To Mr. Obama,

Omar Mahmood

I address my letter to you in earnest. I write in the full faith that one day, somehow, you will read it. I write you as an American. But I do not write you as my president. I write you as no one else will, for the war criminal that you are.

Of course, being a war criminal is a prerequisite for taking residence in the White House. The CIA, under LBJ and Nixon, would keep a kill list of Viet Cong members. In a covert operation called the Phoenix, they would send out assassins to check off those names. So you are hardly being creative. Instead, you have earned your place in a long-standing American tradition, and are on the wrong side of history.

Decades from now, students of history will remember you as the drone president. What I remember of the Vietnam War from my history class is not the valor of the Americans in the jungle. I remember the piles of dead villagers all reported by our soldiers as Viet Cong members. Squadrons of American soldiers would rifle through the villages and count dead babies and even pet dogs among the terrorists they had killed. No American can walk out of history class with his head held high. We have blood on our hands.

What you are doing, Mr. Obama, is even more sinister. You deliver death in the most cowardly of ways. And you revel in it. At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2010, you dressed up in your tuxedo and bow tie and flirted with the crowd. The Jonas Brothers were there, and we learned that Sasha and Malia were big fans. But you warned them to tread carefully. “Boys, I have two words for you,” you said. “Predator drones … you will never see it coming.”

I dare you, Mr. Obama, to look into the eyes of any one of the children whose fathers and mothers you’ve taken away and crack that same joke. But you persist in your reign of terror. In 2011, the Air Force trained 350 drone operators and only 250 fighter jet pilots. Never does a drone operator have to leave the ground. And never does a drone operator have to see the face of the man he is killing. Instead the target appears as a red body on the heat sensor, and once his body is ripped apart by a Hellfire missile, the operator can watch as it bleeds out and turns blue. In military slang, drone operators call their victims “bug splats.”

This is how you killed Nabila Rehman’s grandmother. She was out picking okra in the never-ending fields of Khyber in between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the steppes of great mountains. Her grandmother was telling her which was ready to pick and which was not yet ripe, and for that you decided she was a terrorist. The field was engulfed in flames and darkness, and when they subsided her grandmother was dead. Momina Bibi had been flung a league away, so badly disfigured that the villagers would not let her sons see her body. She was a grandmother of nine. The children of Khyber are scared of blue sky, because your drones will see them.

Only five members of Congress were there to hear Nabila speak when she visited you in the Capitol. You’ve chosen Malala as your Pakistani poster child, and I suppose you don’t need another. In any case, it probably is awkward to look into the eyes of a little girl whose grandmother you killed. She has hazel eyes, Mr. Obama.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has done well to try to procure from you the numbers of those you have killed. You’ve kept them well hidden. I think it might be best to not tell how many you have killed, and how many more whose lives you have ripped apart. Not only because they can’t be told, but that to quantify death is more the practice of the politicians and cynics that defend your drone program.

But I do have to address my detractors, simply because they are in power. Some, such as Douglas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society, argue that you should be congratulated for having “landed on the most efficient means known to kill Western enemies while harming as few potential friends as possible.” Another, Norton Schwartz, retired U.S. Air Force general and former chief of staff of the Air Force, was just as eloquent in declaring that your drone program “minimizes loss of life for friendly forces and maximizes the opportunity to avoid needless casualties of friendlies; in other words, collateral damage.” But so what, I ask, if drones minimize civilian casualties? So what if they are surgical and precise? Your program can only be justified with such jargon, because the plain truth belies it. These megalomaniacs have turned warfare into ratios, into a trolley problem, and humanity is lost.

Those who defend the program profess that terrorist cells are being decapitated. But they have no ground to stand on — if anything, it helps recruitment. Decapitating organizations has historically been ineffective and counterintuitive. One needs only point to the assassination of Chechen leaders by the Russian government from 2002 to 2006. As explains Professor Audrey Kurth Cronin of George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, the conflict changed from a “separatist insurgency to a broader radical movement in the Caucasus.” The conflict spread to nearby areas like Dagestan, from where the Boston bombers hail, motivated by that same Russian crackdown. Your drone program has become a recruiting poster for al-Qaida and other insurgent groups. For every father we kill, we leave behind more children who want to avenge him. We create our own enemies. In the words of one of your victims, “May Allah give me power for one day to use a single drone on the American people so that the American politicians understand how much it pains when a missile comes from the sky and kills your relatives in front of your eyes, and you can’t revenge them any more.”

We can argue against your drone program from a rational perspective, as concerns efficacy in war strategy. But our argument must not be one of numbers. It must be one of principles, a moral argument. We stake our contention on the simple human truth that to take an innocent life is wrong. Because your ratios will not bring back the dozen lives that you took in a wedding procession in Yemen. What do your assurances do for Juda? She is 40 years old and her youngest is 15 days old, and she is now a mother and a father. Will you bring back her husband?

One of the first drone attacks to be carried out killed two people. One of them was a man who was mistaken for none other than Osama bin Laden, because of nothing other than his height. And since then, it seems that as Afghanistan is a declared combat zone, any male found there with a weapon is a potential target who can be engaged. A prompt death sentence, the push of a joystick, as far as a drone is concerned.

How many innocent lives is your drone program worth? How many innocent Muslim lives? American lives? Is it worth Momina Bibi’s life? Would you not abort the program, Mr. Obama, if your own daughter were abroad in that part of the world? I know from your writings that you shun religion. But it is nevertheless a powerful maxim of the Hebrew tradition, and our tradition, that to kill a single innocent life is like killing the whole world. And that saving a single life is like saving the whole world. So don’t count lives.

My name is Omar, Mr. Obama. It is true that I am a Muslim. It is true that my blood is of the steppes of Asia. But I write you as an American who wants to hold his head high, but who can only look down in shame when he walks out of history class. I know nothing about killing. But if you want to be rid of me, have some dignity about it. Don’t send a drone after me. Have dignity enough to look your victim in his eyes.

Will you not have some dignity, Mr. Obama? Will you not look into Nabila’s eyes and tell her that her grandmother’s death was a minimized casualty, that it was surgical and precise? She has hazel eyes, Mr. Obama.

From an American.

Omar Mahmood can be reached at

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