Carol Anne Grayson: 'Incident in New Baghdad' Producer Talks Anti-Drone Activism

For Carol Anne Grayson, American policy resulted in a personal tragedy.

Ever since the death of her husband, she has taken on the role of exposing Western foreign policy shenanigans in the Iraq War to the drone attacks in the mountainous region of Pakistan. She was also the executive producer for the Oscar-nominated short documentary Incident in New Baghdad.

You have previously discussed your life as an activist being result of a personal tragedy you had suffered. What was your journey like from being a registered nurse at the NHS, to becoming an Executive Producer of an Oscar nominated documentary, and now an anti drone activist.

My career [as a nurse] ended when I gave up my work to support my husband [Pete], who was a hemophiliac, when he became very ill. He had learned to manage his medical condition, however, the treatment he received (plasma injections to help the blood clot) later killed him. We discovered the blood used in our NHS (National Health Service) was imported from America and was the blood of U.S. prisoners, who were often used in experimentation against the Nuremberg Code.

I [was able to trace] batch numbers of [my husband’s] plasma treatment directly to U.S. prisons through accessing his medical records. I was horrified to discover that inmates were actually being injected with deadly viruses in exchange for a reduction of their prison sentence so doctors could study the progress of disease. They were being infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses. Prisoners were, in addition, already considered very high-risk donors due to high incidence of drug use and unprotected same partner sex whilst incarcerated.

Infected inmates were then allowed to sell their blood to major U.S. pharmaceutical companies by falsifying their names using a local Arkansas telephone directory to get around health checks. It was a question of both the American and British governments “prioritizing profit over safety.” Blood is a very lucrative business and as author Douglas Starr showed in his book, “Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce,” a barrel of blood can be worth more than a barrel of oil on the world market.

I campaigned on “contaminated blood” until the death of my husband. I wrote my dissertation on the subject and was presented with a top research and a human rights award, but still, governments would not act on my findings. Both Pete and Stephen (brother) were killed through contaminated blood and my father had a heart attack and died campaigning for justice. Fortunately, I was not infected.

An opportunity arose where I saw I could use the small amount of money left by my husband to do something positive in his memory. I decided to support a very low budget documentary; Incident in New Baghdad directed by James Spione, and help behind the scenes in other ways, using my media contacts built during campaigning to promote an anti-war message. It was a way of also supporting Bradley Manning, Wikileaks, and former soldier Ethan McCord (now an ardent anti-war protester) to highlight the reality of war and U.S. “collateral damage” which comes in many forms. [The documentary] is [now often] used in schools and colleges where the military recruit to educate and give a more balanced picture to offset those who glorify war.

As you mentioned, your documentary Incident in New Baghdad is based on a WikiLeaks revelation. What is your view on the recent sentencing of Bradley Manning who leaked over 300,000 documents to WikiLeaks?

I see Bradley’s sentencing as a grave injustice. I can’t make comment as to Bradley Manning’s exact role (if any) in relation to any leaked material bearing in mind the ongoing court case. However what I will say is that any person who sees terrible wrongdoing and acts on his conscience to expose this is, in my eyes, a hero.

Think about what the leaked cables opened up to the public. We learnt about the governments’ role in supporting torture, rendition flights, Guantanamo drone warfare and many other issues that had been well hidden from the public. Investigators tried to say that WikiLeaks was irresponsible for releasing this information as it could harm people in the field, but those working on the documents were careful to take out details identifying certain people. My answer to that is to look at the huge numbers killed by western governments starting wars on false information or to satisfy their own interests. See how many civilians have been annihilated through the drone program. To my knowledge, government authorities have yet to name anyone harmed or injured directly through the Wikileaks cables.

The documents from Wikileaks did, however, help to confirm the suspicions of many in the Middle East regarding the deplorable behavior of their governments, giving rise to the uprisings and “Arab Spring.”

You are currently working on a new film regarding the effects/use of the U.S. drone program in countries such as Pakistan. How did you get involved in the project?

After my husband died, I studied for my master’s degree in Gender, Culture and Development, which looked at media interpretations of the “war on terror.” I was introduced to Pakistani investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad by a mutual friend, an America human rights lawyer. We had a lot in common with regard to our need to find the core of a story no matter how difficult.

We set up a website together called Asia Despatch writing on socio-political issues. I wanted to concentrate on the human rights side, highlighting difficult stories and generating discussion through my articles. One subject that kept cropping up time and time again was drone warfare, particularly the ethics and legal issues surrounding it. I had written several articles when I learnt of a former cricketer doing a lot of work in this area in Pakistan, the politician Imran Khan. I had independently reached the same conclusions as Imran regarding drones; that they were illegal and immoral, harmed civilians and radicalized youth. This is exactly what Saleem and I planned to show in this new film.

The Obama administration has emphasized that the drones carry out surgical strikes with very little, if any, collateral damage. Would you refute this claim?

Absolutely! When I began writing on drones there wasn’t a lot of media interest and what there was, mainly supported drone strikes. I was hearing the stories of those affected in Pakistan, slowly at first for many reasons. It took me a while to build up trust with tribal people from the affected region of Waziristan as a Westerner. I really understand why some are suspicious of westerners but wanted us to view each other as individuals and for our governments’ behavior not to be a barrier for communication.

I got to speak to lawyers acting for drone victims and to access data from investigative journalists which knocked what Obama was saying about missile accuracy on the head. Together, we began to collect evidence, information and testimonies from civilian victims. We had photographic evidence of targeted killing and details of injuries sustained which all went totally against the message of clean precision strikes only hitting “terrorists” coming from the Obama administration. Like the teacher and his young friend who stopped out of kindness to give two strangers a lift in Yemen and were blown apart, I received photos of their burned and mutilated bodies. Civilians hit, such as these two men, are labeled as “other.” We continually request that, as governments claim strikes are so accurate, the White House (aided by Britain) name each and every victim to identify deaths and those injured. Hence the title of my documentary project, The Approximate Target as strikes are simply that, very “hit and miss.”

Will you share with us a story of someone who has been personally affected by these drone attacks?

Well I remember the excitement of hearing about the first legal case initiated for a drone victim in Pakistan and writing on this. However it was contact with a journalist Mona Kazim (based in U.S.) who introduced me to a little girl called Shakira which opened my eyes. Shakira was discovered as a baby in Pakistan (along with another little girl who sadly died) after her family had been killed in a drone strike. No one could trace other relatives of Shakira and she was rescued and taken to an NGO who managed to organize her trip to America where doctors treated her for burns from the strike. She is a very brave little girl, inspiring, currently undergoing a series of operations to reconstruct her face. Mona and a colleague sent me footage and my heart went out to her. Shakira sent me kisses on film and I cried.

How much support have you received for this project? Have human rights groups in the U.S. been helpful in bolstering your efforts to shed light on the use of drones by their government?

Reprieve, a human rights and legal group that works across borders, has done a lot to highlight drone victims, as have Drone Wars U.K., the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (U.K.) and human rights activists in affected countries. We all work in our own ways but sharing of information is key so that we build a more powerful global lobby. I am in touch with campaigners in several countries and there is now more cooperation and coordination of events. People are generally very supportive. Lush, an ethical cosmetics company, put my drone project on their lid and gave a Charity Pot grant alongside the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust. It’s difficult sometimes being unpaid; I am limited in what I can do, but these grants have helped me set up a website, seek some training and work to highlight drone victims. Also, over the years campaigning for my husband and the hemophilia community, I learned how to network and liaise with the media. I prefer to take a very grassroots approach, connecting directly with those in drone-hit areas.

I value those connections, as what we have in common is our experience of U.S. collateral damage. Our families were harmed by the state though in different ways and we have a common experience of trauma, loss and a need to fight for justice that breaks down many barriers and allows good friendships to be formed.

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health and human rights. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Master’s in Gender, Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT "Action = Life" Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She can be reached @Quickieleaks.

Any queries? Reach me on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16.