phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer is an Internet enthusiast based in Troy, NY

A time to break silencephiffer.org

I did some light maintenance on something I made a few years ago on a previous Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Mainly I replaced the QuickTime embed with the more modern <audio> tag and hooked it up to an interactive transcript. This makes it possible to deep-link into the speech:

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A2133-10

This was something I built when I was a student at ITP and making one-off web pages. At the time I was doing a daily exercise of creating a novel online artifact, figuring out the best way to express an idea in HTML/CSS/JS.

I’m happy to start tidying & conserving this old code. And glad to have an excuse to meditate on Dr. King’s speech at Riverside Church.

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Bryan Denton in today’s NY Timeswww.nytimes.com

It’s pretty thrilling to discover someone you know doing amazing work. I went to elementary school with Bryan Denton, a photojournalist working for the New York Times. He has some great photos accompanying this front page article about attacks on U.S. soldiers by their Afghani trainees.

Capt. Mohamed Qasem of the Afghan Army, left, lighting a cigarette for Lt. Jason Davis of Greenville, S.C. At the personal level, the Sangesar attack was a nightmarish betrayal for the units involved, whose commanders initially struggled to figure out how the Afghans and Americans who share the base could possibly cooperate again.

He was also featured last year on the NYTimes Lens blog:

Q: You returned to Misurata after Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were killed there. Why?
A: It was hard. I had this knot of dread in my stomach the entire time we were on the boat on our way back to Misurata. I had a lot of confidence in the way Chris [Chivers] and I were working and moving around the city, but more than any other moment on this assignment, I seriously considered the prospect of getting hurt or killed.

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US drones in Pakistan

This morning, after turning off the interminable NPR coverage of the Republican primaries, I saw that The Morning News recently linked to this ABC News story about the case of Tariq Khan, a 16 year old Pakistani killed in a US drone attack.

In late October, he accompanied a group of tribal elders when they traveled down to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for the anti-drone conference. There, he sat with dozens of foreign lawyers and journalists and displayed no signs of hatred or animosity at them or the government, according to the people who spoke with him. According to family and associates, he said he wanted to refute Washington’s claim that the drone program had killed zero civilians in the last few years.

Tariq Khan was killed when a small missile fired overhead piercing the roof of his vehicle. (Neil Williams/Reprieve)

I was struck by the wide range of civilian deaths in various reports compared to the CIA’s claim of zero civilian deaths. From Wikipedia:

Daniel L. Byman from the Brookings Institution suggests that drone strikes may kill “10 or so civilians” for every militant killed. In contrast, the New America Foundation has estimated that 80 percent of those killed in the attacks were militants. The Pakistani military has stated that most of those killed were hardcore Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. The CIA believes that the strikes conducted since May 2010 have killed over 600 militants and have not caused any civilian fatalities, a claim that experts disputed and have called absurd. Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391 – 780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children are reported among the deaths.

Zero civilians is a pretty bold claim that I can only come up with two explanations of. Either each attack is backed up by thoroughly documented research or the CIA simply designates anyone they kill as a de facto terrorist. Perhaps it’s a mix of both, but without any public accountability we’ll probably never see evidence that it’s the former case.

If accurate, this description of drone tactics contradicts the “heavy research” explanation, and is eerily reminiscent of the follow-up bombing tactic used by Iraqi insurgents:

Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed’s deaths, [the attorney for Tariq’s family] did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack.

It’s maybe no surprise then that two thirds of Pakistani journalists regard US drones attacks as acts of terrorism.

At least for now these attacks have been suspended.

Drone strikes were halted in November 2011 after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala incident.

Update: this NY Times article offers a more nuanced discussion of the “zero civilian deaths” claim. It sounds like John Brennan simply overstated drone effectiveness and offered a more evasive explanation that “the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths.”

Update #2: I’m coming back to this post after several months, and thinking I might have underplayed this a little. Just to spell it out more clearly: an anti-drone activist, who was trying to draw attention to Pakistani civilian deaths, was himself killed by a drone. This would be kind of funny and ironic, if it wasn’t so not funny.

Strangely, the coverage of this incident on Democracy Now has his name as Tariq Aziz.

Dutch soldiers on bicycle patrol in Afghanistanwww.ft.com

This story from Financial Times in November seems to have swapped in a new photo, so it’s fortunate that I saved a copy of this one to my hard drive. I was reminded of it after hearing this morning that the Dutch coalition government has collapsed over its Afghanistan withdrawal.

The Dutch have gone to considerable lengths to gain the confidence of locals with carefully calibrated patrolling of the province. “We recently started doing patrols on bicycles in Tarin Kowt,” said a senior Dutch official. “The population was surprised but they reacted positively. It is much easier to come into contact with people on a bicycle than sitting on a Bushmaster [protected mobility vehicle].”

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