan).”

Begley’s tweets have revealed a worrying trend: an affinity for the so-called “double tap” that seems to be a part of many of these attacks – with areas hit by a number of strikes in quick succession. Typically, this tactic is used by terrorist groups such as Hamas, and targets rescue groups that come to the aid of anyone caught in the initial strike. The thought that the US could be engaging in this type of warfare is sobering, to say the least.

Reading through both Dronestagram and @dronestream, it’s easy to forget the purpose that these attacks serve. Of course, the targeting of terrorists is not an easy business, and if we are to be committed in fighting the war on terror, we will have to accept at least some civilian casualties. But the way that the deaths of innocents go unreported, as if nothing has happened, is surely unforgivable. The loss of an Afghan child’s life should be as biting a reminder of our fragility as the death of any one of the 20 children horrifically killed in Connecticut last week, and Dronestagram and its contemporaries aim to remind us of just that fact.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Notlob 11:42 pm, 17-Dec-2012

Great work keep it up buddy!

Samuel Horti 11:09 am, 19-Dec-2012

Cheers mate!

Jane Borderud 2:28 am, 21-Dec-2012

Thanks for this piece of writing! Hate the fact that this IS NEVER reported on the mainstream news!

Mike 5:42 pm, 16-Feb-2013

Here is some food for thought. Article: "fear felt by families living in the North-West region of Pakistan, where the unmanned drones hover 24 hours a day, knowing that an attack could come at any time. It’s a sentiment summed up in Living Under Drones: “Kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups" Definition of terrorism from wikipedia: Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, often violent, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal law definition. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political or, ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).

DominicJ 8:04 pm, 9-Mar-2013

In what way is a bomb or missile deployed by drone different to bomb or missile deployed by F18?

Nelson 8:43 pm, 9-Mar-2013

"Reading through both Dronestagram and @dronestream, it’s easy to forget the purpose that these attacks serve. Of course, the targeting of terrorists is not an easy business, and if we are to be committed in fighting the war on terror, we will have to accept at least some civilian casualties. " The "war on terror" is absolute bullshit. Killing people anywhere on the world without presumption of innocence and due process is just WRONG no matter where you are from, and it is the real terrorism going on in this planet, far greater then the "terrorists" it claims to fight against. The "War on terror" is just a boogeyman, an excuse for imperialism and war of control over the planet. Just like the "red menace" before it. There is no excuse for this, this is disgraceful and must stop.

Jocko 9:53 pm, 11-Mar-2013

I have squirrels in my back yard. Some of them get into my flower bed and cause damage. They dont know any better and I can't reason with them or explain why they need to stop. So I trap them and kill them. My problem is solved. Same thing with the violent islamists. They upset and damage things they don't understand and they won't be reasonable and just tolerate different ideas and cultures. They want to kill us so we have to kill them first and keep killing them until they stop messing with us. This is just basic common sense. To use drones is just the most efficient way to do it. Yes, sometimes innocent people get killed because people that need justice administered to them are among the innocent and in the tribal areas of Pakistan there is not much if any organized legal system so the accused cannot be given a fair trial because there is no one to do itso we basically try them in absentia. And just like those squirrels as long as they keep messing around with my flowers I'll keep killing them them and so should drones be killing violent islamists as long as they are violent. I understand that the hellfire missles that are being used are using less and less explosives as they become more accurate. I've even heard that that the hellfire could use a concrete tip instead of a explosive warhead so there wouldn't be any collateral damage.

dystrybutor młóta 11:22 pm, 4-Apr-2013

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Harry Paterson 8:04 am, 18-Apr-2013

Samuel, don't know how I missed this first time around but excellent work. Well done indeed.

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