Nabila Rehman and her brother Zubair, picking okra in their garden, posed no threat to the United States or anyone else, but that did not keep them safe. The pair, aged nine and 13, were injured by shrapnel from a drone-launched missile that killed their grandmother and wounded five other children at the family home in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s north-western border zone.
Yesterday, as we report, they confronted the United States Congress with the ugly reality of the drone attacks, which under Barack Obama have become an increasingly important part of the US response to terrorism. Attack from the air is always terrifying, but drones, guided by faceless technicians thousands of miles away, are in a league of their own. However the ethical objections to their use, not as battlefield weapons but as tools of assassination with inevitable collateral death and injury to the innocent, have been swept aside by their apparent military effectiveness. For both the US and the Pakistani government – which, as revealed last week, has secretly colluded in the strategy – drones may seem the perfect answer to liquidating dangerous militants in Pakistan’s treacherous no-man’s-land.
But the fury they provoke, often justified, as Nabila and Zubair’s testimony brings out, makes them extremely counter-productive. If Mr Obama believes this is the way to make the world a safer place, he is gravely mistaken.