Alice’s Nightmare in Droneland- Live at Hancock Air Base

Statement Read at the Alice’s Nightmare in Droneland Event:

from World Beyond War Blog, published October 29, 2020

We assemble her this morning to petition our government to end its use of killer MQ9 Reaper drones pilonted from Hancock Air Force Base. Hancock is home to the 174th Attack Wing of the New York State National Guard.  The 174th – together with all too many troops on other US bases across the planet – has been waging muderous war, in our name, against the people of the Islamic oil lands, against Iraqis, iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans …

We come from across New York State and Beyond, united as the Upstate Drone Action Coalition, a grassroots assembly of nonviolent activists.  For years our local members have demonstrated here weekly, protesting Hancock’s role in these crimes against humanity.  A score of times for the past decade, Upstate Drone action – under cover of the first amendment of the U.S, Constitution – has engaged in civil resistance at Hancock’s very gate.  Dozens of us have been arrested, have gone to trial, and some have endured prison.  We persist because MQ9 drone attacks are evil.  They are shameful, barbaric, illegal, racist.  They are unjust, immoral, cowardly.  They are islamophobic…. They help generate the planet’s swelling ranks of refugees as human beings are displaced, maimed, killed, orphaned, widowed.  Sadly, drone attacks numb our conscience.

Weaponized drone attacks are naked terrorism.  What is ‘terrorism’, constantly invoked but rarely defined?  Genuine terrorism is violence  – or the threat of violence – perpetrated on civilians for political or economic gain.  Our nation is the greatest purveyor of terrorism on our planet.  U.S. terrorism spawns blowback.  Last January’s reaper drone assassination of Iran’s General Qassim Suliemani, for example, risked extreme retaliation.  Given teh volatility of our era, such attacks may very well spark nuclear war.   That is, global annihilation.

High-tech drone terrorism generates proliferation, with many nations racing – in defense – for mastery of the skies.  Weaponized and surveillance drones have already come home to roost.  Hancock’s Reaper drones, menacingly, have even surveilled our weekly demonstrations.

Friends, look around you.  See the imagery from that brilliant 19th century fable, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. We call our 21st century tableau, ‘Alice’s Nightmare in Drone Land’.   Chesire cat, depicted here tells us drone assassination is madness.  Mad Hatter, knowing that the U.S. military is one of the world’s major polluters and consumers of oil, urges us to stop destroying our climate.

“Alice herself cries out, ‘Please don’t kill me – I’m not a terrorist.’  Let us open our hearts to teh anguished cries of every ‘Alice’, especially those mothers and children throughout the oil lands.  And if, finally, we would oupen our ears to our fellow humans, we might also come to hear the screams – carried by wind, fire and flood – of our anguished and very resistant planet.

James Ricks of Ithaca and Harry Murray of Rochester, long time Drone protesters and veterans of civil resistance at Hancock Field

Drone Warfare Update from Upstate Drone Action:

U.S. expanding drone strikes from Somalia into Kenya
Camp Simba is on Manda Bay, Kenya’s east coast, an airbase that the U.S. command has been using for over a decade. There, private Pentagon contractors have been flying surveillance flights throughout northern Africa and for drone attacks against Islamist militants in Somalia. The contractors also operate armed drones although they don’t make targeting decisions. This allows the U.S. Africa Command to maintain the quasi-legal distinction that only uniform-wearing service members, who are lawful combatants, make the decisions as to who to target and kill.

Although Kenya’s President has made public statements disavowing the Pentagon’s use of its territory, it is not a passive host to American military operations. It has received more military aid than any country in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the world’s top 5 recipients of U.S. counter-terrorism aid.

This use of private contractors is becoming more and more common. Aerex Aerospace is a major contractor at the Manda Bay airbase, having won $44M in federal contracts in 2019. The Paris based news site Africa Intelligence reports its pilots operate Reaper drones and other intelligence=gathering aircraft throughout West Africa. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have relied on contractors because they give some degree of plausible deniability. Last year, the Pentagon spent $370 billion, more than half the US military budget on contractors. (Brown and Boston Universities research)

There has been an expansion of lethal airstrikes with unaccounted civilian causalities in Somalia in the last three years. Human rights groups have reported 4-10 fold more civilian deaths from airstrikes than has the U.S. Africa Command. There is no reason to believe that lethal drone attacks in Kenya would be any more transparent.

The killing of Islamist militants based on suspicions and intelligence reports that later prove false has become the common practice in Somalia. The Trump administration has gone further, giving commanders expanded authority to order lethal drone strikes. As of late September, the military had not received executive approval to begin targeting in Kenya. But putting in place the infrastructure points toward yet another effort to expand an undeclared war in yet another country.

U.S. Arms Deal Integral part of UAE recognition of Israel

A previously secret part of the United Arab Emirates diplomatic recognition of the state of Israel has become public in recent months. The Emiratis had been pushing for at least six years to buy F-35 fighter planes and Predator and Reaper drones. Israel had objected to the sales based on its reliance on a 50-year U.S. policy of maintaining the country’s “qualitative military edge” over the neighboring Arab countries. Israel has a fleet of the stealth F-35 fighters and is a leading purveyor of advanced drone technology. Since 2017, Congress has prevented arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia because of the thousands of civilians killed in their proxy war with Iran in Yemen.

Previously the U.S. government had held back on selling the Reaper drones, made by Lockheed Martin, because sales are banned by an arms control pact among 35 nations. In July, the Trump administration announced it would bypass the relevant parts of the agreement and issues sales licenses.

One thing that continues to amaze me is that even prize winning journalists whose articles I pulled this information from; never refer to Israel as a nuclear weapons power. This back-story of the U.S. obsession with Iran’s nuclear weapons development is the pathetic public secrecy of our maintenance of nuclear superiority in the Middle East, not to mention everywhere else in the world.

Court Rules Against Trump drone killing policy

A U.S. district court has ordered the Trump administration to lift the total secrecy surrounding its rules for drone strikes and other killings abroad. This order comes as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and New York Times in December 2017.

The Trump administration’s rules, known as the “Principles, Standards, and Procedures,” are believed to loosen Obama-era policy restrictions aimed at limiting civilian casualties in areas “outside of active hostilities,” such as in Yemen, Somalia, among others. The district court rejected the administration’s claim that it could not even confirm or deny whether the new rules exist. The Trump lethal force rules reportedly include lifting a requirement that a target must present a “continuing, imminent” threat to the United States, and permitting lethal strikes against a broader category of people, including those with no special skills or leadership roles. The Trump administration’s rules also reportedly eliminate the high-level vetting required for each individual strike, instead requiring only “higher-level approval” of “country plans” that will be reviewed annually.

Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, had the following comment:

“Just like during the last administration, a court has decided that President Trump has stretched implausible claims of secrecy over the government’s killing rules too far. The government should not only acknowledge these new rules exist, but make them public.  Credible media and human rights groups have made clear that the Trump administration is killing more people in more places, with civilians and their communities bearing the brunt of tragic costs. We look forward to the government’s response and to ensuring the administration is held accountable for this country’s lethal force program abroad.”

Trump Sued Over U.S. Sanctions on War Crimes Investigation

The International Criminal Court (ICC )is in the midst of investigating possible war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. In June the Trump administration issued executive orders sanctioning the Court. This has resulted in legal jeopardy for four law professors who have been providing legal advice and education to the ICC. The four, Diane Marie Amann of the University of Georgia School of Law, Milena Sterio of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Margaret deGuzman of Temple University’ Beasley School of Law and Gabor Rona of the Cardozo School of Law, have filed a lawsuit claiming the order violates their First Amendment rights. The federal sanctions regime threatens them with as many as 20 years in prison.

U.S. Drone Strike in Syria Kills a Child as well as two Al Qaeda operatives

Airwars, the London-based airstrike monitoring group, reports that on October 15th the U.S. military carried out a drone strike killing two senior Al Qaeda operatives in Saeed, a town west of Idlib in northwest Syria. The strike killed a child and wounded multiple other civilians.  The United Nations reported that two aid workers and their driver were injured, one of them critically, when the car they were traveling in was hit by shrapnel from a drone strike on another car in Idlib the same day. The U.S. Central Command has not reported on any civilian harmed in the killings. Neither Fox News nor the Washington Free Beacon, the only two news outlets to cover this strike, mentioned the suspected civilian causalities.




Shut Down Creech 2020

by Tobey Blome
Amazing week resisting killer drones at Shut Down Creech, culminating in a blockade and a 30 minute delay of commute traffic into the base early Friday morning, October 2nd, and no arrests.
Ground the Drones!
Toby, Maggie and all of earth’s Creechers!

Press Release

Contacts:   Toby Blomé, 510-501-5412;        Maggie Huntington, (602) 459-5257
 
Peaceful Anti-drone protestors block entrance to U.S. Assassin Drone Base;
Military traffic unable to enter base for half an hour.
 
A group of 15 peaceful protesters from Nevada, California, and Arizona converged for a weeklong protest at Creech Air Force Base to oppose the remote-controlled killing that takes place in the desert just north of Las Vegas.  Organized by CODEPINK and Veterans For Peace, the bi-annual protest known as “Shut Down Creech” was different due to the concerns and constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially because many of the regular activists are elders, and are at higher risk of complications and death. The event included both social distancing and mask wearing at the twice daily commute hour protests at the base. Precautions were also followed during their entire stay at their base camp, “Camp Justice,” down the road from the base. In spite of the risks, these activists were compelled to participate and take a strong and determined stance against the illegal and inhumane remote killing by U.S. drones that occurs daily at the Nevada air base. 
 
Most of the activists were reluctant to engage in civil disobedience, as they often do, because of the risk of COVID-exposure during a possible jail detention.  However, 2 activists, Maggie Huntington from Flagstaff, Arizona, and Toby Blomé from El Cerrito, California ultimately participated in a “soft blockade” to impede commute traffic into the base for as long as they possibly could up until the point that the time limit expired that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gave to warn blockaders of impending arrest.  Because the activists unexpectedly chose Friday morning for their blockade of resistance, the military and law enforcement officers were caught off guard.  In the early morning rush hour traffic, the women, aged 65 and 76 years old, stretched a large banner, “Stop Droning Afghanistan, 19 years ENOUGH!” across the entrance road into the killer drone base. They also placed in the road several small “coffins,” with names of other countries that are targets by U.S. drones, to impede traffic. They then read into a megaphone the names and ages of some of the victims of U.S. drone attacks memorialized on small pink paper drones.  The activists were able to remove themselves from the road in time to avoid arrest and simultaneously communicate a clear message of objection and noncompliance to the intolerable U.S. practice of remote killing, where hundreds of children have already died as “collateral damage.”  Due to the element of surprise, the alternative northerly gate, a mile up the roadway from the commuter gate, was closed, and it took significant time to open and receive traffic.  As a result military traffic was backed up all the way down highway 95, to the site of the blockade.  Dozens, if not hundreds, of cars were delayed into the base, for about a half hour.  Activists considered the action a very successful achievement toward their goal: To shut down Creech Air Force Base for as long as possible to halt the criminal activity taking place.      www.ShutDownCreech.blogspot.com
“I’m motivated to participate in this resistance, with the hope that we will teach the soldiers that they must take control of and understand the consequences of their actions,” said Maggie Huntington, one of the blockaders.  According to one Chinese Proverb, “To know and not to act is not to know.”   
Other Shut Down Creech demonstrations during the weeklong anti-drone protest included:  a solemn “funeral procession” along the highway with black clothing, white masks and small coffins;  LED light board letters in the dark of the early morning, declaring: “NO DRONES”; 
 –Observation…..without judgement….is the Highest Form……of Human Intelligence
 
Drone Attacks are……COWARDLY, BARBARIC, RACIST, WRONG, SHAMEFUL, UNJUST, IMMORAL……
Other commute vigil themes included:
War is Not Green/End War for Climate Justice  (The U.S. Military is the #1 Global User of Fossil Fuel)
WAR IS A LIE:   PRESIDENTS LIE, CONGRESS LIES, GENERALS LIE, CIA LIES, etc.



Why We Persist: Activists Have Protested US Drone Base for Over a Decade

by Ed Kinane, published on Truthout.org, December 22, 2019

Nonviolent civil resistance against international crime is about effectiveness and persistence. Or as Dorothy Day might say, faithfulness. We sow seeds — awakening the cogs in the machine of imperial crime and informing those who, with their federal taxes, help finance that crime.

But it’s about us — getting off our duffs and out of our comfort zones. Here in Syracuse, New York, we call it “street heat” — baby steps toward resistance, dipping our toes into the waters of risk and sacrifice. The “streets,” where Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky keep telling us that, if things on this planet are going to turn around, that’s where it has to happen.

In the fall of 2003 in a series of front-page stories, the Syracuse Post-Standard announce

d with satisfaction that our local Hancock Field Air National Guard Base was becoming the hub for the wondrous weaponized MQ9 Reaper drone. For several days over that Thanksgiving weekend, several of us protested and fasted in downtown Syracuse.

Since then, for the past decade, immediately outside Hancock, with over 170 more protests, activists from what soon became the Upstate Drone Action Coalition have sought to expose the ensuing Reaper drone terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Allies from the Syracuse Peace Council, Veterans For Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Catholic Worker have provided the campaign’s life blood.

The Campaign

For 45 minutes every first and third Tuesday of the month, a handful of us locals demonstrate across from Hancock’s main gate. Yes, these are brief demos, but some of us are differently abled and some are “octos” — activists over 80 years old. We face the vehicles going in and out of the base at afternoon shift change. This is also rush hour along East Molloy Road. Our signs and banners urge, “STOP THE KILLING” and “ABOLISH WEAPONIZED DRONES” and “DRONES FLY, CHILDREN DIE.”

A second, more dramatic element of the campaign is our episodic (roughly twice a year) “tableaux” and street theater blocking the driveway into that main gate. Both approaches — the first with little risk of arrest and the second with inevitable arrests — seek to poke the conscience of the 174th New York Air National Guard’s Attack Wing operating out of Hancock.

Here at our very doorstep, 174th personnel pilot remotely controlled Reaper robots laden with bombs and “precision” Hellfire missiles. Via rapid satellite relay, from within the riskless anonymity of Hancock’s fortified base, those warriors and their chain of command spew death and destruction.

Maybe our repeated poking will afflict their consciences. To the extent that they have eyes to see, the pilots get to witness firsthand on-screen the carnage they perpetrate — scattered and smoldering body parts. Such exposure just may induce “moral injury,” the psychic wound caused by betraying one’s core values. We hope that, despite being offered hefty bonuses, these technicians will refuse to re-enlist. The fewer enlistments, the less death.

Their targets and their civilian victims are mostly uncounted, undefended, unidentified Muslims inhabiting oil-rich lands. Here is Islamophobia with a vengeance. Multitudes are terrorized. If they survive, many become internal or external refugees. And why wouldn’t some also become the imperium’s die-hard foes? As the Pentagon surely counts on, the inevitable blowback generates further mayhem. Such mutually reinforcing (but extremely asymmetrical) mayhems reliably produce the high-tech contracts Lockheed Martin and its ilk thrive on.

It’s usually mid-morning when two of our Upstate Drone Action members and a videographer approach Hancock’s main gate, unannounced, to hand-deliver a letter through the barbed wire fence to the armed gate-keepers. Addressed to the 174th Attack Wing, the letter urges personnel to uphold their oath to protect the U.S. Constitution. We cite Article Six of that Constitution, which mandates that international treaties and international law are the “Supreme Law of the Land.” Such law, including the legally binding UN Charter, supersedes federal, state and local law. It stipulates that such military aggression amounts to a war crime.

Simultaneously, down the base driveway, our flash mob sets up banners and dramatic props. These, along with our bodies — vertical or horizontal, sometimes clad in hijab or draped in bloody shrouds — block any incoming traffic.

Within minutes, soldiers pop out from behind cement barriers to divert incoming vehicles to Hancock’s other entrances. An officer marches out to inform us — with profound understatement — that we aren’t wanted on base property. Working hand in glove with the military, the town, county and state constabularies arrive, red lights flashing. These, helpfully, draw the public’s gaze to our event. The cops schmooze with the soldiers, taking an hour or two to assemble their forces. Then, having dutifully warned us for the third time to leave, they handcuff us while soldiers confiscate our props. Our supporters across the road chant and sing. Surveillance cameras and police and military videographers record the scene.

At our tableaux and die-ins, up to 38 of us at a time have been arrested. We are driven to cells in area police stations. Despite these many forays onto federal property, military police never arrest us and we’re never charged with federal crimes. Invariably we keep getting two contradictory state charges: trespass (private property) and disorderly conduct (for public places). Both charges are “violations,” a minor matter. Violations for others generally lead to quick release with an appearance ticket. But we get special handling: strip searches along with the protracted tedium of being booked. After some hours, we are arraigned. In the late evening, we may be released with dates for the DeWitt Town night court. Often there’s bail, not because we are flight risks (we relish our days in court) but as a kind of pre-trial chastisement. Some of us refuse to post bail.

Sometimes, arbitrarily, misdemeanor charges are piled on: obstruction of government administration (OGA) or contempt of court for allegedly defying Orders of Protection (OOP) forbidding us to return to the base. Those stay-away orders “protect” the base commander who has alleged that we physically threaten him. This fiction parallels the perennial propaganda trope that migrants from afar – in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Afghanistan — threaten the U.S. The local judges impose OOPs on dozens of us. Bizarrely re-purposed, OOP wording is derived from child or spouse abuse boilerplate.

Such OOPs have been enforced unevenly. Several years ago, Mary Anne Grady Flores, a grandmother from Ithaca, New York, got a yearlong sentence for allegedly violating her OOP. Her sole crime: photographing protesters (who subsequently were all acquitted) from Molloy Road’s shoulder. After a few months in Jamesville Penitentiary, Mary Anne won release pending appeal. If eventually her appeal fails, she’ll be re-incarcerated.

We’ve long lost track of the numbers, but well over 100 of our cases have been tried before either of the two elected part-time DeWitt Town justices, Robert Jokl Jr. or David Gideon. Those are mostly bench trials, in which a judge determines verdict and sentence; or, if involving misdemeanors, a six-person jury renders the verdict. In this court, not shy about doling out maximum sentences, juries are forbidden to hear what the max can be.

On the brink of a trial, the prosecutor may suddenly drop the misdemeanor charge, cleverly disrupting our defense prep. Jury trials in DeWitt are only occasional, since these burden the court calendar and the town budget, while providing us the opportunity to testify about drone atrocity. In an arrest-happy time and place, law enforcement and the court prop up the ambient militarism, particularly where a community embraces its military base as a “job-provider.” Conveniently for stoking public buy-in, multitudes of redundant military installations are spread widely over congressional districts across the land.

Central New York is one of the nation’s major drone technology incubators, housing a branch of Lockheed Martin and SRC Inc., a defense research company. This gravy train seems to mesmerize local mainstream media, the Chamber of Commerce, nearby citadels of higher learning, and those of all political stripes dependent on government jobs and grants: co-optation broad and deep. Even liberal activists compartmentalized in their domestic issues shrink from acknowledging Hancock’s war crimes.

When we point out to police that war crimes occur just yards from where we’re being arrested, we hear, “It’s not our jurisdiction.” The court dismisses out of hand our International Law and Necessity defenses. Nor, of course, does it acknowledge that Hancock, in violation of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, occupies Haudenosaunee Indigenous land. Note the historical continuity: most Reaper victims are themselves tribal or Indigenous people of color inhabiting formerly colonized but now nominally sovereign lands such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. All areas, it happens, the U.S. has yet to even officially declare war upon. Those Hellfire missiles — talk about trespass!

The disorderly conduct charge is bogus; as the base’s surveillance cameras attest, we treat everyone with respect and don’t resist arrest. (Before each demonstration, every participant signs a pledge of nonviolence.) Nor do our blockades discommode the public. The OGA charge is likewise bogus: trial witnesses, citing “security,” refuse to reveal details of Hancock’s illegal and clandestine operations, which we call out and allegedly disrupt.

At trial, we defend ourselves pro se or with pro bono attorneys. Our lead attorney travels well over 300 miles from Long Island at his own expense. On the witness stand, we speak to what drone strikes do to human flesh, psyches and souls, and thus why we risk prison opposing brutality. We note that we don’t do civil disobedience — we do civil resistance. We don’t disobey law; we seek to enforce law — both U.S. and international. We observe the Nuremberg injunction that those aware of war crimes must try to expose and impede them — or else we would be complicit ourselves.

For the DeWitt court, international law is an alien concept. In many of this rogue nation’s law schools, international law apparently isn’t taught. U.S. superpower exceptionalism prevails. The Constitution’s First Amendment — which validates our right to petition the government for redress of grievances — is also alien.

In the early days, seeking to deter continued civil resistance, we were each customarily fined the maximum amount of $375, and some of us were also sentenced to 15 days in jail. In a further attempt to deter, the DeWitt judges — in apparent cahoots with the base — eventually conjured up those aforementioned Orders of Protection. Fortunately, suburban juries can’t always be counted on to find scrupulously nonviolent defendants guilty. Sometimes they find us not guilty on one or more counts, or the court feels compelled to dismiss a lackadaisically prosecuted charge.

Nowadays, the DeWitt court seems to be kicking the judicial can down the road. As I write in December 2019, our July 2018, June 2019 and September 2019 arrests have yet to be assigned trial dates. In DeWitt, New York, the notion that “justice delayed is justice denied” is quaint. This past summer, one judge, without explanation or apology, simply didn’t show up for a motions hearing or to set a trial date. More recently, one evening’s judge told us, after we’d all traveled to a mandated court hearing, that our case wasn’t on that evening’s docket. Can it be that the validity of our cause is now dawning on the judges, making it hard to know what to do with us?

Reaper terror, first under Bush, increasingly under Obama, then far more under Trump, keeps escalating. We may never know if our efforts somehow slow the pace. But we do know that here in our backyard, if we don’t stand up and speak out against war crimes, it’s unlikely anyone else will. And we know that if no one speaks out, the Pentagon will keep operating as if it has a popular mandate to keep up the killing.

So we persist.

For video footage of Hancock actions, see upstatedronaction.org. For updates on our arrests and trials, see nukeresister.org. To glimpse the horror of weaponized drones, see the Stanford and NYU Law Schools’ joint 2012 report, “Living Under Drones.”

*Featured Image: An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flies by during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015, in Indian Springs, Nevada. ~Isaac Brekken / Getty Images

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.


Ed Kinane is a cofounder of the Upstate Drone Action Coalition. With Voices in the Wilderness in Baghdad in 2003, Kinane survived “Shock and Awe.” He has been jailed numerous times for civil resistance at Hancock and elsewhere. Reach him at edkinane340@gmail.com.




Drones Fly, Children Die

by Judith Bello

Hancock Air National Guard Base was one of the first domestic drone bases to come on line. The base is located in a pleasant suburb of Syracuse New York, along side the International Airport. The 174th Attack Wing at Hancock is tasked with flying Reaper Drone missions over Afghanistan and other places on the far side of the world that they are unwilling to name. They also fly Drones berthed locally over the Adirondacks to the East and Lake Ontario to the West. I saw one 100 miles west of there heading for Rochester International Airport one day. Hancock is the domestic center for training Reaper pilots and mechanics. The men of the 174th are proud of their work, which is important to the imperial U.S. international policing mission. At least in some cases, the human consequences of their work is not entirely clear to these men.

About a week ago, a small group of protesters went out to Hancock Air National Guard Base to exercise their civil rights and petition the government for redress of grievances. They believe that the use of hunter, killer Drones to attack people in countries we are not at war with, mostly countries that do not have the international status or military capacity to defend their people, is morally wrong and a violation of international consensus in general and international law. Further, they believe that the use of Drones piloted from the neighborhoods where we live and work endangers us in the long run.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

International law protects the rights of civilians. It also says that it is fair to retaliate against an attacker in the location where the attack is coming from. That would be Hancock, or more generally, Syracuse New York. Drone attacks rarely target anyone who is an immediate threat to the United States or countries at war with the U.S. They protect U.S. ‘Interests’ abroad. Drones attack people in their own lands, often in countries that are destabilized by competing foreign interests. Drone bombs take out anyone who happens to be in the same area as the target. Though the targeting is technically precise, it is often inaccurate due to misunderstanding of the actions of innocent people on the ground.

But ‘Why protest military Drones now?’ The United States is currently at war with Afghanistan (after nearly 18 years), has a significant presence in Syria and Iraq and Yemen where it is engaged in proxy wars, and is threatening Venezuela and Iran very directly. The Russiagate enthusiasts and China-phobes are making plans for a ‘limited’ nuclear war and developing tools for a war in space that could isolate the earth from the rest of the universe for a very long time. Meanwhile, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia, which limits the development of medium range nuclear missiles. In early June, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained that the U.S. has been unwilling to engage in negotiations which must be completed by 2021 to to renew the New START treaty which is the only remaining strategic nuclear arms control agreement in place between the United States and the Russian Federation. We are entering the world of Dr. Strangelove. The Atomic clock is a few seconds from midnight and global nuclear annihilation is now a serious risk.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

So, why devote ourselves to protesting military Drones? Well, I’ll get to the concerns that mobilized us in a minute. But first, the universe provided a perfect example of the significance of Drones in the above context a day or two before our protest. The Iranians shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over their coastal waters. It was a Global Hawk, large and expensive, but unarmed. Trump and the ‘B’ team (Bolton, BiBi, Bin Zayad, Bin Salman) immediately went into action, preparing a retaliatory strike. The Pentagon worked out a plan and initiated it. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, choking off oil shipping in the region, and asserted that they would defend their sovereignty to a very bitter end. But, according President Trump, he called off the attack, 10 minutes before the strike because he was told there would be 150 casualties.   If a U.S. attack were to trigger a larger warm there might be  tens of thousands of casualties, including U.S. casualties.

Instead he called for new sanctions against individuals including sanctions against the Javad Zarif, a long time diplomat and peace maker who went to school in the U.S. and is very friendly to Americans, and Supreme Leader Khamenei, who does not have any assets outside of Iran. Since Iran is a relatively large country with an identity and history going back several millenia, and is very closely affiliated with Russia and China, starting a war over a piece of machinery would indeed have been a pretty stupid thing to do. But they didn’t, this time.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

There were a number of factors that motivated the protesters to go out to Hancock in June, and that wasn’t one of them. It was a total surprise. We haven’t heard much about Drones lately, until the Iranian shoot-down, but not because they weren’t in play.Military Drones are ubiquitous messengers of U.S. aggression.. A friend who did several tours of duty in Iraq pointed out that they provided protection for the soldiers on the ground. Of course, we don’t have any soldiers on the ground in Libya, and supposedly, our soldiers in Iraq and Syria are keeping the peace, not engaged in open warfare.  What soldiers are they protecting in the battlefields where U.S. soldiers are not supposed to be present on the ground?

Over the last couple of years, the Africom has built several large military bases across Africa to support a massive expansion of the Reaper drone fleet there.  Currently, Somalia is a primary target. Somalia became a failed state the last time the U.S. tried to democratize them. Armed Drones fly routinely over Yemen, where they target al Qaeda, Islamists who are allied, with our proxy, Saudi Arabia. They fly over Iraq and Iran. Reapers continue to be the primary air force in Afghanistan. When you hear a report that 3 or 5, or 10 or 50 people were killed in an airstrike there, most likely it was a Reaper Drone strike. A 500 lb Paveway bomb will kill a lot of people in a wedding tent or at a town meeting or in a multi-family household, a compound, as they like to call it. Of course, this is just the way people live in Afghanistan, at least people who can afford a decent home.

Drones are deeply embedded in every U.S. warzone and area of military interest.  Drones are used to seek out individuals where they live and work. Maybe they are bad people, or maybe they just appear to be the bad people. And usually, they are in the company of their families and friends, engaged in the normal activities of their community when the Drone catches up with them. Targeted assassinations often rely on a cellphone to identify the target, so don’t borrow anyone’s phone there, don’t walk in the store where a targeted individual is shopping. One man told me he sleeps in the mountains to protect his family. Heaven forbid someone should think he is home one night and take them all out while they are sleeping.

Signature Strikes, which target people who appear to be ‘acting like militants’, are still approved. So, men gathering for a meeting or emerging from their workplace, people praying after lunch along the roadside, schoolboys in a bus, people at a wedding firing their guns into the air, all might seem like good targets. The possibilities are endless when drone pilots who have never left the U.S. and never met anyone from Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or wherever, and knows nothing about Islam. But at least our guys are safe over here.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

Drones violate international law. You have probably heard that before. What does it mean to say that military Drone strikes violate International Law. It means that they tear the very fabric of global society. It means that those who fly them do not feel constrained by the boundaries of nations or the rules of war. Drone warfare dehumanizes targets who are far away, and at least on the surface, appear to be more ‘enemies’ in a video game than humans living in society. The United States, having first launched a campaign of armed drones as weapons of war, is a role model for others coming on line,  Russia, China and Iran.  Israel pioneered Drones over the last decades, and also contempt for international law and the rights of other nations.  Drones are consistently used against presumed ‘fighters’ who are not on a battlefield.  Whatever war plans are in the making, Drones will be a central part of their enactment.

Now ‘unarmed’ Reapers are patrolling our borders. With the growing hysteria over illegal immigration, how long will they remain unarmed?  ICE agents routinely check out the passengers on buses with dogs, and dust the baggage at train stations along the Canadian border for explosives. Drones have been used to target a couple of high profile criminals in this country. China and Russia, and even Iran now have their own military Drones. Armed Drones are not useful for dogfights, but they are very useful for policing. Just as in the interior of our cities, suspects are routinely killed to avoid risk and confusion, around the world suspects and anyone near them are routinely annihilated by hellfire missiles and Paveway bombs.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

Is this the world we want to live in? Members of Upstate (NY) Drone Action say no. And they put their bodies on the line to say it. If you want change, you have to do something about it. It is difficult to be heard these days, but its important to make the effort. If more people were to protest regularly in the name of peace and justice, it would become easier to be heard. Lots of people don’t like U.S. wars and interventions. But if you don’t come forward and put something on the line then your voice will be silent. Voting is a good idea, but so few candidates oppose the wars that most people don’t have access to them. Donald Trump, of all people, ran as an advocate for withdrawing from the many ongoing U.S. wars around the world, but he seems to have forgotten now that he is in office. He has doubled down on military Drone use around the world.  Obama ran as a peace candidate but he too presided over a huge increase in lethal Drone activity, the destruction of Libya and Syria and Honduras (to name a few), and the beginning of the Saudi war to occupy Yemen.

So, on the appointed day, we met at 6:45 with the items for our tableau, in the pouring rain and decided to go ahead anyway. Drones Fly; Children Die. War is an ugly and dark theme, why not roll it out in the rain. People set up the Tableau blocking the ingress lane of the road leading to the main gate at Hancock Field, and went to the Guard Shack to read the guards our complaint and ask them to forward it to the Colonel who is responsible for the Base. A soldier in a rain slicker immediately went into the main road to direct traffic to a different gate, and a lone policeman arrived. Sherri began chanting. She called out the names of some of the dead children killed in drone strikes. We joined her in a lament. Sherri and Peg chanted, sang and wailed through the entire event in the pouring rain, a couple of hours until the police took those practicing civil resistance to a holding pen in Onondaga County Jail.


Video by Heriberto Rodriguez

And all the while it rained and rained and rained. The rain poured down like tears from a universe where people’s lives are a matter of consequence.

The clips embedded in this article were taken from footage filmed by Heriberto Rodriguez, who somehow captured beautiful clean footage in the pouring rain, including nice cameos of  activists stating their reasons for protesting at the base and images of the vivid tableau in which they embedded themselves and the supporters across the street who held signs and chanted.


On June 20th 2019, 8 protesters outside the front gate of Hancock were arrested and charged with Trespassing and Disorderly Conduct, both violations, and Obstructing Governmental Action, a misdemeanor. They were Ann Tiffany, Ed Kinane, Dan Burgevin, Julianne Oldfield, Les Billips, Ray Kraemer, Mark Scibilia-Carver and Tom Joyce.




The False Narrative of Unmanned Drones and Trump’s Responsibility to Lead

by George Cassidy Payne, Published on Talker of the Town,  June 24, 2019

The unmanned drone narrative is wrong. Someone is always operating these highly sophisticated killing/surveillance machines. Militarized drones may be maneuvered thousands of miles away by human pilots, but they are always being flown by someone. More to the point, they are being used by human beings to launch missile strikes that have killed at least 2,000 people since the beginning of Bush’s “War on Terror.”

Although estimates of civilian deaths attributed to drone strikes are notoriously difficult to establish, several courageous organizations have made it their mission to uncover the origin of these deaths so that the world can know what is happening in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. For instance, the New America Foundation has stated that from 2004 to 2011 alone, 15% of the 2,551 people killed by drone strikes were either known civilians or unknown. It has been widely reported that at least 150 children have been killed by militarized drones in Pakistan and that over 1,000 have been maimed or injured. Of course, these statistics say nothing about the extraordinary levels of PTSD inflicted on these populations. Civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes

Whether someone agrees or disagrees with their use in combat, no one can effectively make the argument that these drones are in any way benign or innocuously unmanned. Whether equipped with weaponry or not, they represent the terrifying reality of American firepower and the severe cost of making the United States an enemy to be resisted. That is why they are flying above — or dangerously close to — the sovereign airspace of Iran. That is why Donald Trump authorizes their use every day. In fact, that is why the American president even went so far as to stop the mandatory reporting of civilian deaths and casualties due to drone strikes. (An act that reversed an Executive Order signed by Barack Obama in 2016.) What is more, that is why the United States military has been authorized by the American people to spend over 100 million dollars on a single piece of drone aircraft, which, we are learning, is the estimated cost of the one recently shot down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And that brings me to my second point. When that American drone was blown out of the sky, what an immense waste it truly was. I don’t mean a waste of insanely expensive technology. I mean, what an immense waste of potential to do good! What has a shot down airplane resulted in but further geopolitical brinkmanship, mutual distrust, and the growing likelihood of another costly and protracted war in the Middle East? And don’t try to tell me that drones are the only way that the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus can attain footage of Iran’s nuclear program. That line of reasoning is absurd and outright mendacious.

I always wonder how that money could be spent differently to achieve better results. With that same amount of money, just imagine what could have been accomplished in the way of actually improving international relations between the two historic foes. If Trump really wants to “make Iran great again”, as he stated to Chuck Todd in his recent Meet the Press interview, then he must change how money is invested and the way he uses resources to make his presence and priorities known. Just think about it. 100 million dollars, even today, goes a long way in the arena of peacemaking. Examples abound from cultural exchange programs and humanitarian aid relief to joint commercial ventures and the lifting of economic sanctions. Even direct support of Iranian-American institutions and citizens and the sponsorship of diplomatic talks would, if allocated strategically, cost far less than 100 million dollars and open up the potential for hundreds of billions in new trade opportunities, regional stability, and scientific cooperation. During the Cold War, the Soviets still collaborated with the U.S. to achieve incredible feats of space exploration. To merely assume that Iran would refuse direct investment — not to mention one less drone in their airspace — is not rational.

Now, I do agree with Trump’s wise decision to restrain his military options after the drone was shot down. The fact that he is looking into other retaliatory options besides bombing Iranian civilians is a good sign that he has not completely lost his grip on reality and the responsibility he has to maintain global peace. But in general, Trump must be far more creative and proactive when it comes to Iran. He must realize that drones are not “unmanned” and that they represent to millions of people in the Middle East a horrific example of indiscriminate slaughter and omnipresent terror. It is, by any calculation, a hugely expensive means for exacting political leverage. Whether or not they have been effective from a combat standpoint is a matter of academic debate, but there is no debating that the use of these weapons has destroyed thousands of lives in some of the most unethical acts of combat in military history. Morally speaking, the price we pay as Americans far exceed the 100 million dollar price tag that each of these vehicles comes with.

For all of these reasons, the time has arrived for President Trump to rethink everything about Iran, the use of force, and the cost of what some pundits call “hard diplomacy.” On a heart level, I ask myself: Why does Iran need to be a mortal threat to the national interests of America? That is not what the people of Iran want. That is not what the region, as a whole, wants. And, if Trump looks at this problem from a big picture perspective, that is not what has to happen, at least not if the U.S. is truly the leader of the free world. As such, we all have a choice. We can choose peace and prosperity or destruction and poverty. War is never inevitable, and the future can belong to those who truly believe that humanity is fundamentally alike and intrinsically good. It does not have to turn into a situation in which all sides pay a price that cannot be put into numerical form.

Photo by Lynda Howland

Come to think of it, Trump actually said something akin to this in his Meet the Press interview. To paraphrase, the U.S. president said, “I am from NY. I know a lot of Iranians. They are good people.

Yes, they are. That you are right about Mr. President. Because they are good people, the time is now to show the world that you can lead with thoughtful reflection on your own experience, resolute compassion for others (not in your base), and an honest desire to make people’s lives better because that is the sacred duty of the office you hold.

** Featured Image: Pilgrimage of Peace: Upstate Drone Action Walk to Educate Upstate NY about Drone Warfare




Voices Rising for Yemen – Final Day

Header and photos all from Voices for Creative Nonviolence

by Kathy Kelly, published on Voices for Creative Nonviolence, November 8, 2018

Over these past three days, Voices and a coalition of justice-minded organizations have been at and around the United Nations in New York City protesting the ongoing U.S.-Saudi attack on famine- imperiled Yemen.  Details are available at www.vcnv.org along with next steps for people looking for ways to get involved.  Participants Kathy Kelly, Brian Terrell, and Jules Orkin write here about the third and final day of protests:

VOICES RISING FOR YEMEN: FINAL DAY

We started our NYC activities this past Tuesday in soggy style, but yesterday, under brilliant sunny skies, the action became a moving procession. About 70 people formed a single file to  carry backpacks, placards, signs bearing the names of children, and various banners, past the U.S. Mission to the UN, past the Saudi Mission, and over to the consulate.  Today we did the same, anticipating that those who stood in front of the consulate would be arrested.

By 11:30 this morning, on Dorothy Day’s birthday, about 90 people had gathered at the Isaiah Wall for a procession to the Saudi consulate. The mourning women led our march, garbed in large masks and veils, holding limp grey dolls that represent the thousands of children facing death in Yemen.  Jun Sun and a companion followed, their drumbeats guiding us. Six people carried placards describing the terrible attack on a children’s schoolbus in northern Yemen.The attack happened on August 9, 2018.

This week in Yemen, children who had survived were going back for the first time to their classes, carrying their blue U.N. backpacks from the day of the attack, splattered with their classmates’ blood.  So today in New York, people willing to risk arrest carried blue backpacks and signs naming the children who had been killed. Others followed with banners. Nick Mottern joined us with a drone replica, an apt reminder of U.S. aerial attacks and drone surveillance in Yemen.

Felton Davis and Ed Kinane held a banner and blocked the entrance to the U.S. Mission to the UN. They were later released without charge.

The procession continued past the Saudi Mission to the UN and over to the Saudi Consulate on Second Avenue.  Members of our group swiftly set up a presence in front of three entrances to the building, urging people not to enter because it is too dangerous: criminal activities have been going on and all who have cause to be in the building should be aware of the crucial importance of ending the murderous, tortuous activities carried out by the Saudi government. Brian Terrell points out that, just as you would be concerned if office workers in your building were involved in human trafficking or drug smuggling, people should be alarmed over the Saudi government’s murderous practices as it makes war on Yemen.  As Buddy Bell intoned the names of children killed on August 9 and raised a lament for Yemeni families, our response was “We Remember You.”

We sang and chanted for over two hours. At least two dozen police carrying plastic cuffs arrived, along with a NYPD Detective named Bogucki, who told us he recalled arresting some of us during the late ’90s and in the years leading up to the Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq. From 1996 to 2003, we had protested the sacrifice and slaughter of Iraqi children.  Detective Bogucki said we are preaching to the choir when we tell him about crimes happening inside the consulate, and other offices that prolong war in Yemen. Recognizing our complicity, we believe “the choir” must unite by resisting child sacrifice, child slaughter.

Word arrived from one of the blockade groups that the New York Police Department had decided not to arrest anyone in our group. We eventually formed a circle, confirmed our collective determination to continue outreach, witness and resistance, expressed many thank yous, and dispersed.

Our hearts remain with Yemeni families agonizing over the dire plight of loved ones in Yemen. We thank Yemenis who have stood up, in more precarious settings, to call for an end to the fighting. And we look forward to supporting their calls for peace in every way we can, until this dreadful war is over.

Kathy Kelly interviewed outside the Saudi Arabian Consulate:

November 8th 2018 – protest gathered outside of Saudi Arabian Consulate in Midtown Manhattan, East 47th street and 2nd Ave. Protest spoke of Yemen bombing, deaths, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump and other issues. Large police response with various specialized units, carrying multiple zip ties and hand cuffs for the arrests. Click image to watch video.  Full video and photos available oliya(at)scootercaster.com,  www.scootercaster.com

November 8th 2018 – protest gathered outside of Saudi Arabian Consulate in Midtown Manhattan, East 47th street and 2nd Ave. Protest spoke of Yemen bombing, deaths, Jamal Khashoggi, Trump and other issues. Large police response with various specialized units, carrying multiple zip ties and hand cuffs for the arrests.


Kathy Kelly is an American peace activist, pacifist and author, one of the founding members of Voices in the Wilderness, and currently a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She has traveled to Iraq twenty-six times, notably remaining in combat zones during the early days of both US–Iraq wars.  Her recent travel has focused on Afghanistan and Gaza, along with domestic protests against US drone policy. She has been arrested more than sixty times at home and abroad, and written of her experiences among targets of US military bombardment and inmates of US prisons.




Game of Drones

Friends, this is a great film on the damage done by drone warfare and the increasing potential for state terrorism presented by drones.  The video is from 2016 but I have never seen it before so I’m glad it turned up in my email today.

The film has interviews with whistleblower Sean Westmoreland, and many of the antidrone activists and drone victims from Waziristan whom we met there as well.   And, interviews with our good friends Nick Mottern of Knowdrones.com and Ann Wright, who needs no introduction in the antiwar universe.

**The film is on YouTube on the RT Documentary channel, and also on the RT website.  Header image is a cropped screenshot from the film.




Documenting the Poor People’s Campaign, Albany 2018

Image: Taken from the Fort Orange Club Action, 31 Arrested.   Why are you here?  Ann Tiffany, “Because I’m committed to making a change”

Videos by John Amidon of Upstate Drone Action participants and others at the Poor People’s Campaign events in Albany, May and June of 2019.


John Amidon is an active member of the Upstate Drone Action Coalition and of Veterans for Peace.




Thousands of Hearts and Minds

by Ed Kinane

To work against militarism and for social justice is to struggle for hearts and minds. We “educate, agitate, and organize.” We reach out to the public to mobilize its conscience. But the public is large and we are few. Most ways to reach the public are costly. Or shaped by other agendas. So mostly we operate small scale. We could however make much greater use of a familiar and broad public forum: letters to the editor.

LTEs are a valuable tool. In writing them, we can transform ourselves, deepening our analysis and vision, making more public our witness, making steadfast our commitment. We’re standing up and out for what we stand for.

LTEs play varied roles:

  • publicizing your upcoming events
  • defining and clarifying issues
  • expanding the bounds of discussion
  • expressing community and planetary needs
  • correcting misinformation and exposing disinformation
  • speaking truth to power: describing the ’emperor’s new clothes’
  • expressing solidarity; advocating for the voiceless

(Back in the eighties, after I had spent some weeks in apartheid South Africa, I returned to Syracuse, my hometown. Over the following months I showered our local paper, the Post-Standard with LTEs about the ins and outs and the injustices of apartheid. This flurry of letters intrigued a certain woman – Ann. We eventually met and we’ve been partners ever since. Which might point to yet another role for LTEs: matchmaking.)

LTEs jar, prod, scold. They recall, they inspire, they appeal to conscience. Each letter to the editor can reach many thousands of readers. Very cheaply. It only takes a computer (or paper and pen), and, if you don’t submit on-line, a postage stamp. And some engaging work. The Post-Standard, prints nearly a page of LTEs daily. It has a circulation of 70,000 (120,000 on Sunday) – with an estimated twice as many readers. Plus, lots get their news fix from their daily paper on-line, which includes LTEs.

LTEs are one of the most popular newspaper features. Let’s say one in three readers – either in the print edition or on-line – reads LTEs. Those tens of thousands are more likely than average to vote and act politically. That’s the audience we want to reach.

Often LTEs are a one-shot response to an issue or event. But for more impact one might write successive LTEs instructive to reader and editor alike. Each LTE would develop an aspect of a theme you might be particularly knowledgeable and passionate about. Such continuity and persistence is vital, especially for issues otherwise neglected or misrepresented in the media. Or by government officials. The one-shot letter is good; a series of letters on an issue is better. If you can’t support a particular cause financially, consider pledging to write (say) one LTE a month on its behalf.

If you write a letter to a local, state or federal politico, copy your newspaper. Don’t settle for it being read only by the politician’s staff. That staff is much more likely to call your letter to their boss’s attention if it also appears in print. They know thousands of voters are also reading it.

Many LTEs are written to a single periodical only. Yet a letter, without much effort, often can be adapted to others. The more widely a letter is published, the wider its influence. After some time and it hasn’t appeared, you might contact the letter editor, re-sending the original. Ask if your letter has been misplaced. With that prod, it may soon be published.

If it is framed as a response to a specific article recently appearing in the periodical, your letter’s publication is more likely. Some – not all — editors won’t print letters from outside their circulation area or more than one letter a month from the same author.

***

Three other factors affect whether a letter is published: space, ideology, and quality.

Space. In most periodicals, reader input is minimal. But many provide at least token space for LTEs. Typically, editors prefer short letters and may abridge or ignore longer ones. I work to keep LTEs to a single page.

Prestigious periodicals receive far more letters than they print. The New York Times receives oodles of LTEs. So your chances there are slim. But if the Times does print your letter, it will reach a particularly broad and influential readership.

“Op-eds” are long letters or short essays appearing opposite the editorial page. Where LTEs may be 200 words, an op-ed may be 600 or 800. To get that much space, you usually need expertise or distinctive background. Having spent time in some global hot spot like Central America or the Middle East can be a sufficient credential for an informed op-ed regarding that region.

Ideology. In the US we do have “freedom of the press”…up to a point. While mainstream media promote the public airing of (some) issues, they also set real – though elastic – limits on debate. After all, most media are big business with particular class and economic interests. Letters critical of such interests have rather less chance of being published. (Though to appear “balanced,” editors may occasionally run opposing or unorthodox views.) In the US, as in any country, the print media are more open to some authors and some topics than to others.

LTE writers may assume that the more bland and “balanced” they sound, the more chance they have of being heard. Maybe yes, maybe no. But this self-censorship, besides promoting boredom, redundancy and irrelevance, can be a cop-out. True, a forthright (or “radical”) letter may turn off some editors or readers. But forthright perspectives may well hearten allies and raise the consciousness of the receptive. Also, such letters legitimate worthy, less pointed letters. Without the contrast, other’s tame letters may occupy the outer fringes of discourse.

Letter writers are like court jesters. We have license to speak more boldly than journalists and columnists. LTEs are do-it-ourselves journalism. Our letters can cite facts (e.g. about corporate corruption or US foreign policy) that many in the industry seem to avoid even thinking about. These pros have families to support, bosses to please, careers to make. Often they’ve so internalized the constraints that they are no longer aware of their self-censorship. Because the population at large are likewise afflicted, our letters are all the more essential.

LTEs are an opportunity. If we don’t exercise that opportunity, we’ve lost it. So we must not gag ourselves at the outset. We need to probe the limits of expression, mindfully. In doing so we may even expand those limits: “If you don’t push, it won’t budge.” Most papers print few challenging letters, not because they consciously censor, but perhaps because we are too tame (or too busy) to submit them.

Quality. The more concise and carefully written a letter, the more likely it will be printed…and have impact. Spare the editor the chore of condensing or cleaning up your letter. Otherwise, even if your LTE gets published, the editorial scalpel may hamstring your continuity and coherence. To shorten a longish letter, an editor may remove parts she doesn’t fancy. Careful, concise writing can keep your message intact.

To make the editor’s job easier, type and double-space your letter. LTEs should be neat, timely, accurate, grammatical, non-rhetorical and free of unintended ambiguity. Your letter should cite up front a recent article or relate to a theme recently broached in the paper. For readability, favor short, familiar, concrete words, short sentences and short paragraphs. To provide context, include who/what/where/when facts. And to provide more impact, don’t neglect the “why” factor.

Be careful to get your facts right; when citing facts an editor might doubt, supply a source footnote. The note won’t be printed, but it aids fact-checking and boosts credibility. Also, if you have a relevant credential that gives your views heft, note it – either in your text or as a writer’s ID at the beginning or end.

An effective letter takes sweat. You may be working to express ideas you’ve never before put to paper. I sometimes don’t know quite what I think until I wrestle those thoughts onto the page. You may learn you have ideas you didn’t know you had. Your LTE will need not only proofreading, but revising, probably repeated revising. To prevent gaffes, seek a second opinion. Especially when writing out of anger, have someone else check the tone. Sleep on it: I often see need for further revisions the next morning.

Sometimes an LTE can be dashed off quickly. But I can take several hours to craft an LTE. Five or six hours to reach tens of thousands of readers is well worth it. That’s thousands of hearts and minds for every hour of work. What better way to educate, agitate and organize?


In 2003 Ed spent five months in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness.




Billboards Opposing Drone Wars Are Going Up All Over Syracuse, NY

by David Swanson, originally published on World Beyond War, Feb 21. 2018

World Beyond War has been raising funds for and renting billboards in opposition to war. We’ve run into censorship from numerous billboard companies but persevered, and more billboards are on their way.

First we put this message up here in Charlottesville, Va., and then in Baltimore, Md. (see explanation of the 3% calculation here):

Now we’re putting these two images up on billboards in Syracuse, NY, where drone pilots participate in U.S. wars from Hancock Air Base:

For 8 hours a day for 16 days in March, these two images will be on either side of a billboard truck driving around downtown Syracuse and the University of Syracuse. Then, from April 2 to May 27 each image will be on two of the four stationary billboards located at 115 South Street, 700 East Washington Street, 1430 Erie Boulevard East, and 1201-1208 South Salina at Raynor Street. Then, from May 28 to July 22, one image will be on two and the other on one of three billboards at 700 East Washington Street, 909 East Genesee Street, and 1758 Erie Boulevard East.

Why Syracuse?

The Syracuse area hosts Hancock Air National Guard base where the Guard’s 174th Attack Wing conducts drone assassination and target identification missions using MQ-9 Reaper drones in Afghanistan and probably elsewhere. It has been announced that the numbers of drone operators being trained at Hancock will be doubled.

The billboard ads are being undertaken in the context of what amounts to a whiteout of information on drone and other air operations in Afghanistan. Pentagon reports on drone and other air attacks in other nations are inadequate at best, and these reports when they come have been inaccurate and have grossly under-reported casualties.  The U.S. government has made no reports and taken no responsibility for the emotional devastation of drone attacks on children as well as adults, as documented by the Al Karama Foundation’s “Traumatising Skies.”

Syracuse is home to a creative and courageous group of activists who have done a great deal of public education already and who are continuing those efforts.

Overcoming Censorship

Some companies have refused to rent space for billboards opposing drone wars. No company has questioned the facts of the messages, apart from one company asking us to say that drone wars “may” make us less safe, adding the word “may.”

It is hardly disputable that drones make orphans, or that they kill innocent children. That drone wars make us less safe ought to be obvious after what the “successful” drone war has done to Yemen, following the April 23, 2013, testimony of Farea al-Muslimi before the U.S. Congress that drone strikes were building support for terrorists. But don’t take it from him or me, when a leaked CIA document admits that the drone program is “counterproductive,” and numerous recently retired top U.S. officials agree.

For the most part companies have given no explanation for refusals to display these graphics. In some cases, they have said the graphics made them “uncomfortable,” or they’ve asked that we stick to “positive-oriented messaging.” Those companies that have written policies that I’ve seen for what they accept have in no case had a policy that explained their refusal, other than their declaration of their right to refuse for any reason whatsoever.

While some companies in Syracuse said no, and others yes, every company in Forth Smith, Arkansas has, thus far, said no, without any explanation. These include:

RAM Outdoor Advertising: 1-479-806-7735
Ashby Street Outdoor: 1-479-221-9827
Billboard Source: 1-940-383-3500

Feel free to ask them to explain. Remember that politeness is most effective. RAM Outdoor Advertising did say: “Thanks for sharing your potential creative. I’ve shared it with the owners and they have decided that your creative will violate our lease agreements. We will have to decline your ads.” I requested to see the “lease agreements” and received no reply.

Fort Smith is the home of the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard at Ebbing Air National Guard base, which controls Reaper drones for assassination and target identification.  It appears drone operations will expand there also.

Freedom of Speech

World Beyond War billboards are funded entirely by contributions made by supporters of ending war who want to help put up more billboards. We will continue to solicit such contributions and to work to overcome censorship.

One of the more common, if ludicrous, defenses of war making is that it somehow defends one’s rights. Yet, freedom of speech and of press is routinely restricted in the name of protecting the war making.

Following the recent school shooting in Florida, we pointed out that the shooter had been trained by the U.S. military in a JROTC program funded by the NRA, and that this information was publicly available and not disputed. Major media outlets chose to avoid that story in order to focus, instead, on the undocumented (and, as it happens, false) claim that the shooter had worked with right-wing groups.

Google, Facebook, and other big forces on the internet are working hard to steer ever more traffic toward big corporate outlets and away from voices of dissent. Congress has eliminated net neutrality.

Whistleblowers are now up against the risk of prison time.

Protesters at inauguration parades face felony charges.

In my town in Virginia, Charlottesville, we are still forbidden to take down any war monuments, and still have no public peace monuments, but the local government has just made it a crime to hold a public demonstration without a permit obtained 30 days ahead.

In some airports and perhaps other locations, this story that you are reading will be blocked by internet services on the grounds that it constitutes “advocacy.”

Is this the “freedom” for which the wars endanger and impoverish and indebt us?

What you can do

1. Politely phone the companies above and ask them to explain their censorship.

2. Send us ideas for good locations for billboards.

3. Send us donations with which to put up more billboards.


David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie and When the World Outlawed War. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.