ISLAMABAD: A moving documentary directed by US filmmaker Robert Greenwald and Brave New Foundation highlights the plight of innocent drone victims and exposes the blatant lies of the US administration about the precision and efficacy of drone attacks.
The documentary titled, “Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars” premiered on Saturday at a local hotel in Islamabad ahead of its worldwide premiere on October 30.
The film shows the impacts of brutal drone strikes on the lives of millions of people living in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The documentary includes an emotional interview of a former American drone operator Brandon Bryant who shares his experience in a candid manner. More than 70 people were interviewed for the documentary, including Pakistani families, investigative journalists and top military officials.
Throughout Unmanned, Greenwald intersperses in-depth interviews with never-before-seen footage from the tribal regions in Pakistan to humanize those who have been impacted by US drone policy. This footage, alongside interviews with Pakistani drone survivors, describes the brutal reality of drone attacks ordered during the Obama Administration. The filmmaker was supported in Pakistan by Reprieve and their counsel, Shahzad Akbar.
The film highlights the stories of 16 year old Tariq Aziz, killed by a drone a mere week after he participated in a public conference in Islamabad in 2011; a school teacher, Rafiqur Rehman, grappling with the loss of his elderly mother and the hospitalization of his children due to a drone strike last year; and the deadly attack on a tribal jirga in Datta Khel, Unmanned shows how delicate life can be in this virtual war where no one is accepting responsibility for the casualties.
In candid conversations with experts such as Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of State to Secretary of State Colin Powell; David Kilcullen, former advisor to NATO and General Petraeus, and Vicki Divoli, former deputy legal advisor to the CIA’s counterterrorism Center, Unmanned reveals that these covert military actions are often imprecise and result in creating more enemies for the American people who have little knowledge of how drone targets are set and the killings carried out.
The Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan and other top leaders of his party attended the first screening of the film along with journalists, diplomats, activists and members of civil society. Imran’s whose former wife Jemima Khan is a co-producer of the film, hoped that film will change public opinion in the West about the lethal drone strikes and their impact.
Addressing the audience, Khan said drone attacks amount to war crimes committed by the United States as they violate human rights and kill large number of innocent women and children. He did not agree with a statement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which he had reportedly said that drone attack did not amount to war crimes.
Khan termed the drone attacks as counterproductive as they raise anti-American sentiment. He shared the story of an engineering student in Mianwali who turned into a suicide bomber after a drone attack on his family. “People in the tribal areas don’t like the militants, but they also don’t like the drones”, he said.
In a video message, director Robert Greenwald told the audience, “This film was to show the world the human face on a policy that correlates groups of young men as terrorists and children and elderly as collateral damage. I wanted the world to see that this policy is misguided and should be reevaluated. The deaths of these civilians must not be in vain.”
Jemima Khan, who also produced the film, released a statement from London to coincide with the film’s screening.
Amnesty International last week warned that US officials responsible for the secret CIA drone campaign in Pakistan, may have committed war crimes. The report highlights the case of a grandmother, Mamana Bibi, who was killed, whilst out picking vegetables. We meet her devastated son and grandchildren in Unmanned, as well as the family of Tariq, a 16 year old boy, who was killed in a drone strike, 3 days after I met him, in Islamabad.
Unmanned is a detailed look at the US and UK-backed drone attacks in Pakistan, with remarkable footage of the effects of these attacks on the ground. I believe these attacks are unethical in themselves, and — even more crucially — make every one of us less safe, because of the recruitment opportunities they afford the extremists each time an innocent civilian is killed.