Posts Tagged drones

How an Inventive, Imperialist (Evil) System Uses Drones

Thanks to Medea Benjamin, Code Pink, Reprieve, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the attention and energy of 400 who gathered this past Saturday at Georgetown Law School, we were able to consider Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation & Resistance.  It was a very worthwhile weekend which will impact how people act on and respond to U.S. use of drones.

Most movingly, we heard from three people who traveled from Yemen to speak of U.S. drone strikes. Kevin Gosztola on Faisal bin Ali Jaber’s calm, deliberate description of the attack that killed his brother and nephew, just after his own son’s wedding:

Five men were gathering behind a local mosque in their village of Khashamir in southeast Yemen when a US drone launched Hellfire missiles at them. Four of the men were instantly killed, their bodies blown into pieces. The fifth man was killed as he tried to crawl away.

The attack took place on August 29, 2012. Yemen’s Defense Ministry initially claimed that three members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had been killed. Two of the individuals killed, according to a Human Rights Watch report, turned out to be Salim bin Ali Jaber, “a cleric and father of seven,” who “had long preached against AQAP’s violent methods.” Another man killed was Walid bin Ali Jaber, “one of the village’s few police officers.” They had been participating in a meeting because “three alleged AQAP members” wanted to meet with him about a recent “strong denunciation of AQAP at the local mosque.”

Marjorie Cohn, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, presented on the claim that the U.S. drone programs violate international law.  She recounts in Voices from the Drone Summit:

Baraa Shaiban, a human rights activist who works with REPRIEVE, revealed that 2012 was a year that saw “drones like never before” in Yemen. He described the death of a mother and daughter from a drone strike. “The daughter was holding the mother so tight, they could not be separated. They had to be buried together.”

Two members of Al Qaeda were in Entesar al Qadhi’s village, one of the most oil rich areas of Yemen. Villagers were negotiating with the two men. A drone killed the chief negotiator, scuttling the negotiations and leaving the village vulnerable to Al Qaeda. “The drones are for Al Qaeda, not against Al Qaeda,” al Qadhi said.

Former military intelligence Analyst Daniel Hale told us that he was 14 on 9/11/01.  When he reported to work in 2012, he passed constant photos of 9/11, aimed at directing his “mission” to kill terrorists.  He related an incident in 2012 where the military’s qualification for a drone strike was whether the target was “of military age.”  “This struck me as ridiculous” he said, that children were considered targets.  My tweeted note: “Hale had thought he was defending US interests, told terrorists were cowards, but began to think US military shooting drones are cowards.”

Pardiss Kebriaei and Mary Ellen O’Connell joined Cohn in speaking about the legal challenge to drone strikes, exposing the Obama/Bush administration’s legal justification as very basically counter to the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter (which themselves are effectively U.S. law).

Very interesting to me was a presentation by Dalit Baum (@dalitbaum) on the use of autonomous weapons by Israel.  Baum described unmanned bulldozers knocking down homes.  Why? The Israeli military needed to remove human operators because 1) they might talk afterward, and 2) they might lose their nerve.  Baum also showed a chilling video clip of a drone killing of several Bedouin youth near the Wall in Gaza by Israeli drones.  We learned that the major drone producing countries are the U.S., the U.K., and Israel, with Israel producing 41% of the world’s drones.

There’s more.  We worked hard on Sunday on how to spread opposition to drones way beyond the existing too tiny movement.  Monday night, The Illuminator and Granny Peace Brigade lit up midtown:

November 18, 2013: Midtown message against US drone war: Did You Make a Killing Tonight?  Drones Kill

November 18, 2013: Midtown message against US drone war: Did You Make a Killing Tonight? Drones Kill

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The United Nations… of Drones?

This week World Can’t Wait joins kNOwdrones.com and Granny Peace Brigade in ambitious outreach across Manhattan to protest U.S. drones for warfare & surveillance.  We have 3 replica drones and volunteers of all ages.  We talk about how drones are used in targeted killing.  Each lunch hour we’re in key parts of the city, talking to people about why secret, dirty, wars employing horrific technology should be opposed.  The campaign, which is being launched while the U.N. General Assembly meets here in NYC, includes a demand for a world ban on weaponized and surveillance drones.

Protesting drone war at the UN

Protesting drone war and surveillance at the U.N. this week

The outrageous use of drones by the U.S. is in news this week, as the U.N. meets:

Baraa Shiban, an investigator for Reprieve who was returning from Yemen to the U.K. was detained at the airport under the infamous British Anti-Terrorism Act, questioned by an un-named suited interrogator.  He recounts in The Guardian

“So,” he asked, “does your organisation have anything to do with terrorism in Yemen?”

I replied, “My organisation addresses counter-terrorism abuses inside the country.”

“Exactly!” He said. “Why doesn’t your organisation do something about the terrorism that happens in your country, instead of focusing on the counter-terrorism abuses?”

What could I reply? Of course I oppose terrorism. But I also oppose the secret air war in my country – waged by the US, apparently with covert support from the UK and others. The drone war in my homeland has claimed innocent lives and terrorised civilians. It operates wholly outside the law, and serves only to fuel anti-western sentiment.

These are considered views. I formed them in conversations with dozens of witnesses, victims, and officials across Yemen. I was not about to apologise for them to this interrogator.

Glenn Greenwald tied this to NSA documents UK detention of Reprieve activist consistent with NSA’s view of drone opponents as ‘threats’ and ‘adversaries’

Top secret US government documents obtained by the Guardian from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”.

Excerpts of those documents, straight from the horses’ mouths, are published by The Guardian.  My friend John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post reporter, nailed the role of ruling-class media in fostering the actual government propaganda campaign against drone critics by the un-named government sources in Why is the New York Times enabling a U.S. government smear campaign against reporters exposing the drone wars?

There is great concern that U.S. pressure will affect the report coming on October 25 from Ben Emmerson, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism.  Substantial evidence has been presented to Emmerson that this secret program is extensive and dangerous to Yemenis. From Alkarama, the Swiss human rights organization: “Drones War in Yemen”: Report presented to UN experts:

From the first air strike in November 2002 until the month of May 2013, there have been between 134 and 226 U.S. military operations in Yemen, including strikes by aircraft, drone missiles, or attacks launched from warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden. The number of deaths due to these targeted killings is estimated at 1150.

…not only is the definition of ‘terrorist’ or ‘combatant’ problematic but these high-profile targets in fact only represent 2% of the individuals who have died because of these ‘targeted’ air strikes.

In more repression of those working to expose the drones, Shazad Akbar, a Pakistani attorney who works with Reprieve to expose the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, and seeks reparations for its victims, has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. to testify at a hearing convened by U.S. Representative Alan Grayson about drone killings.  In Obama administration blocks drone victims’ lawyer from testifying in congress, Akbar says:

Failing to grant me a visa silences the 156 civilian drone strike victims and families that I represent. These families, who have lost children, parents, and siblings, are now trying through legal means to achieve justice. They have powerful stories to tell in their own voices, but will not travel without me, their legal representative.”

Robert Greenwald just produced a short film which focuses on one of the families Akbar represents, and who would come along to the U.S. to testify in Congress if the visa is granted to him.

Greenwald says you can help get Mr. Akbar into the country (as our protests did in 2012):

  1. Call the State dept. directly at 202-647-4000
  2. Follow up with an email demanding the State Dept. issue a visa for Shahzad

Importantly, the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has a huge new project: “Naming the Dead” — those killed by CIA drones in Pakistan. The project (thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead) will list the known names of those reported killed by drones together with as much biographical information as can be gathered.

No one who pays any attention to world news can say they don’t know, now, about the US secret drone war of targeted killing.  Our mission is to ignite outrage among people in whose name this illegitimate, unjust, immoral enterprise is conducted.

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Does the U.S. and its Commander in Chief Operate like a “Global George Zimmerman?”

Last Friday, President Obama, apparently responding to pressure, made an unexpected statement about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. He expressed understanding that Black people feel “a lot of pain around what happened here.” He promised no systemic remedies, saying that such decisions are left up to the states, and putting the responsibility of “each of us to do some soul-searching.”

Cornel West, on Democracy Now! Monday, went right after Obama’s statement:

“President Obama has very little moral authority at this point, because we know anybody who tries to rationalize the killing of innocent peoples, a criminal—George Zimmerman is a criminal—but President Obama is a global George Zimmerman, because he tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children, 221 so far, in the name of self-defense, so that there’s actually parallels here.”

It’s well worth watching, or reading the whole exchange. Immediately Dr. West caught all kinds of criticism, for criticizing the President — a situation I personally identify with. I heartily support and agree with Dr. West’s comments. I would like to hear what you think.

Watch

Food for Thought & Action:

Expanded U.S. Targeted Killing, Drone War & Secret Operations.
See the leaked Pakistani document detailing many more civilian deaths in US drone strikes in Pakistan, released Monday by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

“Drawn from field reports by local officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the document lists over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009, alongside a small number of other incidents such as alleged Nato attacks and strikes by unspecified forces.

“Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.”

A Promise Two Months Ago to Release Prisoners & Close Guantanamo.
No prisoners released since the President said he would relax restrictions on cleared Yemeni prisoners. Federal court decisions in favor of the prisoners’ rights against the government practice of force-feeding and genital searches have brought no relief. Joe Nocera, noticeably anguished, wrote Tuesday morning in The New York Times:

“There is one person who could get them out tomorrow — if he chose. That same person could stop the military from force-feeding the detainees. I am referring, of course, to President Obama. Yet despite decrying the Guantánamo prison, the president has refused to do anything but stand by and watch the military inflict needless pain and suffering, much of it on men who simply shouldn’t be there. Indeed, in many of the legal briefs filed on behalf of Guantánamo prisoners, the defendant is Barack Obama.”

An Expanding System of Mass Incarceration in the U.S.
In the Democracy Now! interview, Dr. West said,

“we’re talking about legacy of the white supremacy. We’re talking about a criminal justice system that is criminal when it comes to mistreating poor people across the board, black and brown especially…I just never forget Brother Carl Dix and others…we protested [stop-and-frisk by NYPD] and went to jail and then went to court and was—had a guilty verdict, right? That week, the president came to New York and said, “Edward Koch was one of the great mayors in the last 50 years,” and then said, “Michael Bloomberg was a terrific mayor.” Now, this is the same person saying we’ve got to care for black boys, and black boys are being intimidated, harassed, humiliated, 1,800 a day. It’s just not a matter of pretty words, Mr. President. You’ve got to follow through in action. You see, you can’t use the words to hide and conceal your mendacity, hypocrisy and the support of criminality—or enactment of criminality when it comes to drones, you see.”

Prosecution and Persecution of Whistle-Blowers

“Will you press for the justice of Trayvon Martin in the same way you press for the prosecution of Brother Bradley Manning and Brother Edward Snowden?” So you begin to see the hypocrisy.”

Glenn Greenwald writes,

“The Obama White House yesterday told Russia that it must not persecute “individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption” – as Bradley Manning faces life in prison for alerting the world to the war abuses and other profound acts of wrongdoing he discovered and as the unprecedented Obama war on whistleblowers rolls on. That lecture to Russia came in the context of White House threats to cancel a long-planned meeting over the Russian government’s refusal to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US to face espionage charges.”

Vast Government Surveillance on Whole Populations

Remember when Obama said that he doesn’t want people to feel like “Big Brother” is watching us?  “in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.” And we find out, as this scandal unfolds, that all date is being vacuumed up and held, forever,  in a global “Stand Your Ground” justiication, because “it keeps us safe.”

All of the above, and more, are why we drafted indictments against the US government for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Read and share with others.

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Protecting Humanity from US Drones

The April month of protest against US drone warfare and surveillance ended very strongly in Syracuse Sunday with a protest of hundreds of us at Hancock Air Force Base, where drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — are piloted over Pakistan, Afghanistan, and perhaps Yemen, Somalia and other countries.  Picture the starkness of the political clash:

  • On the empire’s side, the richest, strongest, most dangerously armed military in world history.  A worldwide network of perhaps 1,100 bases and hundreds of thousands of troops with the most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction, extending from space; networks of surveillance, secret operations, indefinite detention, with political cover of compliant politicians justifying more and more.  At Hancock, this power was expressed through police forces arrayed around us, photographing from every angle, threatening arrest and prison terms for stepping over an arbitrary line on the street.
  • On the side of humanity, in opposition to the war OF terror, a few hundred people, many with white hair, deploying the means of song, speech, costumes, music, symbolism, and appealing for justice, at pains to recycle and not harm the grass. The protesters carried the names and photographs of people actually killed by the drones, reading their names aloud, and symbolically dying on the street. Their weapons, the truth that the war on terror is illegitimately destroying whole countries and people.

The serious and dignified march of people wearing black, carrying mock coffins representing the countries attacked by the U.S. was staged to dramatize the gap between what the U.S. promises — “democracy” — and what it delivers: domination and destruction.  As a press release from the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and Stop the Wars said:

People who participated in the demonstration, including some who were arrested, came from all over the country to raise an outcry against the proliferation of drone strikes abroad, including countries with whom the US is not at war. Drone use violates the US Constitution, Article 6, and International Law, which the U.S. has signed on to. Demonstrators also object to the militarization of the police and the growing domestic use of drones.

For crossing the arbitrary police line in the street by the base, 31 people were arrested and charged mostly with Obstructing Government Administration, a Class A misdemeanor often used against protesters, which carries 12 months in jail, and with Disorderly Conduct, another catch-all anti-protest charge.  Almost all were given bail, up to $3500, and forced to sign “order of protection” which disallows them from returning to the base.  Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, shared the content of the order that protesters:

“refrain from assault, stalking, harassment, aggravated harassment, menacing, reckless endangerment, strangulation, criminal obstruction of breathing or circulation, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, intimidation, threats or any criminal offense or interference with the victim or victims of, or designated witnesses to, the alleged offense and such members of the family or household of such victim(s) or witness(es) as shall be specifically named Greg Semmel.”

Greg Semmel is commander of Hancock AFB.

AS IF the Air Force needs the same type of protection from peaceful political protest that a battered woman needs from her abuser(!)

What does the US military and the government fear from political protest at the gates of the base, such that people engaged in non-violent speech and actions would be banned from being on the street near it?  Likely, they fear that thousands will come with the same message.  But nothing they do can make the US war on terror, with its drones and concentration camps, legitimate, just, or moral.

One way to support the protest is to contribute to the bail fund from wherever you are:

 The thirty-one arrestees were arraigned in De Witt Town Court before Judges Benack, Gideon, and Jokl, who imposed bails ranging from $500 – $3500, totaling $34,000. Some of the defendants were released with appearance tickets   Others are refusing to post bail and will be held in jail until the next court date of May 7th & 8th. Donations may be sent to the Syracuse Peace Council, with checks made out to Syracuse Peace Council, note: Upstate Drone Action Bail Fund.  2013 E. Genessee St., Syracuse, NY 13210.

 

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Droning from the Highest Office

Stop the Drones

National Days of Action to Stop Drone War in April. Click for more info.

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to send the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director to the full Senate, as we knew they would.  After sparring with the Obama administration over how much information the Committee would be given on the U.S. drone program, they got some, though the public did not.

What the public got was a statement by Attorney General Holder, in response to an inquiry from Senator Paul of Kentucky which says that in an “entirely hypothetical” situation, the president could authorize the military to use lethal force within the U.S., presumably by drone.  The Huffington Post reported that:

The Obama administration, Holder said, rejected the use of military force where “well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.” But in theory, it’d be legal for the president to order such an attack under certain circumstances, Holder said.

Brennan answered Paul’s inquiry with a statement that the CIA, unequivocally, “does not conduct lethal operations within the United States, nor does it have any authority to do so.”  Adam Serwer, in Mother Jones, reported:

Holder’s answer was more detailed, however, stating that under certain circumstances, the president would have the authority to order lethal attacks on American citizens. The two possible examples of such “extraordinary” circumstances were the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Which leaves the U.S. military, which specifically is now authorized to operate in the United States via the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012.

See Kevin Gostzola: Attorney General Eric Holder: US Government Has Authority to Target & Kill US Citizens on US Soil.

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Suddenly Targeted Killing by Drones is Controversial

Sunday evening I was part of a conversation with participants from many groups (including but not limited to Code Pink, KnowDrones.com, National Coalition of Nonviolent Resistance, NoDronesNetwork, UNAC, Upstate Coalition to End Wars & Ground the Drones, Veterans for Peace, World Can’t Wait) and individuals working on opposing drones from around the country.

The inspiration for the call was the increased attention – and protest against – the U.S. drone war and targeted killing, brought on by the release of the White Paper just before the Brennan hearings, and the successful protest by Code Pink at the hearings, causing it to be closed to the public.  Broadcasts on PBS Nova and Bill Moyers, a cover story in TIME, and thousands of news stories about the Obama administrations’ justification of targeted killing, expansion of executive power, and secrecy on the program have brought the question to light.

Tom Tomorrow: Constitutional Law 101 with Professor Droney.

One of the best cartoons was by Tom Tomorrow: Constitutional Law 101 with Professor Droney.

Editorial cartoons in the LA Times and New York Times lampooned Obama as a drone warrior, NPR featured a debate, Forbes ran a piece by James Zogby, and the NY Times ran front page analysis on how Obama is treading a similar path to Bush, including this: “By emphasizing drone strikes, Mr. Obama need not bother with the tricky issues of detention and interrogation because terrorists tracked down on his watch are generally incinerated from the sky, not captured and questioned.”

On the call, much appreciation was expressed for the eight people who disrupted the Brennan hearing February 7, including Ann Wright.  They were arrested and have a court appearance in March for disrupting Congress.  Code Pink is following up with lobbying efforts, after visiting the offices of Senators Feinstein and Chambliss from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which continues secret hearings this week on Brennan.

David Swanson reported that after the resolution against drones passed by Charlottesville VA City Council, he’s hearing from other cities preparing resolutions against drones.  Nick Mottern of KnowDrones.com reported that more than a dozen locations have replica drones, and more on order, prompting him to raise funds to buy a mold so that they can be produced more easily and quickly.  Joe Scarry reported on a series of regional conference calls planning actions at NoDronesNetwork.  Seattle is sending its two surveillance drones back to the manufacturer, an action which may have prompted Portland, OR, to cancel plans to acquire drones.

Actions in April as part of the month of coordinated protest at manufacturers, research institutions, and bases are being planned in Chicago, New York City, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Boston, the Pacific Northwest, San Diego, Wisconsin, and monthly protests at the CIA may extend to week-days.  Find more here and get involved.

Please communicate with Nick Mottern via nickmottern@earthlink.net with follow up comments.

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Protesters Out In Full At U.N. General Assembly

Listen to the story

Protesters Out In Full At U.N. General Assembly (on NPR September 25, 2012):

The annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City is also an annual meeting for protestors. The “protest pens” were full on Tuesday, and the protestors brought a long list of grievances…

ALCORN: These two anti-Chinese government protests have the largest presence here, something in the low hundreds, but there are others. A coalition of anti-war groups have brought a replica of a drone, complete with hellfire missiles the size of baseball bats. It’s on a stand about 50 feet behind Deborah Sweet, by order of the police.

DEBORAH SWEET: This president has the kill list and sends drones to kill actual people, but we can’t bring a paper and fiberglass replica across from the U.N. to protest the use of drones.

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What the US Drone War Is, What It Isn’t and Remembering the Nameless Victims

This is the talk I gave in Madison two weeks ago at the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day Commemoration:

I am so glad to be here in Madison, and to appreciate what Madison has brought us, including the 1967 Dow Chemical protests against Napalm, and the 2011 uprising against Walker.  The Veterans for Peace chapter in Madison is so active. I saw many of you last week in Chicago, protesting US/NATO war crimes.  Todd Dennis and others did an inspiring action last Sunday by throwing their medals, won in the illegitimate, unjust, immoral US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, back at the NATO Summit.  I am proud of Iraq Veterans Against the War for the content of their message, and for the way many of them spoke of the damage to the people of those countries.

After almost 11 years of US war on Afghanistan, I’ve had people say to me recently, “at least President Obama is ending that war.”  Of course, he isn’t doing any such thing.  It was Obama who vastly expanded the war on Afghanistan in 2009 to 150,000 troops.  It’s the US/NATO forces under which the “surge” brought about the biggest loss of Afghan civilian life of the war, during the last year.  It’s Obama and Afghan President Karzai who just signed an agreement to keep US forces in Afghanistan until 2024, or another 12 years at least.

This was the war that had to be fought to “save” the Afghan people, according to the Bush regime.  In 2001, Afghanistan was the second most dangerous country on the globe for a woman to give birth.  In 2011, it was the MOST dangerous country for a woman to give birth – it had the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.   And this past winter brought reports of dozens of children under 5 freezing to death in coalition-sponsored refugee camps, while the U.S. has sent tens of billions of dollars to fund the occupation.

Out of this comes the U.S. drone war, now fully directed and justified by the Obama administration.  Since 2009, Obama has increased the use of unmanned aerial vehicles – drones  –  by 8 times more than the Bush administration in Pakistan.  Drones are now fully a part of the US war-fighting plan, so much so that the US Air Force is now training more pilots of un-manned vehicles than of fighter-bomber planes.  These pilots are based around the world, and within the US, controlling the surveillance and armed drones at 18” from the action on their screens.  Of the two US drone programs, the one run by the CIA is probably the larger – the budget is secret – and employs civilian pilots.

The argument from The Pentagon is that drones can “surgically target” insurgents.  You have people in the Obama Justice Department who criticized George Bush for doing what they now defend Obama for doing.  In fact, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks US drone strikes in Pakistan, has found that at least 175   children have been killed, and hundreds of people not involved with Al Qaeda or any local insurgent group.  In fact, the U.S. military defines people as insurgents merely by the fact that they’ve been killed in a drone strike.  Most alarmingly, there are repeated and growing examples of strikes coming in series, killing groups of rescuers and mourners.  There is no hiding from the drones; they have sophisticated surveillance technology, including heat sensors that can see through walls.  Buildings and bodies are obliterated.

So that’s what the US drone war is.  But, as terrible as the use of drones is, it doesn’t change anything about US wars of empire.  They are still illegitimate, immoral, unjust.  And they are most damaging to the people they target; secondarily, they have mostly destroyed the lives of the one million U.S. military who have been used to fight them.  The U.S. drone wars — now in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and they used drones in Libya – are the newest technological development in the United States effort to spread an unchallengeable empire, no matter who the president is.

The problem for those of us trying to end these wars is that too many people living in this country go along with these crimes carried out in our name, thinking that their interests are the same as those in power.  World Can’t Wait says, “Humanity and the Planet Come First – Stop the Crimes of Our Government.”  We say this in recognition of the damage causes by these now endless wars, the system of indefinite detention that is part of the wars, and in recognition that American lives are not more important than other lives.

Join us in working to end the crimes of our government, and in a sending a message to the people of the world that there are people here who say, NO, not in our name!

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Giving Obama “more time” for what?

One of the joys of traveling to speak is meeting the people at the other end of e-mail, as I did in Madison this past weekend at the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day commemoration.  In addition to putting up a “Memorial Mile” of thousands of tombstones marking U.S. deaths in Iraq & Afghanistan, they had an anti-war contingent in the official city parade where they reported strong crowd support.  At the afternoon commemoration, they made a point of reading names of Afghans killed in the U.S. War on Afghanistan.

Yesterday in Madison, and before that, over more than a week of protesting NATO in Chicago, I heard similar responses from people working against U.S. wars when I asked what questions they encounter from the public.  We find lots of people against the war in Afghanistan, but not willing to criticize the Democrats, or Obama, for expanding it.  One woman said “I need help answering when people say ‘Give Obama more time.’”

One way to go at that question is to challenge people with what the Obama administration has done.  In April 2010, the Crimes are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them statement began that work:

In some respects, this is worse than Bush. First, because Obama has claimed the right to assassinate American citizens whom he suspects of “terrorism,” merely on the grounds of his own suspicion or that of the CIA, something Bush never claimed publicly. Second, Obama says that the government can detain you indefinitely, even if you have been exonerated in a trial, and he has publicly floated the idea of “preventive detention.” Third, the Obama administration, in expanding the use of unmanned drone attacks, argues that the U.S. has the authority under international law to use such lethal force and extrajudicial killing in sovereign countries with which it is not at war.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report makes the point that Obama is not the “lesser of 2 evils,” but “the more effective evil.Revolution provided concrete examples of Six Ways Obama has been Worse than Bush, including assassinations on Presidential order; blaming youth for their own oppression; threatening war on Iran; more deportations of immigrants; escalating drone war and persecuting whistle-blowers.

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Who’s Blocking Drone Protest at Hancock AFB?

Hancock Drone Protesters33 people were grabbed by county sheriffs on April 22, a few blocks from the main gate of Hancock Air Force Base near Syracuse NY.  Faster than you can say “parading without a permit,” people at the front of a single file, silent march along a mostly deserted suburban road, were cuffed and stuffed into police cruisers.  Others were arrested standing near the gate of the base, where people do a protest vigil every two weeks, because pilots based at Hancock control drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) over the skies of Afghanistan, and perhaps over other countries in the region.

Given that we had just walked two miles in the Town of Dewitt, seeing people in only 3 yards, a total of 30 cars, and not one marked police car, one has to assume it wasn’t the good citizens of the town who were inconvenienced, annoyed, or even aware of the procession. Did the plan to stop our protest from arriving at the gate by arresting us before we got there come from the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department?  No, these arrests were ordered and planned at the federal level to preempt the delivery of a political message and to keep media from showing images of the group gathered by the gate.

If the operations out of Hancock are so legit, so clean, and clear of legal ambiguity; if they’re arousing no opposition, then why are the powers that be so afraid of 100 people gathering at the front gate to present some papers to any guard who would take them?  The ordinances used against this protest are probably unconstitutional curbs on free speech and assembly, and perhaps they’ll be challenged in court by those ticketed and released.

But, to the substance of our charge that the U.S. drone programs, and the wars that underlie them, are illegitimate, unjust and immoral, what is the government’s answer?  That we’re criminals for parading without a permit?  While the 82nd Airborne units who posed with Afghan body parts are an aberration, and therefore not criminals?  These lies are all they can come up with.  They have no answer to the indictment we attempted to deliver but brutality and suppression.

We know these drones kill civilians; we know some of those civilians’ names, and that some were children.  We know war crimes are being carried out in our name from inside the base, under the legal justification that the U.S. president can kill anyone, anywhere, because there is an limitless “war on terror.”

The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars did a similar action one year ago.  38 people stepped across a line to place themselves under arrest.  At trial, they mounted a a thorough case, detailing the ways in which the U.S. drone war violates international law, and of course they were still found guilty.  These actions, along with others at Creech AFB in Nevada, and recently at Whiteman AFB in Missouri, are bringing attention to the illegitimacy of the growing US deployment of drones to spread terror among the populations of whole countries.

Drone Model

Nick Mottern of "kNOw drones" with one of the model drones we hope to bring to the streets of Chicago in protest when NATO meets

Despite a President who orders their use, despite the hundreds of people keeping each drone aloft doing their”jobs,” we refuse to accept the horrors we are protesting.  Seeing the government, at several levels, take such clear action to suppress our protest makes our point more strongly.  The activists who have been bringing this message for years to Hancock, some of whom have been determined political opponents of U.S. crimes for decades; the Veterans for Peace, the crew of Occupiers from Buffalo, peace activists and students are informed and passionate, and they won’t stop.

Participating in the action at Hancock made me more certain that bringing visible street protest in Chicago when NATO meets May 20/21 — and in the week leading up to the meeting — is essential.  The international press will be there.  Afghan President Karzai will be there, along with the leaders of the best-armed countries of the world’s strongest military alliance, currently occupying the world’s poorest country.

Humanity and the planet come first – Stop the crimes of your government.  Join us in Chicago.

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