Noor Behram Documents Civilian Deaths in Waziristan

Judy Bello | Fellowship of Reconciliation 

A local journalist has taken the lead in drawing attention to the victims of drone strikes in Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Persistent drone attacks in this region have terrorized the community and disorganized the society that is the basis of support for the people. Noor Behram has dedicated himself to bringing the tragedy imposed on his community by a foreign army pursuing its own aims. He has compiled a dossier of photographs of child victims of the attacks, and of the general devastation of destroyed homes and lives.

According to Shahzad Akbar of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights in Islamabad, Noor came to town a year ago with his photos and asked for assistance in finding a venue where he could show his photos. When he couldn’t get a gallery to support a showing, he set them up on the street. Since then, his pictures have appeared in numerous news outlets from the Guardian of London to Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC. On October 7, 2012, posters made from these photos adorned and identified our buses as we headed for South Waziristan with Imran Khan’s Peace March.

Noor attended a meeting we held with some family members of victims of drone attacks. During the introductions, he busily sifted through a large envelope full of photos. When he spoke, he held up the images that would illustrate his words. Noor says that he has about 100 photos of children who have been killed by drone attacks, but there are many more whose bodies were torn to pieces by the Hellfire missile that took their lives, or who were already buried by the time he was able to arrive.

The villagers under attack are a very private people, but they have his cell number and he has earned their trust. When tragedy strikes, they call him, and wherever he is, he rushes to the scene of the disaster to record the event and photograph the devastation. He has worked hard to convince them to allow him to photograph the children. They were selling the missile fragments for scrap metal before he convinced them that they are vital evidence of the horrors visited upon them. Now he finds ways to send these fragments to the office at FFR (Foundation for Fundamental Rights) where, in many cases, you can see the serial numbers and identification as US property.

Women frequently die in the same strikes that kill their children, and with the men because they are working in a kitchen adjacent to the gathering targeted. Noor has counted 670 women killed, so far. Reporting the deaths of the women presents a special problem as many of the local people are loath to even provide their names much less a photograph.

However, Noor is compiling a list with of the women who have died in these attacks, identified by the names of their husbands, fathers and brothers. He was even able to convince one group of men to allow him to take pictures of the remains of the women’s clothing. Their female relatives had been killed in their home while the men were away for the day.

Noor faces many risks in his work as the CIA has a standard practice called ‘double tap’ where the drones hover; wait for rescue workers to arrive, and launch a follow-up attack. He is asking people to make themselves visible in new, previously unacceptable ways. And, he is a visible target for the forces within the US and Pakistani establishments that may support the drone attacks. But Noor Behram is a man with a mission, and these concerns do not influence his pursuit of justice.

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