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Press Release for Day of Atonement Actions

Ban Killer Drones, Upstate Drone Action, October 3, 2021

Just two weeks ago, several online journals published an article by Brian Terrell, a Catholic Worker from Maloy, Iowa, entitled  “No, the Longest War in U.S. History is Not Over“.  In it, Brian pointed out the significance of October 7, 2001. On this day, in 2001, the United States began a 20-year long war against Afghanistan and initiated the so-called U.S. global “War on Terror“.

Brian believes that October 7th needs to be remembered especially in light of President Biden’s pledge to hunt down people anywhere in the world who are viewed by the U.S. government as threats. Biden said: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay“.  His threat is based on the U.S. use of weaponized drones to kill anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world.

We, as members of the Ban Killer Drones network, propose to observe October 7, 2021 as a “A Day of Atonement“, a day to repent for the war crimes of our government and military in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

Emblematic of those crimes is the August 29th U.S. revenge drone attack in Kabul that killed ten civilians.

As U.S. citizens whose tax dollars went into buying the MQ-9 Reaper drone that made that attack, and the missile it fired, the blood of Zemari Ahmadi and his three children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; the children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal: Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya is on our hands.

On Thursday, October 7th, we will gather, and we urge all those reading this to gather, at places of worship at 11am to call for a real end to the 20 years of U.S. terror against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We urge a ban on weaponized drones and an end to any “Over the Horizon” airstrikes  against  Afghanistan and any other country. We will also call on our religious leaders to speak out clearly for peace, ending what has too often been a tragic, enabling silence from faith leaders over the 20 years.

Organize as best you can on such short notice.  Having talking points for the media is key to any action. Call the press multiple times before the date. Television staffs need to get their copy edited for the evening sound bites. Help them succeed. Thank them.

Here are some talking points:

1) 10/7 was the start of 20 years of U.S. terror against the people of Afghanistan and the Middle East and elsewhere.

2) The fiasco of the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan that was exposed with the U.S. departure from that tortured nation has also exposed the mistake religious leaders made in supporting the war and “supporting the troops”.

3) President Biden has vowed to continue drone attacks under the banner of “Over the Horizon”—continued illegal immoral assassinations and more generalized attacks. It appears that possibly 90% of those killed by weaponized drones have been other than those who were targeted. We urge religious leaders to call for an end to the use of weaponized drones, the illegal “Over the Horizon” and the U.S. vigilantism that it represents.

5) U.S. military contractors are eager to make China our enemy. Now is the time for religious leaders not to be silent. It is time for them to call for diplomatic responses to China and to oppose a U.S. military build-up in Asia.

Bring signs and flyers, and, if possible, posters showing the photos and the names of the members of the Ahmadi family killed by the August 29 U.S. drone attack, to places of worship in your community.

See this video: In Memory of the victims of the U.S. Drone Strike in Kabul, September 29, 2021

Read Jack Gilroy’s article on Covert Action: Blessed be the Warmakers? Why Post-9/11 American Religious Leaders Must Atone

ATTACHMENTS:

Day of Atonement Letter to Pastors

Day of Atonement Planned Actions

 

 

 




Letter to Clerics On the Anniversary of the Afghan War

Dear (Pastor, Rev. Father, Rabbi)

We are at your place of worship, today, October 7, 2021, not to demean you or your house of worship. We are here in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the start of the war on Afghanistan. The war on Afghanistan expanded to Iraq and made the date 10/7 of far greater horror than 9/11.

In the past twenty years, approximately a million people have died in the Middle East in wars generated by the United States starting on 10/7. Additionally, 9 million people have become refugees in Iraq alone, with countless houses, apartment buildings, and businesses devastated. The crime of 9/11 with 3,000 dead and two skyscrapers destroyed pales in comparison.

Those of us here today represent various peace and justice groups and respectfully request your vocal objection to more war-making and fear-producing. The near silence of religious denominations at the start of 10/7 and the 20-year war that followed is, to us, shocking. Praying for the troops was a mantra of all religious groups and music to the ears of the Pentagon and its war contractors. It enables the war-makers to do their business blessed by the moral arbiters of America– religious communities.

We ask you, we implore you, to vocally object to existing plans for more drone warfare. We urge you to call for an end of the Over the Horizon drone attack plan of our United States government. We ask as well that you speak out in opposition to the political, military, and corporate fear-making depicting China as our new enemy–a fear that is already generating great financial benefit to the Pentagon war contractors.

Signed

ENDORSERS OF OCT. 7 DAY OF ATONEMENT STATEMENT

Baltimore Phil Berrigan Chapter, Veterans For Peace

Ellen Barfield, Baltimore, MD

Mickie Lynn, member of Women Against War, Delmar, NY

The Drone Death Walk, Philadelphia, PA

Marie Dennis, Co-President (2007-2019) Pax Christi International

Marge Van Cleef, Philadelphia, PA

Pax Christi, Greenburg, PA

Kathy Kelly, To End All Wars

Des Moines Catholic Worker

Des Moines Chapter, Veterans For Peace

Ann Tiffany, Upstate Drone Action (NY)

Ed Kinane, Upstate Drone Action (NY)

Upstate Drone Action (NY)

Father Tim Taugher, Binghamton, NY

John Heagle, Chair, Gospel Nonviolent Working Group, AUSCP (Association of United States Catholic Priests

Stephen V. Kobasa, for Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice, New Haven, CT

BanKillerDrones.org

Nick Mottern – Co-coordinator BanKillerDrones.org

Peace Network of Western New York

Vicki Ross, Peace Network of Western New York

Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director – Pax Christi USA

Interfaith Peace Network

NYC War Resisters League

Paki Weiland, CODEPINK

Brian Terrell, Catholic Worker, Maloy, Iowa

Fr. Bernard Survil, Priest of the Diocese of Greenburg, PA

Peace and Justice Works, Portland, OR

New York City Catholic Worker Community

Broome County, NY Peace Action

Broome County, NY Chapter 90, Veterans for Peace

Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington, DC




Why was Daniel Hale Silenced? Daniel Hale Must be Pardoned!

Statement by Ban Killer Drones Coalition

We raise our voice in deep concern on the silencing and imprisonment of Daniel Hale. Daniel Hale did not commit a crime.

It is outrageous that Daniel Hale was charged, prosecuted and sentenced to 45 months in Federal prison for exposing a criminal program. Daniel Hale should be pardoned!

Daniel Hale leaked documents that revealed extremely high civilian death rates in U.S. drone attacks. The 33-year-old Air Force veteran first spoke out publicly against drone warfare in 2013. Daniel Hale’s whistleblowing also uncovered secret U.S. watch lists, Presidential drone kill lists, and other criminal and unethical aspects of the U.S. deployment of killer drones.

Since the Nuremberg Tribunal we have been taught that “just following orders” is not a defense. Soldiers, even in time of war, have a moral obligation to oppose illegal orders in every possible way, especially the killing, for any reason, of non-combatants.

Daniel Hale revealed that a U.S. government “kill chain” targeted its victims for extrajudicial execution based on minimal evidence and that, in one 5 month period in Afghanistan, 90% of the people killed in drone attacks were not the intended targets. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explained that that showed that the majority of those killed were “innocents, bystanders, or not the intended target. We couldn’t have established that without Daniel Hale’s voice.” Daniel Hale felt a responsibility to oppose these criminal acts.

With much publicity we are told that U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are withdrawing. But attacks on defenseless civilians through U.S. drone wars and economic sanctions are intensifying.

Daniel Hale felt deeply that the people in the U.S. have a right to know the crimes committed in their names.

We also have a responsibility to raise our voices in opposition to these continuing wars and to the sentencing of Daniel Hale.

The war criminals who authorize the use of thousands of drone strikes and other criminal killings should be prosecuted.

Sign the Petition for a pardon for Daniel Hale:

https://www.codepink.org/danielhale

Initial signers of the above statement:

  • CODEPINK
  • Ban Killer Drones
  • International Action Center
  • Peace Action New York State
  • “Rising Together!”
  • Upstate NY Coalition to End the Wars and Ground the Drones
  • Wisconsin Coalition to End the Wars and Ground the Drones
  • Brandywine Peace Community, Philadelphia
  • Occupy Beale Air Force Base
  • The Nuclear Resister
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation USA
  • Veterans for Peace New York City Chapter 34
  • United National Antiwar Coalition

 




Drone Whistleblower Gets 45 Months in Prison for Revealing Ongoing US War Crimes

by Marjorie Cohn, published on Truthout, July 28, 2021

On July 27, a federal district court judge in Alexandria, Virginia, sentenced former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale to 45 months in prison for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes.

In 2015, Hale, whose job involved identifying targets for drone strikes, provided journalist Jeremy Scahill with secret military documents and slides that exposed shocking details about the U.S. drone program. Hale’s revelations became the basis of “The Drone Papers,” which was published on October 15, 2015, by The Intercept.

Although the government admitted it had no evidence that direct harm resulted from Hale’s revelations, in 2019, the Trump administration charged Hale with four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property. Facing up to 50 years in prison, Hale pled guilty to one count that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The leaked documents disclosed the “kill chain” the Obama administration used to determine whom to target. Countless civilians were killed using “signals intelligence” in undeclared war zones: Targeting decisions were made by following cell phones that might not be carried by suspected terrorists. The Drone Papers divulged that half of the intelligence used to identify potential targets in Yemen and Somalia was based on signals intelligence.

During one five-month period during January 2012 to February 2013, nearly 90 percent of those killed by drone strikes were not the intended target, according to The Drone Papers. But civilian bystanders were nonetheless classified as “enemies killed in action” unless proven otherwise.

Hale said, “It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors [used to identify “terrorist” targets] are misattributed to certain people.” Calling a missile fired at a target in a group of people a “leap of faith,” he noted, “it’s a phenomenal gamble.” Hale added, “Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association.”

The Drone Papers reveal that reliance on drones actually undermines U.S. intelligence gathering. Drones terrorize communities, breeding resentment against Americans and making the United States more vulnerable to violence. Indeed, Hale wrote in his 11-page pre-sentencing letter, “the war had very little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors.”

Drone strikes shield U.S. military members from harm in order to minimize Americans’ opposition to war. But drone operators who make or carry out remote targeting decisions nevertheless suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

At his sentencing hearing, Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, “I believe that it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless.” Hale said he revealed what “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.

You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job,” Hale added.

In November 2013, I participated in a panel on the illegality of drones and targeted killing at a drone summit in Washington, D.C. Hale also spoke on a panel at that conference. He described how he located a man riding a motorcycle in the mountains who then met up with four other people and they sat around a campfire, drinking tea. Hale relayed information that resulted in a drone strike, killing all five men. He said he realized that he “was no longer part of something moral or sane or rational.” He had heard someone say that “terrorists are cowards” because they used improvised explosive devices (IEDs). “What was different,” Hale asked, “between that and the little red joystick that pushes a button thousands of miles away?”

Hale told the sentencing judge about this incident in his pre-sentencing letter, writing,

“Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple-colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.”

Hale’s revelations did not pose a threat to national security, even by traditional interpretations. Harry P. Cooper, a former senior CIA official, wrote in a declaration in Hale’s case that

“the disclosure of [the Drone Papers], at the time they were disclosed and made public, did not present any substantial risk of harm to the United States or to national security.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have used armed drones to drop bombs on other countries in violation of international law. All four administrations have killed and are still killing untold numbers of civilians.

It is estimated that U.S. military and CIA drone operations have killed 9,000 to 17,000 people since 2004, including 2,200 children and many U.S. citizens. But those numbers are likely low because the U.S. military labels all individuals killed in those operations as presumptive “enemies killed in action.”

Bush authorized about 50 drone strikes that killed 296 alleged “terrorists” and 195 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Obama vastly increased the number of people killed with drones.

Obama presided over 10 times more drone strikes than his predecessor. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, during his two terms in office, Obama carried out 563 strikes — largely with drones — in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing between 384 and 807 civilians.

Obama’s 18-page Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG) was made public after a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU and resulting court order. It purported to outline targeting procedures for the use of lethal force outside “areas of active hostilities.” The PPG required that a target pose a “continuing imminent threat.” But a secret 2011 Justice Department white paper leaked in 2013 permitted the killing of a U.S. citizen even without “clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” The bar was presumably lower for non-U.S. citizens.

Obama’s PPG also mandated that there be “near certainty that an identified HVT [high-value terrorist] or other lawful terror target” is present before lethal force could be used against him. But the Obama administration mounted “signature strikes” that didn’t necessarily target individuals, but rather men of military age who were present in an area of suspicious activity.

It was also necessary to have “near certainty that non-combatants [civilians] would not be injured or killed.” But the revelations of The Drone Papers call into question the Obama administration’s compliance with that requirement as well. Plus, activists have emphasized that “near certainty” is a dangerous barometer when it comes to the decision of whether to take a human life.

Trump lowered the bar even further for drone strikes. His administration reduced the requisite level of confidence that a target was present in a strike zone from “near certainty” to “reasonable certainty.” Under Trump, targets were not limited to “high-value terrorists” but could include foot soldiers. Whereas decisions about drone bombings had been made at the highest levels of government — with Obama having the final say about who would be targeted — Trump allowed commanders in the field to make targeting decisions. Trump gave increased authority to the Pentagon and CIA to conduct drone strikes. He weakened the targeting rules in large areas of Somalia and Yemen by designating them as “areas of active hostilities.” And Trump eliminated the government’s commitment to report on civilian casualties.

During his first two years in office, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes, compared to 1,878 in Obama’s eight years in office.

Biden Continues Drone Bombings

In March, Biden secretly set temporary limits on drone strikes outside of recognized battlefields. He has ordered a comprehensive review of whether to keep Trump’s relaxed rules in place, or return to Obama-era rules, or impose some middle ground. In any event, it is doubtful that Biden would comply any better than Obama did with the tighter rules.

Meanwhile, the United States conducted a drone strike against Shabab “militants” in Somalia on July 20. The White House had rejected some requests by the U.S. military’s Africa Command to conduct drone strikes against Shabab targets in Somalia because they didn’t meet the new rules. However, White House approval was considered unnecessary here because the Africa Command has authority to carry out strikes in support of allied forces under what the military calls “collective self-defense.” But that does not constitute lawful collective self-defense under the United Nations Charter.

Although Biden is withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, he is continuing to launch airstrikes, including drone strikes, there. “We’ve been doing it where and when feasible, and we’ll keep doing it where and when feasible,” an official involved in operational planning said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Gen. Kenneth E. McKenzie Jr., the top U.S. general in charge of Afghanistan, refused to say whether airstrikes would continue past the cutoff date of August 31.

The Air Force is requesting $10 billion to perpetuate the U.S. imperial footprint in South Asia and the Middle East.

On June 30, 113 organizations, including Veterans for Peace, wrote a letter to Biden, “to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.”

Drone Strikes Violate International Law

The UN Charter requires that international disputes be settled peacefully. It allows a country to use military force only in self-defense after an armed attack or with the consent of the UN Security Council. Neither the U.S. war in Iraq nor in Afghanistan complied with the Charter’s mandates.

Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal,” Agnès Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, tweeted. She added that “intentionally lethal or potentially lethal force can only be used where strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life.” Thus, Callamard said, the United States would need to demonstrate that the target “constituted an imminent threat to others.”

Targeted or political assassinations — also known as extrajudicial executions — violate international law. Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. Civilians must never be the target of military strikes. A targeted killing is only lawful if it is deemed necessary to protect life, and no other means — including capture or nonlethal incapacitation — is available to protect life.

Yet the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have all prosecuted whistleblowers for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes. In addition to Hale, those courageous folks include Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and John Kiriakou, who revealed that CIA officials used waterboarding, which constitutes the war crime of torture.

Misuse of the Espionage Act

The Espionage Act of 1917 was enacted to prosecute foreign spies. It was never intended for use against whistleblowers. Nevertheless, Obama charged eight whistleblowers with violating the act, more than all prior presidents combined.

But although Obama refrained from indicting Assange for publishing evidence of U.S. war crimes (for fear of setting a dangerous precedent), Trump indicted Assange for 17 charges under the Espionage Act. Assange now faces 175 years in prison. A British judge denied Trump’s request that Assange be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for those charges. But Biden has continued Trump’s appeal of the denial of extradition, notwithstanding the grave threat Assange’s prosecution poses to the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

Hale is the first person sentenced under the Espionage Act during the Biden administration and he probably won’t be the last.

Ironically, Hale told the sentencing judge that he was a descendent of Nathan Hale, who was executed by the British for spying during the Revolutionary War. “I have but this one life to give in service of my country,” Hale said, quoting his ancestor.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.


Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues




Daniel Hale’s Letter to the Judge

by Daniel Hale, published on the Sparrow Project, July 23, 2021

It is not a secret that I struggle to live with depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Both stem from my childhood experience growing up in a rural mountain community and were compounded by exposure to combat during military service. Depression is a constant. Though stress, particularly stress caused by war, can manifest itself at different times and in different ways. The tell-tale signs of a person afflicted by PTSD and depression can often be outwardly observed and are practically universally recognizable. Hard lines about the face and jaw. Eyes, once bright and wide, now deepset and fearful. And an inexplicably sudden loss of interest in things that used to spark joy. These are the noticeable changes in my demeanor marked by those who knew me before and after military service. To say that the period of my life spent serving in the United States Air Force had an impression on me would be an understatement. It is more accurate to say that it irreversibly transformed my identity as an American. Having forever altered the thread of my life’s story, weaved into the fabric of our nation’s history. To better appreciate the significance of how this came to pass, I would like to explain my experience deployed to Afghanistan as it was in 2012 and how it is I came to violate the Espionage Act, as a result.

In my capacity as a signals intelligence analyst stationed at Bagram Airbase, I was made to track down the geographic location of handset cellphone devices believed to be in the possession of so-called enemy combatants. To accomplish this mission required access to a complex chain of globe-spanning satellites capable of maintaining an unbroken connection with remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as drones. Once a steady connection is made and a targeted cell phone device is acquired, an imagery analyst in the U.S., in coordination with a drone pilot and camera operator, would take over using information I provided to surveil everything that occurred within the drone’s field of vision. This was done, most often, to document the day-to-day lives of suspected militants. Sometimes, under the right conditions, an attempt at capture would be made. Other times, a decision to strike and kill them where they stood would be weighed.

The first time that I witnessed a drone strike came within days of my arrival to Afghanistan. Early that morning, before dawn, a group of men had gathered together in the mountain ranges of Patika provence around a campfire carrying weapons and brewing tea. That they carried weapons with them would not have been considered out of the ordinary in the place I grew up, muchless within the virtually lawless tribal territories outside the control of the Afghan authorities. Except that among them was a suspected member of the Taliban, given away by the targeted cell phone device in his pocket. As for the remaining individuals, to be armed, of military age, and sitting in the presence of an alleged enemy combatant was enough evidence to place them under suspicion as well. Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple-colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.

Since that time and to this day, I continue to recall several such scenes of graphic violence carried out from the cold comfort of a computer chair. Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions. By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissible for me to have helped to kill those men—whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify—in the gruesome manner that I did. Watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time. Nevermind honorable, how could it be that any thinking person continued to believe that it was necessary for the protection of the United States of America to be in Afghanistan and killing people, not one of whom present was responsible for the September 11th attacks on our nation. Notwithstanding, in 2012, a full year after the demise of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, I was a part of killing misguided young men who were but mere children on the day of 9/11.

Nevertheless, in spite of my better instincts, I continued to follow orders and obey my command for fear of repercussion. Yet, all the while, becoming increasingly aware that the war had very little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors. The evidence of this fact was laid bare all around me. In the longest or most technologically advanced war in American history, contract mercenaries outnumbered uniform wearing soldiers 2 to 1 and earned as much as 10 times their salary. Meanwhile, it did not matter whether it was, as I had seen, an Afghan farmer blown in half, yet miraculously conscious and pointlessly trying to scoop his insides off the ground, or whether it was an American flag-draped coffin lowered into Arlington National Cemetery to the sound of a 21-gun salute. Bang, bang, bang. Both served to justify the easy flow of capital at the cost of blood—theirs and ours. When I think about this I am grief-stricken and ashamed of myself for the things I’ve done to support it.

The most harrowing day of my life came months into my deployment to Afghanistan when a routine surveillance mission turned into disaster. For weeks we had been tracking the movements of a ring of car bomb manufacturers living around Jalalabad. Car bombs directed at US bases had become an increasingly frequent and deadly problem that summer, so much effort was put into stopping them. It was a windy and clouded afternoon when one of the suspects had been discovered headed eastbound, driving at a high rate of speed. This alarmed my superiors who believe he might be attempting to escape across the border into Pakistan.

A drone strike was our only chance and already it began lining up to take the shot. But the less advanced predator drone found it difficult to see through clouds and compete against strong headwinds. The single payload MQ-1 failed to connect with its target, instead missing by a few meters. The vehicle, damaged, but still driveable, continued on ahead after narrowly avoiding destruction. Eventually, once the concern of another incoming missile subsided, the driver stopped, got out of the car, and checked himself as though he could not believe he was still alive. Out of the passenger side came a woman wearing an unmistakable burka. As astounding as it was to have just learned there had been a woman, possibly his wife, there with the man we intended to kill moments ago, I did not have the chance to see what happened next before the drone diverted its camera when she began frantically to pull out something from the back of the car.

A couple of days passed before I finally learned from a briefing by my commanding officer about what took place. There indeed had been the suspect’s wife with him in the car. And in the back were their two young daughters, ages 5 and 3 years old. A cadre of Afghan soldiers were sent to investigate where the car had stopped the following day. It was there they found them placed in the dumpster nearby. The eldest was found dead due to unspecified wounds caused by shrapnel that pierced her body. Her younger sister was alive but severely dehydrated. As my commanding officer relayed this information to us she seemed to express disgust, not for the fact that we had errantly fired on a man and his family, having killed one of his daughters; but for the suspected bomb maker having ordered his wife to dump the bodies of their daughters in the trash, so that the two of them could more quickly escape across the border. Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.

One year later, at a farewell gathering for those of us who would soon be leaving military service, I sat alone, transfixed by the television, while others reminisced together. On television was breaking news of the president giving his first public remarks about the policy surrounding the use of drone technology in warfare. His remarks were made to reassure the public of reports scrutinizing the death of civilians in drone strikes and the targeting of American citizens. The president said that a high standard of “near certainty” needed to be met in order to ensure that no civilians were present. But from what I knew, of the instances where civilians plausibly could have been present, those killed were nearly always designated enemies killed in action unless proven otherwise. Nonetheless, I continued to heed his words as the president went on to explain how a drone could be used to eliminate someone who posed an “imminent threat” to the United States. Using the analogy of taking out a sniper, with his sights set on an unassuming crowd of people, the president likened the use of drones to prevent a would-be terrorist from carrying out his evil plot. But, as I understood it to be, the unassuming crowd had been those who lived in fear and the terror of drones in their skies and the sniper in this scenario had been me. I came to believe that the policy of drone assasination was being used to mislead the public that it keeps us safe, and when I finally left the military, still processing what I’d been a part of, I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong.

I dedicated myself to anti-war activism, and was asked to partake in a peace conference in Washington, DC late November, 2013. People had come together from around the world to share experiences about what it is like living in the age of drones. Fazil bin Ali Jaber had journeyed from Yemen to tell us of what happened to his brother Salem bin Ali Jaber and their cousin Waleed. Waleed had been a policeman and Salem was a well-respected firebrand Imam, known for giving sermons to young men about the path towards destruction should they choose to take up violent jihad.

One day in August 2012, local members of Al Qaeda traveling through Fazil’s village in a car spotted Salem in the shade, pulled up towards him, and beckoned him to come over and speak to them. Not one to miss an opportunity to evangelize to the youth, Salem proceeded cautiously with Waleed by his side. Fazil and other villagers began looking on from afar. Farther still was an ever present reaper drone looking too.

As Fazil recounted what happened next, I felt myself transported back in time to where I had been on that day, 2012. Unbeknownst to Fazil and those of his village at the time was that they had not been the only watching Salem approach the jihadist in the car. From Afghanistan, I and everyone on duty paused their work to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. At the press of a button from thousands of miles away, two hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly. In front of a speechless auditorium, Fazil wept.

About a week after the peace conference I received a lucrative job offer if I were to come back to work as a government contractor. I felt uneasy about the idea. Up to that point, my only plan post military separation had been to enroll in college to complete my degree. But the money I could make was by far more than I had ever made before; in fact, it was more than any of my college-educated friends were making. So, after giving it careful consideration, I delayed going to school for a semester and took the job.

For a long time I was uncomfortable with myself over the thought of taking advantage of my military background to land a cushy desk job. During that time I was still processing what I had been through and I was starting to wonder if I was contributing again to the problem of money and war by accepting to return as a defense contractor. Worse was my growing apprehension that everyone around me was also taking part in a collective delusion and denial that was used to justify our exorbitant salaries, for comparatively easy labor. The thing I feared most at the time was the temptation not to question it.

Then it came to be that one day after work I stuck around to socialize with a pair of co-workers whose talented work I had come to greatly admire. They made me feel welcomed, and I was happy to have earned their approval. But then, to my dismay, our brand-new friendship took an unexpectedly dark turn. They elected that we should take a moment and view together some archived footage of past drone strikes. Such bonding ceremonies around a computer to watch so-called “war porn” had not been new to me. I partook in them all the time while deployed to Afghanistan. But on that day, years after the fact, my new friends gaped and sneered, just as my old one’s had, at the sight of faceless men in the final moments of their lives. I sat by watching too; said nothing and felt my heart breaking into pieces.

Your Honor, the truest truism that I’ve come to understand about the nature of war is that war is trauma. I believe that any person either called-upon or coerced to participate in war against their fellow man is promised to be exposed to some form of trauma. In that way, no soldier blessed to have returned home from war does so uninjured. The crux of PTSD is that it is a moral conundrum that afflicts invisible wounds on the psyche of a person made to burden the weight of experience after surviving a traumatic event. How PTSD manifests depends on the circumstances of the event. So how is the drone operator to process this? The victorious rifleman, unquestioningly remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced off against his enemy on the battlefield. The determined fighter pilot has the luxury of not having to witness the gruesome aftermath. But what possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetuated?

My conscience, once held at bay, came roaring back to life. At first, I tried to ignore it. Wishing instead that someone, better placed than I, should come along to take this cup from me. But this too was folly. Left to decide whether to act, I only could do that which I ought to do before God and my own conscience. The answer came to me, that to stop the cycle of violence, I ought to sacrifice my own life and not that of another person.

So, I contacted an investigative reporter, with whom I had had an established prior relationship, and told him that I had something the American people needed to know.

Respectfully,
      Daniel Hale

 


Daniel Hale is an Airforce Veteran who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst.   He became disillusioned with his work on seeing numerous videos of innocent civilians torn to pieces by drone strikes based on the information he provided.   After his discharge he provided information to a reporter with the Intercept on the technical  configuration of the US global drone system along with the truth about the efficacy and accuracy of drone killing which formed the basis of, a series of articles called “The Drone Papers”.




We Gotta Stand with Daniel Hall, Drone Warfare Truth-Teller

On Saturday, July 17, 2021, activists representing many organizations, including the Ban Killer Drones campaign and Peace Action New York State, held a press conference in support of the whistleblower Daniel Hale, who revealed information about the U.S. drone warfare program.

Daniel Hale served in the Air Force as an intelligence analyst. His task was to identify targets for the US drone assassination program. Troubled by what he did and saw, after leaving the Air Force in 2013, Hale provided documents about the drone program to the media.  In 2019, four years after the documents were published, the Trump administration had him arrested and charged under the 1917 Espionage Act.  He is being held in prison in Alexandria, VA, and will be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on July 27, 2021.

Incomplete reports about US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen alone found 16,901 people killed and 3,922 wounded.  The use of drones is spreading. Drone attacks have been carried out by at least 12 nations, primarily by the USA, but also by other governments, including France, Israel, Turkey, and the UK.

“Some people call me a whistleblower or a patriot, but I was simply concerned with speaking the truth.”  — Daniel Hale

Video by Wilton Vought

To learn more about Daniel Hale’s case and how you can support him, go to standwithdanielhale.org.

 

 




Over 100 Groups Demand Biden End ‘Unlawful’ Drone Strikes Outside War Zones

by MEE Staff, published on Middle East Eye, June 30, 2021

More than 100 organisations have urged US President Biden to end “unlawful” drone strikes and the use of other lethal force outside of traditional combat zones.

In a letter released on Wednesday, 113 activist groups framed the issue as a matter of racial justice, and said drone strikes had “exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown and Black communities in multiple parts of the world”.

“We appreciate your stated commitments to ending ‘forever wars,’ promoting racial justice, and centering human rights in US foreign policy,” the groups said in the letter.

“Disavowing and ending the lethal strikes program is both a human rights and racial justice imperative in meeting these commitments.

 

 

“Twenty years into a war-based approach that has undermined and violated fundamental rights, we urge you to abandon it and embrace an approach that advances our collective human security.”

Organised by the Human Rights and Security Coalition, the letter was co-signed by 77 human rights and anti-war groups in the United States and 36 groups based abroad, including in countries where the US has conducted the drone strikes in question, such as six groups from Yemen, three from Somalia, two from Pakistan and one from Libya.

“The US has been killing people for nearly 20 years in Yemen, but to this day it has not adequately investigated civilian deaths and injuries, or clearly recognized the severe harm caused to families and communities,”

Radhya al-Mutawakel, chair of the Yemen-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, said in a statement.

“The Biden administration should break with these damaging practices, and ensure thorough investigation and accountability for harms that have occurred,”

she continued.

The US’s drone programme has long been the target of human rights groups that have denounced the use of the armed unpiloted technology, particularly when used outside of traditional combat zones, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq.

On Sunday, the US carried out air strikes in Iraq and Syria on what it said were weapons depots. At least four members of Iran-backed groups were killed. While the US labelled the strikes as “defensive” in nature, both Iraqi and Syrian officials accused the US of violating their sovereignty.

‘Chart a new path forward’

The last major expansion of the US’s drone programme took place during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president. While Obama eventually tightened restrictions on the strikes during his second term, former President Trump loosened the rules when he was in office.

Shortly after taking office in January, Biden initiated a review of the use of armed drones and commando raids outside of standard war zones, imposing temporary restrictions. Such drone strikes now require additional high-level reviews to be approved, but have not been banned outright.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby in March told the New York Times that the restrictions were typical with a new administration, as it takes a “broader review of national security issues across the board, including the legal and policy frameworks that govern these kinds of matters“.

In their letter, the organisations acknowledged the review, calling it an “opportunity to abandon this war-based approach and chart a new path forward that promotes and respects our collective human security.”

As Biden has pledged to make progress in matters of social justice, the organisations also pointed to links between the US’s drone programme and issues of race.

“This program is a centerpiece of the United States’ forever wars and has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown and Black communities in multiple parts of the world,”

 

 

they wrote.

“It has caused lasting psychological trauma and deprived families of beloved members, as well as means of survival,”

they added.

“In the United States, this approach has contributed to further militarized and violent approaches to domestic policing; bias-based racial, ethnic and religious profiling in investigations, prosecutions and watchlisting; warrantless surveillance; and epidemic rates of addiction and suicide among veterans, among other harms. It is past time to change course and start repairing the damage done.”

*Featured Image: A military drone replica is displayed in front of the White House during a protest against drone strikes on 12 January 2019 in Washington, DC (AFP/File photo)




Daniel Hale is a Hero, Not a Criminal

by Chip Gibbons, published on The Jacobin, April 10, 2021

Former intelligence analyst Daniel Hale is being prosecuted for blowing the whistle on America’s drone program. It’s the latest in the topsy-turvy world of national security whistleblowers, who reveal illegal and immoral conduct by the US military yet face prison time as if they committed the real crimes.

On Wednesday, March 31, Daniel Hale pled guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act. On its face, the Espionage Act may sound like a law dealing with spies and saboteurs who injure the United States by furnishing military secrets to foreign enemies. But, from its inception, the act has been principally used to silence dissent. In recent decades, the law has become the government’s go-to weapon against whistleblowers and journalists who challenge the US national security state.

Hale conceded to giving documents about the US drone program to an investigative journalist (unnamed in court documents, but clearly Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept) and anonymously authoring a chapter in The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. Far from a spy, Hale is a whistleblower — and a courageous one at that — whose actions have given us key insights into the unjust nature of US imperial power in the twenty-first century.

“There’s No Way of Knowing” Who’s Being Killed

From 2009 to 2013, Hale served in the US Air Force as an intelligence analyst. His motivations for enlisting were not based on an ideological affinity for US foreign policy. By Hale’s own admission, he was deeply critical of it, but he was suffering from homelessness and had few other options. While in the Air Force, Hale was assigned to work with the National Security Agency (NSA) and was even stationed at Bagram air force base in Afghanistan as part of the Department of Defense’s Joint Special Operations Task Force.

In this role as a signals analyst, Hale was involved in the identifying of targets for the US drone program. Hale would tell the filmmakers of the 2016 documentary National Bird that he was disturbed by “the uncertainty if anyone I was involved in kill[ing] or captur[ing] was a civilian or not. There’s no way of knowing.

After leaving the military, Hale would work as a contractor with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He also began speaking out against US drone policy. In 2013, he met journalist Jeremy Scahill at a bookstore in Washington, DC, where Scahill was talking about his book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield. Later that year, Hale appeared on stage alongside Scahill at another book event.

Daniel Hale in the 2016 documentary National Bird. (Independent Lens / PBS)

Hale shows up alongside a number of other drone whistleblowers in National Bird. Throughout the film, his politics are on full display. Hale wears a button in support of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, a Black Panther Party poster can be seen adorning his home, and he is pictured attending an antiwar protest wearing pins for the group Veterans for Peace.

During filming in 2014, Hale’s home was raided by the FBI in connection to an Espionage Act investigation. The early fallout of the raid is depicted in the film, showing yet another pitfall national security whistleblowers face. Hale explained that he thought he was being targeted in part for being a former intelligence analyst now involved in political activism.

Exposing the Kill Chain

In 2015, one year after the search, the Intercept published an eight-part series titled “The Drone Papers,” a groundbreaking exposé based on “a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.”

The Drone Papers” featured a number of startling revelations, depicting in full detail for the first time the “kill chain,” the bureaucratic process by which targets are selected to be summarily executed. These targets are culled from secret terror watch lists, which include US citizens. Information about potential targets is transformed into “baseball cards” given to the president, who then has the option to sign what is essentially a death warrant. If the president signs off, the military has sixty days to carry out a lethal strike against the target.

Signals intelligence and metadata taken from phone intercepts played a heavy role in targeting. Yet the Intercept’s reporting reveals that such methods were far from reliable and led to the killing of civilians.The source, now known to be Hale, was quoted as saying, “It requires an enormous amount of faith in the technology that you’re using. There’s countless instances where I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty.” And while these assassinations are often referred to by governments as “targeted killings,” during one five-month period, more than 90 percent of those killed by US airstrikes were not the intended targets. Yet even when the US government killed unintended targets, it labeled them as “enemies killed in action” unless proven otherwise.Then in 2019, a full five years after the initial FBI raid and four years after the publishing of “The Drone Papers,” the US Department of Justice indicted Hale on four counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property. Similar charges had historically been brought against Pentagon papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and more recently Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Reality Winner.An Act to Quash DissentThe Espionage Act has a loathsome history. Passed during World War I and used to criminalize opposition to the war, the act was most infamously used to jail socialist standard-bearer Eugene Debs, as well as members of the Socialist Party and Industrial Workers of the World.

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers, in 2002. (Christopher Michel)

When Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo liberated the US government’s secret history of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon papers, the Nixon administration, seeking to make an example of leakers, charged them under the Espionage Act. Given the flagrant misconduct of the Nixon administration (Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” had burglarized Ellsberg’s psychiatrist hoping to find salacious evidence to use to discredit Ellsberg), the charges were dismissed.

When it came to journalists and their sources, the Espionage Act was occasionally invoked as a threat, but lay largely dormant until the twenty-first century. One exception was the Reagan-era prosecution of Samuel L. Morison for giving information to Jane’s Defense Weekly. Yet the case was considered such an anomaly that Bill Clinton granted a full and unconditional pardon to Morison.

This changed with the Obama administration, which normalized the practice of indicting journalists’ sources under the Espionage Act. Obama’s Department of Justice chose to continue or, in some cases, reopen Bush-era cases against national security whistleblowers, bringing an unprecedented number of Espionage Act indictments. These included indictments against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake and CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou.

Drake had raised concerns internally about NSA mass surveillance before later going to a Baltimore Sun reporter with unclassified information about waste, fraud, and abuse. The government dropped the Espionage Act charges against him on the eve of the trial as its case unraveled.

Kiriakou exposed CIA torture by bringing information to journalists, and was indicted under the Espionage Act. He pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and was sentenced to thirty months in prison — making him, perversely, the only person to go to jail over CIA torture. While both of these cases had their origins in the Bush era, when Chelsea Manning exposed US war crimes and Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s illegal surveillance, they both were indicted by the Obama Department of Justice under the Espionage Act.

These were not the only victims of Obama’s war on whistleblowers. By the end of his administration, Obama had indicted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined.

Trump picked up the baton Obama handed him, escalating the use of the Espionage Act and seeking longer and harsher sentences, including in the cases of FBI whistleblower Terry Albury and NSA whistleblower Reality Winner. Trump’s Department of Justice also went a step beyond Obama, and, in the case of Australian journalist Julian Assange, indicted a publisher of truthful information for the first time. It was under the Trump presidency that Hale was at last indicted.

Prosecuted for Criticism

A whistleblower indicted under the Espionage Act has virtually zero chance at a fair defense. The law allows for no public interest defense. More disturbingly, whistleblowers are gagged from explaining their actions. Defense attorneys are barred from uttering the words “whistleblower” or “First Amendment” within earshot of the jury. Since all that matters for sustaining a conviction is that a defendant gave classified information to someone not entitled to receive it, that’s all the jury is allowed to hear.

In the run-up to the potential trial, Hale’s defense made a number of arguments as to why the indictment should be dismissed. Hale’s attorney argued that the intelligence analyst turned antiwar activist was the victim of a prosecution both vindictive and selective. Government officials leak information about the US drone program all the time without prosecution. The difference is that they are feeding information to gullible reporters about the program’s efficiency, whereas Hale’s disclosures exposed the government’s official claims as false.

The government decided to target Hale not because he leaked information on the drone program, which is a standard course of action in official Washington, but because he criticized the drone program. The defense urged the judge to order prosecutors to release its reasons for initiating the prosecution, and whether any initial decision not to prosecute had been made and reversed. After all, this prosecution was brought half a decade after the investigation started and four years after the publication of “The Drone Papers.” Such information could show whether the delayed prosecution was the result of a new administration’s vindictiveness toward press freedom.

Additionally, Hale’s attorneys brought First Amendment challenges to the indictment. They argued that the conduct central to the government’s accusations against Hale, assisting a journalist in newsgathering, touched on core First Amendment protected freedoms. The defense pointed out that the Espionage Act was passed before the courts adopted their contemporary expansive interpretation of First Amendment press freedoms. They also argued that the record showed that Congress never intended the act to criminalize giving information to the public. While an appellate court had dealt with similar issues in the 1980s, the defense reasoned that as that case predated the government’s widespread use of the Espionage Act to stifle newsgathering, the situation had changed. Hale was supported in this motion by a brief filed by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Daniel Hale in the documentary National Bird. (Independent Lens / PBS)

The government made its own pretrial motions, urging a judge to preemptively bar the defense from making a wide range of arguments — for example, to challenge whether the documents were misclassified, arguing that such classification was the sole authority of the executive branch and therefore could not be challenged. They even went so far as to argue that whether the information was improperly classified was irrelevant, as an Espionage Act prosecution did not require the information to be properly classified, just classified. Classification, which postdates the Espionage Act, is supposed to be used to protect legitimate secrets, not conceal information that casts the government in a negative light. “Overclassification,” classifying information that should not be kept from the public, is a growing problem within the executive branch.

The government also moved to have the defense barred from mentioning the “good motives” of the defendant (i.e., his entire reasoning for making the disclosure) and argued that other government officials routinely leak information. The government even sought to bar the defense from arguing that an “alternative perpetrator committed the charged crimes, absent some non-speculative evidence of that individual’s (a) connection to a particular reporter, and (b) knowledge of, or access to the documents at issue.”

Faced with a limited ability to present any meaningful defense, Hale did what most whistleblowers indicted under the Espionage Act do after realizing how stacked the deck is against them: he pled guilty a week before the trial was to begin, pleading to one count — unlawful “retention and transmission of national defense information.” But the government has not dismissed the remaining four charges, instead merely asking for the trial to be postponed. This has raised concerns that the government could, if it feels the judge has given Hale too lenient a sentence, seek a trial on the remaining charges.

Official American Drone Policy Is Criminal

Speaking anonymously to Scahill at the time “The Drone Papers” were published, Hale explained why he chose to go to the American people with information its government had kept from them. “This outrageous explosion of watch-listing — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong.”

Drone strikes are a form of extrajudicial execution that is illegal under international law. They are a moral travesty. These assassinations are also part of larger foreign policy that is itself troubling. Enemies of whistleblowers often prattle on about the need to go through “official channels.” But when the crime itself is official policy, what better check exists than the democratic process itself?

Yet from the Pentagon papers to “The Drone Papers,” the US government has worked to conceal the realities of its war-making from the US public, obfuscating our ability to use our democratic process to rebuke the government. This is a pernicious conspiracy against our ability to democratically decide our foreign policy. Presidents from both parties have helped to carry it out. Congress and the courts are both complicit.

These antidemocratic impulses of the national security state are what’s actually harmful to our country — not a whistleblower who seeks to empower us to make democratic decisions about the crimes our government carries out in our name.

Hale’s actions are both heroic and laudable. The fact that the government once again seeks to destroy a truth teller who exposed its crimes highlights the immorality of the system that Hale and others have exposed.

Please got to the website “Stand with Daniel Hale” to get more information on Daniel’s status and how you can help him. [jb]

*Featured Image: JANUARY 07: A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), carrying a Hellfire air-to-surface missile lands at a secret air base in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016. The U.S. military and coalition forces use the base, located in an undisclosed location, to launch airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)


Chip Gibbons is a journalist who writes about civil liberties and social movements, both from a historical and a contemporary perspective.  He is co-chair of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America Political Education Working Group.




Ban Killer Drones: International Campaign of Civil Disobedience Necessary (P2)

by Brian Terrell, published on Covert Action, May 10, 2021

A large campaign of civil disobedience is necessary to abolish one of the U.S. military’s monstrous creations

The headline of the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan on November 30, 2012, page one above the fold with my photo, read “Terrell: American Drone Strikes Must Stop.”

I was served well by this article explaining my opposition to killing by remotely controlled drones, as that morning I “surrendered” myself to the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota, to begin a six-month prison sentence for protesting at a drone base in Missouri earlier that year.

“While many Americans may think drone strikes are a safe way to conduct war and improve the nation’s safety, one man will go to prison in Yankton today because of his belief that they are remotely committing crimes against humanity,” the paper reported.

That first afternoon, when I walked into the prison’s library, one inmate was reading that article aloud to the others, who broke into applause when they recognized me.

Protest outside Whiteman Air Force base, Missouri, April 7th, 2014. [Source: veteransforpeace.org]

It is a rare event for someone to go to prison for a federal misdemeanor like trespass and, in these days of mass incarceration and maximum-minimum sentencing, it is unusual for anyone to be incarcerated for so short a time as six months except in exchange for testifying against other accused defendants.

Having my crime and intention advertised to guards and prisoners alike saved me from the uncomfortable suspicion of being a snitch in prison. It also opened up many great discussions with my fellow inmates over those months.

The sentencing judge in this case had given me six weeks before presenting myself to the prison to put my affairs in order and I used that time traveling through Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, New York and Minnesota, speaking, protesting and organizing with other anti-drone activists.

A reporter from Missouri Public Radio called me during that time and requested an interview. She asked me a question I often hear, if I did not feel that I could do more for the cause by staying out of prison.

I responded by asking her if we would be having this interview if, instead of getting arrested and going to jail for it, I had simply called her station and expressed my concern that the United States was committing war crimes by remote control from Whiteman Air Force Base. This reporter admitted that no, there would not be any interest in talking with me if that were the case.

Terrell (left) protests drones with Colonel Ann Wright (right), at Whiteman Air Force Base in 2012. [Source: flickr.com]

The shift captain who checked me out when my sentence was completed six months later told me that, while he respected the strength of my conviction, he felt I had done my cause a disservice by going to prison.

I had irresponsibly squandered any credibility I might have had, he told me. Who will listen to a convict? Within the following six months, my platform from which to speak out about drone warfare expanded to churches, libraries, schools, universities, Quaker meeting houses and community organizations around the U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany, including Yale Divinity School, Harvard Law School and Queen’s College in Birmingham, UK.

This was not the first time I had gone to jail protesting drones. In April 2009, about the time that President Obama made the Predator Drone the key to his “war on terror,” I took part in the first protest of drone warfare anywhere, at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Creech was where the drone wars began and where the CIA runs its clandestine program of extrajudicial executions.

Protesters temporarily block traffic outside Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. [Source: commondreams.org]

Louie Vitale, a Franciscan priest and activist with the Nevada Desert Experience, first noticed mysterious pilotless/windowless planes circling the desert while he was protesting at the Nevada nuclear test site nearby.

As a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Cold War, Louie first understood and alerted us to their grim significance. From that beginning, I have been arrested at Creech at least nine times, each time spending anywhere from a few hours to four days in the Clark County Jail in Las Vegas, one of the most squalid and cruel lockups in the country.

Louis Vitale (center), with legendary whistleblower Dan Ellsberg (right), and David Krieger, after arrest in 2012 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. [Source: oaklandvoices.us]

In February 2012, I was sentenced to ten days in the Jamestown Penitentiary for my part as one of the “Hancock 38.” The previous April we were arrested at the Syracuse, NY, civilian airport from where the New York Air National Guard flies weaponized drone missions.

Volk Field [Source: volkfield.eng.af.mil]

Twice I joined the regular actions of the “Occupy Beale” group in California, resisting the Global Hawk surveillance drones flown from Beale Air Force Base. Each of those times, federal prosecutors dropped the charges.

I have also been arrested twice at Wisconsin’s Volk Field, where the National Guard trains soldiers to pilot the Shadow, a surveillance drone that is used for “target acquisition” for armed drones and attack helicopters and, in 2017, I was lodged quite comfortably in the Juneau County Jail for five days after refusing to pay a fine on a trespass charge.

Acts of civil resistance such as these are responses to grave crimes of the state and not crimes in themselves, even when arrest and prosecution seem the immediate outcomes. Such actions are often required, but are not the whole of a campaign for change, either. In resistance to killer drones, such tactics as petitions, billboards, teach-ins, marches, pickets have also been effectively used and more will be needed as we go forward.

[Source: amazon.com]

Martin Luther King, Jr., explained the necessity of direct action in his 1963 Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.”

I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.”

Nonviolent direct action is not the whole of a campaign for social betterment, but it is a necessary and indispensable component of any successful one.

The Late Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark addresses a gathering of about 50 defendants and supporters in front of the DeWitt Court House where the 38 Hancock drone protesters were on trial. [Source: mediasyracuse.com]

These actions in Nevada, California, Missouri, New York and Wisconsin and their ensuing courtroom dramas have raised the “constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth” in their communities at least to the extent that drone violence cannot be so easily ignored. We are responsible to build on these beginnings.

At the Syracuse trial of the “Hancock 38,” former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark was permitted to testify on our behalf on the subject of international law.

Judge Gideon, after listening to Mr. Clark speak of the Nuremberg Principles and other laws as they apply to drone warfare at length, leaned over the bench and asked him,

“This is all interesting, but what is the enforcement mechanism? Who is responsible for enforcing international law?”

They are,” responded Mr. Clark, pointing to the 31 defendants, “and so,” he said to Judge Gideon, “are you!

Activists Brian Terrell and Ghulam Hussein Ahmadi at the Border Free Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. [Graffiti by Kabul Knight; photo by Hakim]

As a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a 25-year campaign that ended in December 2020, I was privileged to have the community support, the time and the means to join with these local cells of drone resistance around the U.S. and abroad.

Voices had also raised drone awareness by organizing several “peace walks” to drone bases, hundreds of miles on foot—from Chicago to a Michigan National Guard base in Kalamazoo; from Madison, Wisconsin, to Volk Field; from Rock Island, Illinois, to the Iowa Air National Guard drone command center in Des Moines—each time meeting with community groups and talking to hundreds of people along the way.

 

Peace march toward Volk Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin to voice concern with U.S. drone policy. [Source: cnsblog.wordpress.com]

We itinerant Voices activists had a role in informing local anti-drone groups, in part because many of us have traveled to places under attack by armed drones, including Gaza, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan. I have visited Afghanistan, the nation most subjected to U.S. drone attacks and with the most drone casualties, five times between 2010 and 2018 and, with my colleagues, we have met with and often been befriended by Afghans who have lost limbs and loved ones in drone strikes.

We know many others who, fearing drone violence, have fled their village homes with their families to live in squalid and overcrowded refugee camps.

Activists from Voices in the United Kingdom have been resisting the use of armed drones by the Royal Air Force, including nonviolent resistance at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and at factories there producing drones for Israel’s military.

CODEPINK Women for Peace anti-drone activists likewise have traveled to and established friendships in Pakistan, Palestine and other places targeted by weaponized drones.

CodePink founder Medea Benjamin protests drone war. [Source: codepink.org]

Banning weaponized drones is not an abstract “cause” but a real human obligation. Addressing resistance to the Vietnam War in 1966, Thomas Merton wrote, “It is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

Thomas Merton [Source: uscatholic.org]

Not every anti-drone activist needs to visit war zones, just as not all of us need to go to prison, but some of us need to do both of these and it is the reality of those personal relationships that keeps our resistance from the abstractions that would otherwise suffocate it.

To learn more about the international campaign to ban killer drones, see bankillerdrones.org.

*Featured Image: Brian Terrell (right), with Father Louie Vitale, at a 2009 anti-drone war protest at Creech Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas, NV. [Source: Jeff Leys]




Ban Killer Drones: International Grassroots Movement to Ban Weaponized Drones Launched (P1)

by Jack Gilroy, published on Covert Action, May 10, 2021

An international grassroots movement to ban weaponized drones and military and police surveillance, entitled Ban Killer Drones, has been launched. Go to www.bankillerdrones.org to see the teamwork results of this excellent resource on the United States’s not-so-secret assassinations around the world.

Protests outside Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York, in 2014. [Source: Syracuse.com]

A group of long-time anti-drone war organizers, including Nick Mottern, Brian Terrell and Chelsea Faria, with support from two Nobel Peace Prize candidates, Kathy Kelly and David Swanson, worked to make this site the prime resource site to ban killer drones internationally.

Progressive readers will remember the years of struggle that produced the recent ban on nuclear weapons as well as the struggle that produced agreements on landmine and cluster bombs.

I remember well where I was on October 1, 2014: I was handcuffed tighter than I had ever been, wiggling my fingers to keep my hands from going numb. I had been stuffed prostrate between the front and rear seat of an Onondaga Sheriff’s Department car in Syracuse, New York.

DeWitt Town Court Judge Robert Jokl had just sent me on my way to the nearby Jamesville Correctional Facility to begin a three-month sentence for my participation in a die-in at the main gate of the NY Air National Guard 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field killer drone base.

Die-in outside Hancock drone base in April 2013. [Source: space4peace.org]

Lying on the floor, squeezed between the seats, I asked the two deputies to give me room to sit. The deputy in the passenger seat called out: “You’ll be at the jail in just 15 minutes or so, live with it.”

I lived with it, serving 60 days of my 90-day sentence, with time reduced for “good behavior.”

But I’m still mad as hell that my U.S. government continues to assassinate “suspected terrorists,” expands its drone war and encourages other countries to do the same.

It is time to promote a treaty to ban weaponized and surveillance drones world-wide.

Gilroy protesting outside Hancock Air Force base on Earth day, April 22, 2021. [Photo courtesy of Heriberto Rodriguez]

The Predator

When I became aware of the drone protests at Hancock Field, I had written coming-of-age novels about conscientious objectors from WWII and the Vietnam war, but now war was being waged in my own back yard and few seemed to know about it.

The resisters at Hancock were, of course, trying to educate the public.

Sadly, even when some Americans did learn of assassinations operating out of United States drone bases, the acts of drone terror seemed of little importance to them. After all, the terrorists were in foreign lands and we needed to “take them out” and not to worry about Hellfire missiles and bombs since they were in the Middle East, not in Syracuse.

Hancock’s 174th Attack Wing just did the electronic firing of weapons hovering over suspects thousands of miles away, seen of course by Attack Wing pilots with high-tech drone cameras via satellite.

[Source: 174attackwing.ang.af.mil]

I researched Predator and Reaper drones, spoke to folks who had been arrested for trespass at Hancock and was arrested a couple of times myself.

At the time, I was chair of the St. James Peace and Justice Committee in Johnson City, New York, 75 miles south of Syracuse. The headquarters of the Syracuse Diocese and the leader, Bishop William Cunningham, was hiking distance from the nearby weaponized drone base.

I had tried for more than two years with letters and phone calls to speak to Bishop Cunningham. My intent was to ask him his views on being so close to an institution that orchestrates assassinations, the 174th Attack Wing of the New York National Guard, just up the road a bit from his residence.

Persistence paid off. The bishop agreed to meet with our team of six resisters.

I asked Bishop Cunningham what he thought of the morality of the Hancock weaponized drone base. Bishop Cunningham said: “It’s one way to keep our boys’ boots off foreign soil. We don’t need to be sending our young men off to war.” Then, a bit later, he noted: “You do know that a lot of Catholics work at Hancock, don’t you?”

We had assumed that to be so since we knew Bishop Cunningham had assigned one of his priests to minister to Hancock drone pilots.

Scene from The Predator: “I had hoped you’d go to one of the military academies.” Jay Becker as Major Jennifer Golden, drone pilot, and Sarah Latham as her daughter, Ella. [Source: awaketodrones.blogspot.com]

Realizing that the Bishop’s office was a dead end, I began to form a play in my mind of a young woman whose mother was a drone pilot at Creech. I decided to go with the title The Predator for obvious reasons.

In November 2013, the first staging of The Predator was done at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with students from Syracuse University and the University of Scranton as actors. The event was the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In, the largest annual Catholic social justice conference in the United States.

 

Jack Gilroy discusses The Predator. [Source: awaketodrones.blogspot.com]

Thankfully, I had a professional to assist: Aetna Thompson, a former member and singer with the satirical group in Washington called “The Capitol Steps.”

An eye-catching prop was set up on campus, a facsimile of a Reaper drone designed and made by Nick Mottern, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and coordinator of https://www.knowdrones.com/

Nick drove the disassembled mock drone from his home to Route 81 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he showed me how to assemble it and then covered the mock Hellfire missiles with blankets—“just in case a State Trooper wonders about these rockets,” said Nick. The Reaper was my traveling mate in my old Volvo, the fuselage resting on my dashboard and the tail bumping my rear window.

Nick Mottern with mock drone. [Source: lehighvalleylive.com]

I drove south for our first gig at Georgetown University and then on to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where I stationed the Reaper mock-up at the entrance to the Columbus, Georgia, convention center, with a large sign tacked onto it announcing “THE PREDATOR.”

The Predator had legs, playing at many college campuses and church halls around the nation from around 2013 to 2017 with activists such as Ann Wright, former U.S. Army Colonel and U.S. diplomat and Kathy Kelly, Director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, taking on roles.

The play is still available to download (and tweak to bring it up-to-date) for any group to use.

Did the reflection, the thinking of the outlandish immorality and cowardly killing of people with high-tech American terrorism lead me to write the play? Quite likely, it was a factor. But I felt that what I had done with the play was not enough, hence my arrest and jailing, noted above.

Going International

The work of Up State Drone Action to expose the international crimes of the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock killer drone base has been outstanding. From the first direct action at Hancock in 2011 to Earth Day 2021, a team of creative artists have used street theater at the very edge of the killer drone base on East Malloy Rd in Syracuse, NY.

Developing themes for each action, Dan Burgevin of Trumansburg, NY, Ed Kinane of Syracuse, John Amidon of Albany, Ellen Grady of Ithaca and many others have used a varity of scenes and song to illustrate the crimes going on inside the 174th Attack Wing.

For example, the Syracuse District Attorney’s office liked to bring into court physical evidence (exhibits) to prove their case against the killer drone resisters. So, one action, called Big Books used huge facsimiles of anti-war books—8’x4’ and blocked the gate to the Hancock weaponized drone base. The local court room didn’t have room for the big books. Consequently, no big books were taken into court as exhibits by the Syracuse District Attorney’s Office.

Protestors display replicas of books that point to evils of the drone war. [Source: Photos courtesy of Ellen Grady and MaryAnne Grady who designed the book replicas]

Bill Quigley [Source: ignatiansolidarity.net]

Weaponized drones have nothing that is praiseworthy. Weaponized drones are unmanned weapons carriers used to assassinate people in foreign (for now) lands. The use of weaponized drones is immoral, illegal, racist (used mainly to kill people of color) and pragmatically stupid.

No other nation does what the United States does frequently: assassinate with weaponized drones in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya. The United States is still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and killer drones have become our deadly calling card.

Funeral for pine-nut farmer killed in drone strike in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan in September 2019. [Source: theguardian.com]

Armed drones make bitter enemies around the world and create insecurity as they sow hate and vengeance.

Protest against U.S. drone strikes after drone attack in Multan, Pakistan, in 2012. [Source: foreignpolicy.com]

President Biden ended his inauguration speech with “May God bless America and God protect our troops.” That’s where we’re at: praising America and beseeching God to protect our troops.

The arms industry and the religious arm of the military-industrial complex are smiling. It is clear that we must reach outside our borders and build an international consensus to end drone killing and drone surveillance.

I encourage readers to join the movement to establish an international ban on weaponized and surveillance drones. Go to www.bankillerdrones.org to initiate international action while pressuring Joe Biden and the war-prone Democrats to end weaponized and surveillance drones.

*Featured Image: Anti-drone protest outside New York Air National Guard Base in April 2013. [Source: spaceforpeace.org]