Reports from Hancock and Beyond

Drones Fly, Children Die

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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.

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