If the world is to accurately understand the destruction being caused by US drone attacks in Pakistan (and elsewhere), someone must identify and 'name the dead,' says the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).
On Monday the independent media outlet released a new video designed to highlight their ongoing 'Naming the Dead' project and help raise funds so that their award-winning investigative work can continue.
As many note—in addition to the ultimate questions of legality and morality—it is the deeply secretive nature of the US drone and targeted killing campaigns that keeps the world in the dark about how the global superpower justifies and operates such clandestine and lethal actions.
"All we have is the US government saying trust us, these are bad guys we are killing, trust us," says Jennifer Gibson in the video. A staff attorney with human rights group Reprieve, she continues, "We can’t start to get to the bottom of who is being killed until we know the names of those who are being killed.’
As fights in the US courts and Congress attempt to pry open the internal secrets of the Obama administration's program, it has remained up to independent media outlets and human rights groups to fill in the knowledge gaps by investigating the human and social impact the drone strikes have had on the populations forced to live with the buzz of drones overhead and the fear of missile attacks that could come at any moment.
In Pakistan, where the brunt of US drone bombings have taken place in recent years, it is the UK-based TBIJ that has perhaps pushed hardest to collect on the ground reports about the victims and the widespread and negative impact the missile attacks have had on the broader communities in the remote sections of Pakistan where they most frequently occur.
Earlier this year, following the launch of the new investigation series, TBIJ received support from the Freedom of the Press Foundation for their work.
In a further tribute to their work, TBIJ's research was featured in a new graphic presentation created by a design studio in California that seeks to "to capture the scale and human cost of the drone war in Pakistan through its visual representation."
According to Wesley Hubbs, who led the effort at the Pitch Interactive studios, the goal of the project—called Out of Sight, Out of Mind—was to cause people who saw the deadly statistics presented visually ‘to pause for a moment and say “Wow I’ve never seen this in that light before”.’
Experience the interactive graphic here.
As the TBIJ itself explained:
The visualisation uses an average of the casualty data collected by the Bureau’s Covert Drone War project, combined with data collected by New America Foundation which tallies the number of high value targets reported killed in the strikes.
The CIA drone campaign in Pakistan has received much attention in recent months. The debate intensified after last month’s Senate confirmation hearing for new CIA director John Brennan, a leading architect of President Obama’s drone strategy.
Earlier this month Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, added to the debate after stating that Pakistan did not support the drone strikes. His statement was made following a visit to the country as part of a UN investigation into the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes. Emmerson also said CIA drones had killed 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians, according to Pakistan authorities.
But despite the public debate that has played-out over recent months, Grubbs believes the full scope and consequences of the drone war are still obscured. ’We feel that drone strikes are a very hot topic right now but we feel people are being misled,’ he said.
The 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' project seeks to prove that armed with the facts of the drone policy, US voters and the world at large will be better prepared to challenge the US policy at its source. But both TBIJ and anti-drone campaigners say that without continued resources they cannot continue the kind of difficult reporting necessary to track the impact of US drones in some of the most remote and dangerous places on Earth.
"In order to do this work, we are raising funds so we can send journalists into northern Pakistan to talk to families, talk to government agencies, hospitals, even militant groups," says TBIJ deputy editor Rachel Oldroyd.
As part of their appeal, the group said:
So far, our monitoring of CIA drone strikes has recorded at least 2,537 people reported to have been killed by strikes in Pakistan. But fewer than 20% of those killed have been named. Our new Naming the Dead project aims to identify as many as possible of the remainder, whether civilian or militant.
To start with, we will publish all the names and information we have collected so far. But we want to build on this, by identifying as many of the other victims as possible. Naming the Dead will expand the transparency that the Bureau has already brought to this conflict, a factor campaign groups argue is extremely important.
As part of the campaign to raise funds—of which the new video release is a part—the group plans to use crowd-sourcing methods to maintain and expand their 'Naming the Dead' project. They also hope that people will support their work by visiting their Facebook page, sharing the new interactive graphic based on their work, and contributing financially.