Noor Behram: Photographer of Pakistan's drone victims
A local journalist has taken the lead in drawing attention to the victims of drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Persistent drone attacks in this region have terrorized the community and disorganized the societal structure, which is the basis of support for the people. Noor Behram has dedicated himself to publicizing the tragic consequences of a foreign army pursuing its own aims. He has compiled a dossier of photographs of child victims of drone attacks and of the devastation of destroyed homes and lives.
According to Shahzad Akbar of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights in Islamabad, Noor came to town a year ago and asked for assistance in finding a venue where he could show his photos. When he couldn’t get a gallery to support a showing, he set them up on the street. Since then, his pictures have appeared in numerous news outlets – from The Guardian of London to Rachel Maddow’s television show on MSNBC. On October 7, posters made from these photos adorned and identified our buses as we headed for South Waziristan with Imran Khan’s Peace March.
Noor attended a meeting we held with some family members of victims of drone attacks. [Photos from that October 5th meeting can be found in this collection on Flickr.com.] During the introductions, he busily sifted through a large envelope full of photos. When he spoke, he held up the images that would illustrate his words. Noor says that he has about 100 photos of children who have been killed by drone attacks, but there are many more whose bodies were torn to pieces by the Hellfire missiles that took their lives, or who were already buried by the time he was able to arrive.
The villagers under attack are a very private people, but they have Noor’s cell number and he has earned their trust. When tragedy strikes, they call him, and wherever he is, he rushes to the scene of the disaster to record the event and photograph the devastation. He said:
I don’t face any resistance on the ground because my only reason for taking these photos is to document that there are women and children being killed. The only problem I face is the drones themselves. They talk to me because I am a local person and I am only trying to show how many people are being killed.
Like their children, many women have died in drone strikes; often because they are working in an area, like a kitchen, adjacent to a targeted gathering. Noor has counted 670 women killed in drone strikes to date. Reporting the deaths of women presents a special problem, as many local villagers are loath to even provide their names, much less photographs. However, Noor is compiling a list of women who have died in these attacks, identified by the names of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.
Noor faces many risks in his work, as the CIA has been accused of using a practice called a “double tap”: after an initial attack, drones hover and wait for people (including rescue workers) to arrive at the site; they are said to then launch a follow-up attack. Through his photographs he has made people visible in new, previously unacceptable ways, which can expose him to reactionary elements. And, due to his efforts, he is a political target for forces within the U.S. and Pakistani establishments that may support the drone attacks. But Noor Behram is a man with a mission, and these concerns do not influence his pursuit of justice.
Judy Bello is a peace activist based in Webster, New York, and a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force on the Middle East. She maintains a regular blog on U.S. foreign policy and this profile is drawn from her October 2012 trip to Pakistan as part of a CODEPINK peace delegation.