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Humanizing All of America’s Murder Victims?


by Nat Hentoff

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was a nonviolent, direct-action enabler of social justice whom I was privileged to know. In New York City she organized the first civil-disobedience protest against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and I was there protesting.

Carrying on the late activist’s unflinching spirit is the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, which publishes the Catholic Agitator. The publication’s February 2013 edition featured a thought provoking article titled “Guns and Drones,” in which author Theo Kayser took a stand I have not seen in all the coverage of a gunman’s rampage at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

He framed his argument with a report, which I have cited elsewhere, from the London- based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Its records disclose “at least 176 children killed in drone strikes carried out in Pakistan, with another 27 to 35 killed in Yemen, and hundreds more adult civilian casualties.”

Turning to the murdered children in Connecticut, Kayser noted that “a new emphasis has been placed on gun control and background checks in this country.” So “perhaps we would be forced into a serious debate as to the morality and legality of this country’s military practices if photos of every person killed by a Hellfire missile were broadcast for a week in the national media after their death.”

And dig this, one and all: “Maybe,” Kayser continued, “we could begin to feel the same sense of outrage at the deaths of Pakistani children if, as with the children in Newtown, we were told about their favorite sports teams or their artistic prowess. And maybe we would demand an end to their killing if we were so reminded of their full humanity.

“When those doing the killing see only figures on a screen, how much more removed are we who hear only whispers of such murders in the media?”

By contrast, in this nation, Kayser reminded us, “repeatedly you heard about the 20 children and six adults killed in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. You saw the names of those killed, and you heard their stories. You were told of the quality of their character, and you were informed of when their funerals took place.”

Therefore, many Americans agreed “it was a tragedy that so many lives were prematurely lost and so, millions of [us] grieved.”

However, even those who might be disturbed to learn more about the kids blown away in Pakistan and elsewhere would likely not object if the festering details were never publicized. I have what may well be unpleasant news for them: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) recently announced that it is “launching an ambitious new investigation which will seek to identify as many as possible of those killed in U.S. covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.”

Meanwhile, TBIJ reported that it “has already recorded the names of hundreds of people killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. At the end of January 2013 the Bureau was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle- or senior-ranking militants. A further 331 civilians have also now been named,87 of them children.” [Emphasis added.]

TBIJ acknowledges that “part of the justification for the U.S. carrying out drone strikes without consent [of host governments] is their reported success. And naming those militants killed is key to that process. Al-Qaeda bomber Fahd al-Quso’s death was widely celebrated. Yet how many [American] newspapers also registered the death of Mohamed Saleh Al-Suna, a civilian caught up and killed in a U.S. strike in Yemen on March 30, 2012? By showing only one side of the coin, we risk presenting a distorted picture of this new form of warfare. There is an obligation to identify all of those killed—not just the bad guys.”

As the Obama Administration zealously maintains its drone strikes in far-off lands, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is actively seeking additional funding for its Naming the Dead Project. So I was pleased to learn that the Freedom of the Press Foundation is now a key backer.

You are invited to join the debate at TBIJ’s website,, and


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