On Thursday the intelligence committee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an initiative requiring U.S. spy agencies to annually report on the number of casualties resulting from drone warfare. A similar provision, accepted by the Senate Intelligence Committee weeks earlier, would have compelled American forces to account for the number of human lives devastated by the War on Terror abroad.
The measure would not have required explanation or justification for the casualties, but merely a report on the number of all injured or killed in drone strikes. Yet even this small statistic -- a modicum of accountability in the vast, faceless war -- was rejected in the House committee by a vote of 15-5. The members of Congress, it seems, are committed to keeping those affected by our military's actions anonymous. They silence the voices of those who do not have the power or ability to protest. They allow killing in the name of our nation, which remains largely unmoved by the suffering and terror that American policies instill overseas.
Just a few weeks ago Pakistani victims of American drone strikes testified before Congress of the very real toll that American military actions are taking on their region. Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani schoolteacher, spoke alongside his children about the day that changed their lives forever. "Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. All media reported three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day. A mom, grandma, a midwife." Their testimony before a sparsely-attended congressional hearing was an attempt to draw attention to the human side of a conflict which the American government continues to wage against its unnamed enemies.
Tragically, the voices of these innocent victims go unheard. The American government refuses to assign a number to the injuries and deaths caused by drone strikes. By denying this simple statistic to quantify the carnage, Congress denies the humanity and the suffering of those injured or killed.
Johann Baptist Metz, a German theologian who has wrestled with Christianity's role in the Holocaust, claims that true religion interrupts society with prophetic memories of suffering. In his view, genuine faith communities must enter into solidarity with those who suffer to prevent the memory of their pain from being lost to time. Preserving and proclaiming this memory of suffering interrupts the triumphalism of the powerful in the narratives of history. Calling to mind the anguish experienced by others in the past disrupts our present sensibilities and leads us to action. We cannot remain silent or inactive when we enter into solidarity with others. Their pain becomes our own and transforms our life.
People of faith must remember the suffering of those affected by American policy abroad. While the U.S. Congress refuses to count the dead, we can raise our voices on behalf of those who have been unjustly silenced. It is our responsibility to continually remember and speak out against the suffering that the U.S. has caused. If we forget the pain of others we deny the very humanity that we are striving to protect.