The drones come early in the morning, when Pashtun children are out gathering firewood. They come midday, when women are cooking in kitchens in small dwellings attached to main houses.
The highly classified United States policy of targeting foreign militants with remotely fired drones has led to the deaths of numerous innocent civilians in Pakistan, according to the program’s detractors, and that’s why Lois Mastrangelo, a Watertown resident, decided to visit Pakistan this month as part of an anti-drone, pro-peace delegation.
Mastrangelo visited Pakistan from Oct. 3 through Oct. 10 as part of Code Pink, a peace group dedicated to ending US involvement in overseas wars. Mastrangelo, a member of Watertown’s Peace and Justice Task Force and a planning board member of the Boston-based United for Justice with Peace, received an email from Code Pink in April inviting her to go on the delegation. She immediately accepted.
“I had to go to say, there are Americans that think differently than our government,” said Mastrangelo. “It was a wonderful feeling, that we were bringing a different message of hope and of promise. I’m not saying that we can change policy overnight, but the people were so happy to see us.”
Detractors of the United States’ policy of using these drones–unmanned aerial combat planes—say that the government does not provide enough public information and oversight about the program. With no accountability, these drones can kill civilians as collateral damage with no repercussion. London’s the Guardian reported this summer that a United Nations inspector called on the US government to release more public information about the drone program, and questioned whether the program is legal under international law.
In Pakistan, Mastrangelo was hosted by the Islamabad-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights, an advocacy group for victims of the drones. Mastrangelo said she met with Pakistani officials and women’s groups, and visited research centers.
For Mastrangelo, hearing the stories of people who were affected by the drone strikes was the most important part of her trip.
“When you start putting stories to the people killed, you start to feel the impact. That’s what we felt when we listened to the Pashtun men talking about brothers, sons, wives, cousins being killed. That’s the human element we don’t get here,” she said.
Mastrangelo said she thinks human stories and faces of victims can sway public opinions about controversial foreign policies.
“We would get vivid photographs of Vietnam,” she said, adding that she thinks some of the famous photos of the Vietnam War helped sway public opinion against that conflict.
One person Mastrangelo met in Pakistan was Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist who told her he lost his younger brother and his 16-year-old son in a drone strike in 2009. He told her he would exact revenge on the United States if he could—raising questions in Mastrangelo’s and other anti-drone activists’ minds about whether the drones are doing more harm for the United States than good.
Now that she’s back in the United States, Mastrangelo said she and others from the delegation will work to raise awareness about the drones program, and to tell other people about what they learned in Pakistan.