Democracy only works when we know the truth

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Democracy only works when we know the truth.

Chris Coltrane wants to know the facts about attacks by drones (planes with no people in them).

You, the reader of New Internationalist, are clever. I am not. I am one of the 99.9 per cent of people who are a bit stupid and don’t know much about world politics. I’m also one of the 8.4 per cent of people who has a good heart, so I try to learn what I can.

For example, until recently I did not know much about President Obama’s attacks on Pakistan by drones. So I didn’t agree with the attacks because of the US history of dropping bombs. Because we all know that the US has made many mistakes. In any situation where the US is killing people in another country, you can be 100-per-cent certain that it is doing something illegal, immoral and incorrect.

But with war, the facts are a mixture of things people say and messages from the controlling groups. It’s difficult to get real facts, because the CIA will not discuss the drone attacks. If the US ever talk about drones, this is a news story. Pakistani authorities once said that, between January 2006 and April 2009, the attacks killed 14 al-Qaeda leaders and 687 civilians. But US officials say that since 2001 they have killed over 2,000 fighters and only 50 civilians.

I’m not a mathematician. But those numbers are quite different, aren’t they? Perhaps the CIA believes everyone in Pakistan is a fighter. I expect they see children playing in the street, and bomb them in case they’re really important Taliban leaders involved in some game. A children’s game could easily be a battle plan or a secret handshake. You can’t be too careful, nowadays.

The US says that their technology is now so advanced, their tracking is so intelligent, that civilian deaths are nearly impossible. This surely can’t be true. Or do 21st-century bomb explosions magically only hurt the bad guys, like in old video games? If you drop a bomb, does it suddenly fly back up to the drone if it sees a child in the street?

So it seems that many civilians have died. But the information from Pakistan is confused. For example, some people say that Taliban fighters stop people getting to bombed areas, bury all the dead, and then say everyone buried a civilian.

But some sources are useful. Some excellent journalism on this is from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (2,347 killed; 392 civilians) and the New America Foundation (1,374 to 2,189 killed; 277 to 435 civilians). Both of these only used reliable sources. And to be honest, when even the UN human rights leader says that the bombs kill both fighters and civilians, I think it’s safe to say that my opinion, not agreeing with the drone attacks on Pakistan, is based on evidence.

There are not many facts. The statistics show opposite things. Of course, the US needs this. It is now using drones in Yemen and Somalia, so it cannot be open and honest. The US will always be silent, because it knows that evidence and facts are the enemy of imperialism and neoliberalism. It’s only when we know what’s going on that we can make decisions like adults.

Democracy only works when we know the truth. And I think that’s why it is essential that politicians do everything they can to confuse us – because if they didn’t, how could they bomb anyone they want to without punishment?

Chris Coltrane is a comedian and an activist fighting against the cuts. His show ‘Activism Is Fun’ is free at

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