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By Brian Terrell
When President Barack Obama apologized on April 23 to the families of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, an American and an Italian, both hostages killed in a drone attack in Pakistan in January, he blamed their tragic deaths on the “fog of war.”
“This operation was fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region,” he said, and based on “hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this (the building targeted and destroyed by drone launched missiles) was an al Qaeda compound; that no civilians were present.” Even with the best of intentions and most stringent of safeguards, the president said, “it is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes -- sometimes deadly mistakes -- can occur.”
I sometimes read that drone strikes are counterproductive to western security interests because each person killed by a drone results in more new ‘terrorists’. See, for example, ‘The more civilians US drones kill in the Mideast, the more radicals they create’.
NEW YORK – A vigil imploring the German government to order the immediate closure of the United States drone satellite relay station at Ramstein Air Base will be held at 11:30 am, Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at the German Consulate, 871 U.N. Plaza.
The Ramstein relay station, according to an April 17, 2015 article in The Intercept, is essential to U.S. drone attacks because it “enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries.”
The vigil will mark the opening of a court case in Cologne, Germany on May 27, 2015 on behalf of Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an environmental engineer from Yemen who lost his brother-in-law and a nephew to a U.S. drone attack in 2012. His suit seeks to force the German government act to close the Ramstein relay station under a provision of German law that allows people to seek redress if they have suffered harm from activities generated on German soil, in this case drone execution without due process.
“This is an extremely important case not only because it has the potential for stopping U.S. drone attacks but because it may expose much about the U.S. drone program that has been kept secret from the American public and the world,” said Nick Mottern, Director of KnowDrones.com
The vigil will include music by the Raging Grannies singing group and display of a large model of the MQ-9 Reaper, the world’s most numerous and deadly drone. The event is being organized by: KnowDrones.com, the Granny Peace Brigade and World Can’t Wait.
From Know Drones:
On Sunday, May 17, from 2 – 3:30 pm there will be an anti-drone war rally at the entrance of Whiteman AFB in Knob Noster, MO. Cars will leave at 12:30 pm from 912 E. 31st Street, Kansas City, MO for the base. To carpool, call 913-206-4088.
Brian Terrell, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-Violence (VCNV), will speak at the rally. He served 6 months in a federal prison camp for resistance at Whiteman AFB in 2012 after crossing a line on the entry road to protest remote control of killer drones from Whiteman and other bases.
Brian says, protesters plan to stay on the public right-of-way and will invite the base commander and officers “to join us to break bread and converse,” and that no civil resistance is planned. Last year Georgia Walker, of PeaceWorks-KC, and Kathy Kelly, of the Chicago-based VCNV, did civil resistance at Whiteman AFB. Georgia is on probation for a year, and Kathy served 3 months in a federal prison camp.
The rally is sponsored by PeaceWorks-KC, Mid-MO Fellowship of Reconciliation and PeaceWorks-Mid-MO.
by Debra Sweet A few points on the U.S. drone war which will not surprise you, but should be in your arsenal of arguments for people who think drones are an acceptable form of mass murder:
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Criminal investigation launched by Pakistan police into former CIA station chief's role in drone strike
The Islamabad Police today launched an official criminal investigation into the actions of former CIA station chief, Jonathan Banks, on charges of murder and conspiracy to kill, over his role in the US’ covert drone war in Pakistan.
The charges were first brought in 2010 by Kareem Khan, a resident of North Waziristan who lost his brother and son in a drone strike carried out by the CIA on December 31st 2009. Kareem lost his teenage son Zahinullah and brother Asif Iqbal who was a primary school teacher in Mirali, North Waziristan. Kareem Khan started his legal case against the CIA station chiefs in 2010 and has been pursuing the case ever since.
The investigation marks the first time any country has sought to hold individual CIA officers responsible for their roles in the US drone programme that has killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan alone. It follows a four-year court battle and signals the government’s decision not to appeal the Islamabad High Court ruling three weeks ago instructing the Islamabad police and the Pakistan government to launch a formal investigation.
After opening the investigation today, the Islamabad police also moved to have the investigation transferred to the FATA Secretariat, which it says has jurisdiction over carrying out the investigation. Lawyers for Kareem Khan have announced they will file a motion next week before the Islamabad High Court to block that move.
Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Reprieve legal fellow and Khan’s lawyer, said: “Today’s decision marks a key turning point in Kareem Khan’s search for justice over the deaths of his brother and son. After four years of government attempts to block his case, Kareem may finally get the answers he deserves and the CIA may finally be held in some way accountable for the murders it has been carrying out on Pakistani soil. We’re disappointed, though, that the police have seen it necessary to transfer the legal case to FATA. There is no legal justification for such a transfer. The orders to strike Kareem’s family were given from the US Embassy in Islamabad and that’s where the investigation needs to be focused: on the CIA agents who sit behind embassy walls making life or death decisions as judge, jury and executioner. An investigation centered anywhere else is simply an attempt to subvert justice.”
Kareem Khan, said: “The launch of this investigation against those responsible for the deaths of my son and brother, and thousands of other civilian victims, supports our position that the CIA is committing acts of murder in Pakistan by killing innocent civilians with impunity. I am disappointed that the Islamabad police seem eager to transfer the case to FATA where there is no police and when the culprits sit here in Islamabad. Nevertheless I will continue my legal struggle against continued injustice and will approach the judiciary again to bring the case back to Islamabad where it should be investigated.”
By Nick Mottern
As the Obama government attempts to justify its drone program, Staff Sergeant Shane R. Owens, a drone sensor operator suffering from PTSD from having been involved with drone killing, assigned to the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Creech AFB, has been confined by the Air Force without charges since March 5 at nearby Nellis AFB in Nevada.
Please contact the following Air Force officials and demand that Owens be released and that the Air Force disclose all details of his case, including whether Owens was functioning as a drone sensor operator at the same time he was being treated for PTSD.
1. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James - Email http://www.af.mil/
Chris Woods' excellent new book is called Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars. The title comes from a claim that then-President George W. Bush made for drone wars. The book actually tells a story of gradual injustice. The path from a U.S. government that condemned as criminal the type of murder that drones are used for to one that treats such killings as perfectly legal and routine has been a very gradual and completely extra-legal process.
Drone murders started in October 2001 and, typically enough, the first strike murdered the wrong people. The blame game involved a struggle for control among the Air Force, CENTCOM, and the CIA. The absurdity of the struggle might be brought out by modifying the "Imagine you're a deer" speech in the movie My Cousin Vinny: Imagine you're an Iraqi. You're walking along, you get thirsty, you stop for a drink of cool clear water... BAM! A fuckin missile rips you to shreds. Your brains are hanging on a tree in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck which agency the son of a bitch who shot you was working for?
Yet much more attention has gone into which agency does what than into how best to pretend it's all legal. CIA team leaders began getting orders to kill rather than capture, and so they did. As of course did the Air Force and the Army. This was novel when it came to the murder of specific, named individuals as opposed to large numbers of unnamed enemies. According to Paul Pillar, deputy chief of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the late 1990s, "There was a sense that the White House did not want to put clearly on paper anything that would be seen as authorization to assassinate, but instead preferred more of a wink-and-nod to killing bin Laden."
In the early months of Bush-Cheney, the Air Force and CIA were each struggling to impose the drone murder program on the other. Neither wanted to end up in a heap of trouble for something so illegal. After September 11, Bush told Tenet the CIA could go ahead and murder people without asking for his permission each time. One model for this was Israel's targeted murder program, which the U.S. government denounced as illegal up until 9-11-2001. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was the lead author of an April 2001 U.S. government report that said Israel should cease and desist, and criticized its operation as failing to distinguish protests from terrorism.
How did the U.S. government get from there to a "Homeland Security Department" that trains local police to consider protesters to be terrorists? The answer is: gradually and fundamentally through a change in behavior and culture rather than through legislation or court ruling. By late 2002, the U.S. State Department was being questioned in a press conference as to why it condemned Israeli murders but not similar U.S. murders. Why the double standard? The State Department had no answer whatsoever, and simply stopped criticizing Israel. The U.S. government kept quiet for years, however, about the fact that some of the people it was murdering were U.S. citizens. The groundwork had not yet been prepared sufficiently for the public to swallow that.
Some three-quarters of U.S. drone strikes have been in supposed battlefields. As one weapon among many in an existing war, armed drones have been deemed legal by lawyers and human rights groups across the full spectrum of the tiny percentage of humanity whose governments are engaged in the drone murders -- plus the "United Nations" that serves those governments. What makes the wars legal is never explained, but this sleight of hand was a foot in the door for the acceptance of drone murders. It was only when the drones killed people in other countries where there was no war underway, that any lawyers -- including some of the 750 who've recently signed a petition in support of allowing Harold Koh (who justified drone murders for the State Department) to teach so-called human rights law at New York University -- saw any need to concoct justifications. The UN never authorized the wars on Afghanistan or Iraq or Libya, not that it actually could do so under the Kellogg Briand Pact, and yet the illegal wars were taken as legalizing the bulk of the drone murders. From there, just a little liberal sophistry could "legalize" the rest.
The United Nations Human Rights Council's Asma Jahangir declared non-war drone murders to be murder at the end of 2002. UN investigator (and law partner of Tony Blair's wife) Ben Emmerson noted that in the U.S. view, war could now travel around the world to wherever bad guys went, thus making drone murders anywhere only as illegal as other wars, the legality of which nobody gave a damn about. In fact, the CIA's view, as explained to Congress by CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass in 2013, was that treaties and customary international law could be violated at will, while only domestic U.S. law need be complied with. (And, of course, domestic U.S. laws against murder in the United States might resemble domestic Pakistani or Yemeni laws against murder in Pakistan or Yemen, but resemblance is not identity, and only the U.S. laws matter.)
The growing acceptance of drone murders among Western imperialist lawyers led to all the usual attempts to tweak the crime around the edges: proportionality, careful targeting, etc. But "proportionality" is always in the eye of the killer. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, along with various innocent people, when Stanley McChrystal declared it "proportionate" to blow up a whole house to murder one man. Was it? Was it not? There is no actual answer. Declaring murders "proportionate" is just rhetoric that lawyers have told politicians and generals to apply to human slaughter. In one drone strike in 2006, the CIA killed some 80 innocent people, most of them children. Ben Emmerson expressed mild displeasure. But the question of "proportionality" wasn't raised, because it wasn't helpful rhetoric in that case. During the occupation of Iraq, U.S. commanders could plan operations in which they expected to kill up to 30 innocent people, but if they expected 31 they needed to get Donald Rumsfeld to sign off on it. That's the sort of legal standard that drone murders fit into just fine, especially once any "military aged male" was redefined as an enemy. The CIA even counts innocent women and children as enemies, according to the New York Times.
As drone murders rapidly spread during the Bush-Cheney years (later to absolutely explode during the Obama years) the rank and file enjoyed sharing the videos around. Commanders tried to halt the practice. Then they began releasing select videos while keeping all the others strictly hidden.
As the practice of murdering people with drones in nations where mass-murder hadn't been somehow sanctioned by the banner of "war" became routine, human rights groups like Amnesty International began stating clearly that the United States was violating the law. But over the years, that clear language faded, replaced by doubt and uncertainty. Nowadays, human rights groups document numerous cases of drone murders of innocents and then declare them possibly illegal depending on whether or not they are part of a war, with the question of whether murders in a given country are part of a war having been opened up as a possibility, and with the answer resting at the discretion of the government launching the drones.
By the end of the Bush-Cheney years, the CIA's rules were supposedly changed from launching murderous drone strikes whenever they had a 90% chance of "success" to whenever they had a 50% chance. And how was this measured? It was in fact eliminated by the practice of "signature strikes" in which people are murdered without actually knowing who they are at all. Britain, for its part, cleared the way for murdering its citizens by stripping them of their citizenship as needed.
All of this went on in official secrecy, meaning it was known to anyone who cared to know, but it wasn't supposed to be talked about. The longest serving member of Germany's oversight committee admitted that Western governments were depending largely on the media to find out what their spies and militaries were doing.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize in the White House took drone murders to a whole new level, destabilizing nations like Yemen, and targeting innocents in new ways, including by targeting the rescuers just arrived at the bloody scene of an earlier strike. Blow back against the U.S. picked up, as well as blow back against local populations by groups claiming to be acting in retaliation for U.S. drone murders. The damage drones did in places like Libya during the 2011 U.S.-NATO overthrow was not seen as a reason to step back, but as grounds for yet more drone killing. Growing chaos in Yemen, predicted by observers pointing to the counterproductive effects of the drones strikes, was claimed as a success by Obama. Drone pilots were now committing suicide and suffering moral stress in large numbers, but there was no turning back. A 90% majority in Yemen's National Dialogue wanted armed drones criminalized, but the U.S. State Department wanted the world's nations to buy drones too.
Rather than ending or scaling back the drone-murder program, the Obama White House began publicly defending it and advertising the President's role in authorizing the murders. Or at least that was the course after Harold Koh and gang figured out how exactly they wanted to pretend to "legalize" murder. Even Ben Emmerson says it took them so long because they hadn't yet figured out what excuses to use. Will the dozens of nations now acquiring armed drones need any excuse at all?
Andreas Schüller is an attorney on the staff of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He is the lead attorney on a suit being brought by ECCHR and Reprieve against the German government on behalf of three Yemeni survivors of a U.S. drone strike. The case will be heard May 27th in Cologne.
Their suit argues that it is illegal under German law for the German government to allow the U.S. air base at Ramstein to be used for drone murders abroad. The suit comes after the passage of a resolution in the European Parliament in February 2014 urging European nations to "oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings" and to "ensure that the Member States, in conformity with their legal obligations, do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states."
I've always thought of drone murders as illegal under the laws of the countries where the murders happen, as well as under the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. I asked Schüller: Is your suit seeking prosecution for murder where (or in one of the places where) the act is committed from a distance?
"The suit," he replied, "is based on constitutional rights in Germany and thus not seeking prosecution, but measures by the German administration to stop the use of German territory for illegal actions by the U.S. in Yemen." The central claim, he said, is that the U.S. air base at Ramstein is involved in drone operations, by transmitting data from and to drones through a satellite relay station as well as transatlantic fiber cables. The suit seeks to stop use of the air base's air operations center for analysis of surveillance images sent by drones as part of combat drone missions.
How, I asked, does this differ from the recent indictment of a former CIA station chief in Pakistan?
"The Pakistani case," Schüller said, "deals with drone strikes in the country where they take place in massive numbers and with high numbers of killed civilians. It's about prosecuting individuals responsible for the strikes set up. Our suit concerns the preemptive protection of our clients that are living in an area with continuing drone operations as well as technical and targeting aspects in drone operations and state collaboration."
In the United States it's common for lawyers to claim that murder is legal if it's part of a war, and to defer to the warmakers to tell them if something is part of a war or not; does it matter in your case whether the act was part of a war?
"It is important to prove that the U.S. practice in conducting drone strikes is illegal in several aspects. On the one hand, strikes in Yemen are conducted outside an armed conflict and thus infringe the right to life without any justification. In line with a legal opinion by the German Federal Prosecutor's Office we don't consider the U.S. to be in a global armed conflict against Al-Qaida and associate forces. Even if there would be the case of an armed conflict, the targeting practice by the U.S. is too broad and includes a large number of targets that do not fall under the category of legitimate military targets in an armed conflict. Attacks against those targets are thus illegal, even in armed conflict."
Is Germany obliged by the European Parliament to end drone murders from its soil? (And does this apply to every EU member country?) And by the German Constitution?
"Politically, the European Parliament made a strong statement against the illegal and expanded use of drone strikes. All EU member states are also bound by laws, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, to respect and protect the right to life. A similar provision is part of the German constitution."
Briefly what is the story of the victims in your case?
"On August 29, 2012, five rockets fired by U.S. drones struck the village of Khashamir in eastern Yemen. The extended family of our clients had gathered in the village to celebrate a wedding. Two members of the family were killed in the strike. Other family members were left with ongoing trauma. The family members killed were outspoken critics of AQAP and active in countering their influence in the region through speeches and social activities."
What do you hope to prove?
"It's about the use of German territory for illegal drone operations and the need for European governments to take a stronger legal and political position against the continuing US practice."
What is the timing?
"The lawsuit has been filed in October 2014 with the administrative court in Cologne. In the end of May 2015 an oral hearing will take place. Further court session as well as rendering of a judgment are not foreseeable, as well as appeals procedures."
What could result if you succeed?
"The result could be that the German government must take a stronger position towards the U.S. government to stop the use of the U.S. airbase in Ramstein for drone operations, including activities to rebuild the relay station or the air operations center."
Any benefit for this movement that I just wrote about?
"In Europe, we need to form a transborder activists network addressing and opposing the use of European allies' soil for drone operations. So the German case will definitely be of interest for Italy and other countries in Europe."
What can people do to help?
"The ultimate political goal is to change the U.S. practice of drone strikes and to conduct them according to human rights standards. People must continue to put pressure on governments worldwide to take a clear position on the legal boundaries of drone strikes as well as the long-term consequences in international relations if such an illegal practice continues in many different places worldwide."
Well let's hope the ultimate goal is not murders by flying robots that meet "human rights standards" whatever in the world those might be! But let's help advance this effort to hold the German government to a higher standard than the abysmal one modeled by the United States.
A key witness in court will be former U.S. drone pilot Brandon Bryant. If you know of any other drone pilots willing to speak about what they've done, please let me know.
© ECCHR / Photo: Nihad Nino Pušija
NY Times covers up Washington’s monstrous evil: Hiding America’s War Crimes in Laos, While Reporting on the Grim Results
By Dave Lindorff
Amanda Bass and Aman Singh are law students at NYU and organizers of a letter condemning the hiring of Harold Koh. Read and sign the letter here:
Amanda Bass is a third year student at NYU School of Law where her work has focused on human rights and racial justice. Amanda has interned with the Worker Justice Center of New York, where she assisted workers with wage and hour claims, and with the Southern Center for Human Rights, where she worked on the post-conviction appeal of an individual sentenced to death-in-prison by Alabama courts. Upon graduation from law school, Amanda plans to return to Alabama to work with the Equal Justice Initiative on behalf of prisoners.
Aman Singh is a second year student at NYU School of Law.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Joy First reports from Mauston, Wisc., that Bonnie Block, a Madison grandmother and long-time peace activist, was found guilty of trespassing in a jury trial in the Juneau County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, and sent to jail.
Sadly, this is not an April Fool's joke. Block, pictured at right, was compelled to either pay $232 or spend 5 days in the Juneau County Jail. Faced with that choice, Block said in court:
"Your Honor, I asked for a jury trial in this matter so I could explain to the citizens of Juneau County my moral, constitutional, and legal reasons for opposing the drone training via handing out a leaflet at the Volk Field Open House. I also wanted to point out the absurdity of being arrested for trespassing at an event to which the public had been invited.
"However, the Court’s pretrial orders based on the District Attorney's 25-point Motion in Limine precluded me from explaining this to the jury because the pre-trial orders prohibited any mention to the jury of the very issues that I believe constitute a defense for my nonviolent action.
"These prohibitions also made it impossible for me to testify on my own behalf because I couldn't honor the oath 'to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.' And to top it off, there was the unilateral refusal of Volk Field Commander Romauld to honor my third-party subpoena to testify so he could explain the military rules and rationale that he considers the justification for my arrest. It puts the military brass above the law and I object.
"For these reasons, I can't in good conscience pay the fine. It would be giving consent to the outcome of a legal process I believe was unfair and which sets dangerous precedents for those of us engaged in nonviolent civil resistance and seeking justice for victims of U.S. drone warfare. So I'll 'do the time instead of paying the fine.'"
After sentencing Block to 5 days in jail, First reports, Judge Paul Curran told Block that he would allow her to have lunch with her husband and son before reporting to the Juneau County "Justice" Center to begin her sentence.
First explains the background: "The trespassing charge was the result of a May 17, 2014, action in which Block and Fr. Jim Murphy took a bus tour of Volk Field which was part of the Base's Open House to which the public was invited. As they left the bus at the National Guard Museum, they handed out a leaflet with four questions about drones to the other passengers on the bus. As a result they were arrested and ultimately charged with trespass. Block opted for a jury trial because she believed her constitutional right of free speech was violated as was her conscientious objection to drone warfare.
"Block, who represented herself in front of the 6-person jury, was prevented from mounting a vigorous defense as a result of Judge Curran's pretrial ruling in favor of a motion which prevented Block from talking about international law, the U.S. Constitution, morals and ethics, and other topics important to the case. . . .
"The jury deliberated for thirty minutes before returning with the guilty verdict."
Block is part of the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars which holds monthly vigils outside the gates of this Wisconsin Air National Guard Base. Since 2009, Volk Field has been training operators of RQ-7 Shadow drones that are part of U.S. drone wars.
BUT CHARGES DROPPED IN SYRACUSE
Meanwhile Ed Kinane reports from Upstate New York: "This afternoon in the Dewitt (NY) town court, after hearing about 90 minutes of motions, Judge Robert Jokl dismissed charges against four Hancock Air Force Base defendants 'in the interest of justice.' Arguing against Assistant D.A. Peter Hakes were attorneys Jonathan Wallace representing Julienne Oldfield and John Honeck; Kathy Manley representing Andrew Schoerke, and Kim Zimmer representing Mary Snyder.
"Their charges were trespass, two counts of disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration -- a misdemeanor. The four perps were among 31 arrested in a nonviolent die-in at the front gate of Hancock’s 174th attack wing (home of the reaper drone) on April 28, 2013, following a weekend drone conference here in Syracuse. For half a decade we have been charging Hancock with war crime and terrorism against the people of Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"This acquittal follows our March 19th 'big books' action at Hancock’s main gate in which seven of us were arrested with similar charges. Arraignments will be in late April."
Kinane's report was generally taken to be an April Fool's joke by drone activists around the country, but he says it is not. So, thank you to Judge Jokl for acting in the interest of justice.
Brian Terrell discusses a recent major protest of drone murders at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and the state of the anti-drone-war movement. Brian is a co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Non-Violence, and event coordinator for the Nevada Desert Experience. He lives on a Catholic Worker farm in Maloy, Iowa. From this farm, Brian travels, speaking and acting with various communities working for peace. Two years ago he was serving a six month prison sentence for protesting drone killing from Whiteman Air force Base in Missouri, and this past month he returned from a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
This may be a first: a television ad campaign in a U.S. state capitol appealing to someone to stop murdering human beings who have, in most cases, already been born.
A new 15-second television ad, a variation on one that's aired in Las Vegas near Creech Air Force Base, is debuting this week in Sacramento, Calif. Take a look:
The ad was produced by KnowDrones.com, and is cosponsored by Veterans for Peace/Sacramento, and Veterans Democratic Club of Sacramento. It is airing on CNN, FoxNews and other networks starting Tuesday in the Sacramento/Yuba City area, near Beale Air Force Base.
Producers and promoters of the ad campaign have planned a press briefing at 8:30 a.m. PT on Tuesday, March 31, at the main gate to Beale Air Force Base. The ad's appeal for pilots to "Refuse to Fly," they say, "is aimed at drone pilots, sensor operators, support personnel and their families as well as the general public."
While killing people with drones by the thousands has become so routine that elite lawyers argue for making "wartime" permanent, and the United States is selling armed drones to nations around the world without apparently the slightest consideration that any undesired consequences are possible, the reality of what is happening is rarely seen in U.S. media. Comcast cable has decided that the advertisement above cannot be shown before 10:00 p.m. because it shows a glimpse of what "targeted drones strikes" do.
Comcast is allowing the version below to air at all hours as it more closely resembles the rest of U.S. television content in hiding reality. It does state "U.S. drones have murdered thousands, including women and children." "Murder," by the way, is the U.S. government's own terminology, and strictly accurate.
Nick Mottern, coordinator of KnowDrones.com, suggested that activists have focused on appealing directly to drone pilots because appealing to the U.S. government has become so hopeless. "The President and the Congress," he said, "refuse to respect law and morality and stop U.S. drone attacks, so we are asking the people who bear the burden of doing the actual killing to put a stop to it."
In fact, drone pilots are suffering post traumatic stress and moral injury in significant numbers, and dropping out in significant numbers. Information on all the factors involved in creating the current, and much desired, shortage of drone pilots is, of course, incomplete. For a discussion of the issue, listen to this week's Talk Nation Radio with guest Brian Terrell. Efforts are also alive and well to get armed drones banned or to at least stop the U.S. government from arming the world with them.
Below is a nice collection of statements gathered by KnowDrones.com as part of its effort to persuade those who are all too much in the habit of obeying immoral orders:
1. “America’s targeted killing program is illegal, immoral and unwise.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu – From forward to Drones and Targeted Killing January, 2015
2. “There are two main reasons why drone warfare is neither just nor moral. First, it replaces interrogation by assassination. Specific individuals (including American citizens) are placed on ‘kill lists.’ They are targeted with no accountability for errors in judgment or excesses of attack. All due process is abandoned…Our consciences are stricken by the indefensible loss of life through drone warfare.”
- The Rev. George Hunsinger, Professor of Systemic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary. January 24, 2015.
3. “They call themselves warfighters. They are assassins.”
- Former Congressman and member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Rush Holt speaking of drone operators at the Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare held at Princeton Theological Seminary, January 23 - 25.
4. “We are the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate Peeping Toms. I’m watching this person, and this person has no clue what’s going on. No one’s going to catch us. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives.”
- Brandon Bryant – former U.S. drone sensor operator quoted in the documentary Drone. Democracy Now, April 17, 2014.
5. Drone attacks violate basic human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including rights to the protection of life (Article 3), privacy (Article 12) and due process (Article 10). The UDHR, born out of the horrors of World War II, was ratified by the United States in 1948 and forms the basis for international human rights law today.
6. “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him of responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
- Principle IV of The Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Judgment of the Tribunal, The United Nations 1950.
7. “…there are grounds to maintain that anyone who believes or has reason to believe that a war is being waged in violation of minimal canons of law and morality has an obligation of conscience to resist participation in and support of that war effort by every means at his disposal. In that respect, the Nuremberg principles provide guidelines for citizens' conscience and a shield that can be used in the domestic legal system to interpose obligations under international law between the government and members of the society.”
- Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice, Princeton University. From The Circle of Responsibility”, The Nation, June 13, 2006.
8. “According to the Nuremberg Principles, it is not only the right, but also the duty of individuals to make moral and legal judgments concerning wars in which they are asked to fight.”
– John Scales Avery, world peace activist, The Nuremberg Principles and Individual Responsibility, Countercurrents, July 30, 2012.
9. U.S. MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drone attacks have killed at least 6,000* people. That's an estimate by KnowDrones.com based on various reports including those of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
10. In addition, to the death and injury resulting from drone attacks, the presence of drones overhead terrorizes whole populations in drone war zones, leading to disruptions to family and community life and psychological injury.
“…the fear of strikes undermines people’s sense of safety to such an extent that it has at times affected their willingness to engage in a wide variety of activities, including social gatherings, educational and economic opportunities, funerals…the U.S. practice of striking one area multiple times, and its record of killing first responders, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid to assist injured victims.
- Living Under Drones, September, 2012.
IF BEALE AIR FORCE BASE COULD TALK: Facts About Drones and Beale AFB from KnowDrones.com
The MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper are the primary killer drones used by the United States. The Predator carries two Hellfire missiles and the Reaper can carry four Hellfires and two five hundred pound bombs. The Hellfire is designed for use against armored vehicles and structures and has a devastating effect when used against people in the open or in civilian vehicles. People are often dismembered or pulverized.
Since the U.S. began drone warfare in Afghanistan in 2001, drone attacks have been undertaken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, and possibly in Syria.
About 6,000 people have been killed by US Drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, according to estimates provided by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the foremost independent monitor of drone war casualties. Of this total up to 230 are children killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to Bureau statistics. The Bureau does not have an estimate of women killed in these countries or across the whole drone war. But judging from what little is known of women being killed in drone attacks and the international scope of the drone attacks, it appears that many women have been killed, probably numbering in at least the hundreds. It is impossible to know with any certainty how many people have been killed by U.S. drones. The U.S. has withheld all information on the extent of the drone attacks, and drone attacks occur in very remote areas, making independent accounting difficult and grossly incomplete.
Drones flown out of Beale AFB are "accomplice drones." Global Hawk drones controlled from Beale are used in the targeting of Predator and Reaper attacks. The 48th Intelligence Squadron at Beale AFB processes information gathered by the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and RQ – Global Hawk drones to permit attacks by U.S. forces worldwide. Predator and Reaper drones are not flown from control centers at Beale.
At least 100 Predator and 200 Reaper drones are believed to be operating now; exact figures are not available. At any given moment the U.S. has at least 180 Predator and Reaper drones in the air; 60 combat patrols, comprised of three drones each. The Air Force wants to increase the number of constant combat patrols to 65, putting 195 drones in the air at any given time.
As of December 2013, there were about 1,350 drone pilots in the U.S. Air Force, according to an April 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which said that the Air Force had not been meeting its recruiting goals for drone pilots. Further, more drone pilots are quitting than can be trained, as reported by TomDispatch on March 26, 2015, which said the Air Force would like to have 1,700 pilots to cover the 65 combat patrols. A key factor in the attrition is said to be over work, increasing even more as missions expand in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. It appears likely that the stress is also leading to mistakes being made, further endangering those under surveillance.
The GAO report says that the U.S. Air Force “has not fully analyzed” the “stress” faced by pilots who go home every day after flying missions. The report said: “…pilots in each of the 10 focus groups (which included Beale pilots)…reported that being deployed-on-station (going home every day) negatively affected their quality of life, as it was challenging for them to balance their warfighting responsibilities with their personal lives for extended periods of time.”
"If others have their will Ann hath a way. By cock, she was to blame. She put the comether on him, sweet and twentysix. The greyeyed goddess who bends over the boy Adonis, stooping to conquer, as prologue to the swelling act, is a boldfaced Stratford wench who tumbles in a cornfield a lover younger than herself." —James Joyce
Can it matter that a famous actress will play a drone pilot on stage in New York and play it as a troubled murderer with an updated effort to wash out the damn spot of blood on her famous hands?
April 7 to May 17, Anne Hathaway stars in Grounded. I've read the script, or at least an earlier version of the script, and believe this could make the difference that's needed.
Of course this other movie about a troubled drone pilot has come and gone.
The patterns of stress and suicide have been documented. Moral injury and post-traumatic stress plague the desk-bound flight-suited pilots at Creech Air Force Base where the commander told a reporter he was surprised by and unable to meet the demand for counselors and chaplains.
One proposed solution is allowing a drone pilot to instruct a computerized personality, like Siri in iPhones, to do the killing for him or her. A better solution might be to deprive President Obama of that trick. When he goes through his Tuesday list of men, women, and children and picks which ones to have murdered, he doesn't have to do the murdering. Presidents spend countless hours visiting all kinds of workplaces and taking part in all variety of ceremonies; why not require that they take a brief shift at the drone joystick when the victim has been spotted and fire the missile themselves, and watch the body parts scatter themselves, and see the little children who were in the wrong place blown to bits themselves, and feel the sweat and the guilt themselves?
Perhaps the next best thing will be seeing a celebrity, whom people imagine they know, play the role of drone pilot on stage. Anne Hathaway has acted in many films and plays but is familiar even to people who've seen none of them. Seeing her in Grounded has the potential to cause people to engage in the activity that seems the absolute hardest to provoke, namely thinking.
Grounded won't give you the statistics on how most of the people murdered with drones are no threat to the United States at all, or how drone murders are producing more enemies than they kill, or how the idea that a drone war on Yemen is better than another kind of war falls apart when you realize that the drone war replaced no war at all and has now predictably generated a ground war as, in fact, some of us predicted it would.
Grounded won't tell you that most drone victims are traumatized by the constant threat of instant death with no possible defense. But it will show us what that godlike power does to those who use it. The problem with drone murders is not the distance or the lack of bravery and risk; the problem is the murdering of people. Drone pilots see their victims in new ways, via video, and see them for days or weeks before murdering them.
The transition from mass-murderer to civilian living peacefully in a society that forbids murder must happen every single day for a drone pilot who drives home to sleep. One can imagine how disorienting the shift must be. It should become equally jarring for those of us who live peaceful lives and then read about the latest murders in our names by distant flying robot death machines.
Here's one way to help if you're anywhere near New York: attend the play and while you're there, collect signatures on this petition: BanWeaponizedDrones.org.
By Dave Lindorff
When I lived in China, there was a story going ‘round about a China Airlines flight in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had left the cockpit and then, on their return, found the door locked. They reportedly got a fire ax, and with the whole planeload of freaked out passengers watching, started wailing at the door. The co-pilot then turned, and seeing the panic developing, calmly drew the curtain across the aisle, hiding their work from view. The axe bashing continued until they broke the latch and got back to the controls.
Making enemies by droning on and on: It’s Guilt that has US Military and Embassy Staff Fleeing Yemen Like Scared Rats
By Dave Lindorff
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know all that much about Yemen, or about the Houthi rebels who have taken control of Sana’a, the ancient Arab country’s capital, leading to the hasty evacuation of all US military forces (some 250 Special Forces personnel and the staff of the US embassy) from that country located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Rosa Brooks' article in Foreign Policy is called "There is no such thing as peacetime." Brooks is a law professor who has testified before Congress to the effect that if a drone war is labeled a proper war then blowing children apart with missiles is legal, but that if it's not properly a war then the same action is murder.
Rosa Brooks has apparently come to see the problem with that distinction. How can a secret presidential memo in a drawer somewhere, that she and her colleagues have empowered to determine whether of not an action is part of a war, actually decide on the legitimacy of sending hellfire missiles into houses and restaurants, the behavior of futuristic gangsters on steroids?
But Brooks' solution is not to call murder murder and seek to end it. Rather she proposes to eliminate the distinction between wartime laws and peacetime laws by merging them, so that some of what's illegal in peacetime is just always illegal, and some of what gets a pass in wartime just always gets a pass (she actually only mentions the latter in any specifics). I suppose any simplifying proposal from a lawyer is a noble one, as it does eliminate work for the legal profession. But this is not a proposal to uphold the rule of law or to empower people with legal self-governance. This is a proposal to give up, to throw in the towel on civilization, to accept war as the norm, and to treat murder as a policy in need of constant monitoring and tweaking with reforms around the edges.
"A decade and a half after 9/11," Brooks writes, "the war on terror continues to open new fronts from Syria to Libya to Nigeria. And it's hard to see this changing under a Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration. Perpetual war is unlikely to end in our lifetimes." If that knocked you down, please get back up and consider what's so flooringly awful about it. Because the U.S. government is waging endless war, we shouldn't try to stop it. Because it is proposing for its highest profile office for two years from now various hacks who will continue the permawar, we shouldn't try to stop it for two years or the next four or ever again.
"For much of human history," Brooks claims, "war has been the norm and peace has been the exception, though Americans have been largely blind to this reality. Foreign attacks on U.S. soil have been few and far between, and for most of U.S. history, the country's wars have been fought by a small and highly professionalized military, making them largely invisible to the bulk of the American population. . . . [A]s legal historian Mary Dudziak notes in her fine book War Time, 'It is only through forgetting the small wars that so much of American history is remembered as peacetime.'"
Yes but it is only through shortsightedness that U.S. writers can ignore the other 95 percent of humanity which is represented by governments that do not wage war to anywhere near the extent that Washington does -- as well as ignoring the 95% of human existence that was pre-history and pre-war. War has been sporadic in human existence since its creation, more absent than present. Nations that have known war have abandoned it. Japan is currently trying to maintain its second lengthy period of peace. War is not the norm in most countries. The proliferation of drones may, however, help it become so. That war is becoming the norm is an idea promoted even by the United Nations' reports on drones. The policy of drone murder in the United States has been allowed to remove war from public, legislative, judicial, or international oversight. The choice before us is whether to accept that and attempt the truly quixotic task of mitigating the damage, or whether to reject it as entirely unacceptable.
Brooks presents the contrast between war and peace standards quite well: "The police, for instance, can't just decide to bomb an apartment building in which suspected criminals lie sleeping, and they can't write off the deaths of innocent people as 'collateral damage.' In peacetime, the intentional destruction of private property and severe restrictions on individual liberties are also impermissible. Wartime turns these rules upside down. Actions that are considered both immoral and illegal in peacetime are permissible — even praiseworthy — in wartime."
But isn't it right to consider murder immoral and illegal? When the drone murders are stripped of the protection of "wartime" flags and music, doesn't it become obvious that they are counterproductive on their own terms as well as damaging to their victims, to our civil liberties, to the rule of law? Not to Brooks who wants to "develop better mechanisms to prevent arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse in targeted killings." Listen to that language. Try to distinguish an abusive from a non-abusive targeted killing, I dare you. I don't think it can be done in under 6 years of law school, and even then trouble sleeping at night might result.
Should we do away with the difference between laws of war and peace? Of course we should. But that means that the people in Guantanamo should have rights, not that you should lose yours. That means that people living far away should have rights, not that the local police should get to kill you with their war weapons. That means an end to secret torture prisons abroad, not the opening of new ones in Chicago. There should be one set of laws and it should include the nations' laws against murder. It should include the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It should include the U.N. Charter until a better institution replaces the U.N. It should include universal support for an independent International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court that prosecutes the crime of war, not just "war crimes."
The drones buzzing around the French nuclear plants seem to bother Brooks less than they do me. Perhaps the growing nuclear danger that lies in the proliferation of nuclear energy and weaponry can make the point. The reality is not that there is no such thing as peace time, but rather that there is no such thing as wartime. If permawar is allowed to continue, the human species that dumps $2 trillion into this greatest environmental destroyer every year, rather than into useful protection against real dangers, will cease to exist.
From Mary Anne Grady:
At 9:15 am on March 19, the 12th anniversary of the U.S.’ illegal invasion of Iraq, seven members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars shut the main gate of the Hancock Drone Base (near Syracuse, NY) with a giant copy of the UN Charter and three other giant books – Dirty Wars (Jeremy Scahill), Living Under Drones (NYU and Stanford Law Schools), and You Never Die Twice (Reprieve).
The nonviolent activists also held a banner quoting Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, stating that every treaty signed becomes the supreme law of the land. They brought the books to Hancock to remind everyone at the base of the signed treaties that prohibit the killing of civilians and assassinations of human beings.
The group attempted yet again to deliver a citizens indictment for war crimes to the Hancock Air Base chain of command. In the indictment, the activists state, “There is hope for a better world when WE, THE PEOPLE, hold our government accountable to the laws and treaties that govern the use of lethal force and war. To the extent that we ignore our laws and constitution and allow for the unchecked use of lethal force by our government, allowing the government to kill who ever it wants, where ever it wants, how ever it wants with no accountability, we make the world less safe for children everywhere.”
One of the giant books, Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan, states that such missions are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of noncombatants, including women and children, in that region.
One of those arrested, Fr. Bill Pickard of Scranton, PA, stated, “The Reaper drone not only kills and maims humans; it destroys homes and displaces and terrorizes whole communities. U.S. taxpayers pay for such terrorism which perpetuates the violence and generates enormous ill will against the United States.”
Hancock hosts the 174th Attack Wing of the NY Air National Guard – the MQ9 Reaper drone hub. Drones flying over Afghanistan are piloted from the base. It is also a training center for drone pilots, sensor operators and maintenance technicians
Today’s action at Hancock’s main gate is one chapter in the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars’ (www.upstatedroneaction.
Those arrested were:
Danny Burns, Ithaca
Brian Hynes, Bronx
Ed Kinane, Syracuse
Julienne Oldfield, Syracuse
Fr. Bill Pickard, Scranton
Bev Rice, NYC
James Ricks, Ithaca
By Felton Davis
David Swanson calls it "the Pentagon's 51st state." Ten percent of the land area of Colorado, to be seized and set aside for robotics and drone warfare testing.
On Friday, the US Army posted the final Environmental Impact Statement for the expanded Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, on the Fort Carson website. The public was given until April 10th to comment on the plans, which have been called the largest eminent domain land-grab in the history of the United States.
On Saturday, the impact statement was withdrawn, without any warning.
On Sunday, "Not One More Acre" asked supporters to contact the Army and ask for an explanation, something many are reluctant to do, for fear of being "tracked" by the military.
On Monday morning, I sent the Fort Carson public information officer an email, and asked for a copy of the document, and received a polite reply within two hours, containing a link to the statement.
Later on Monday, the Army updated its website, restoring the impact statement for public access, and changing the deadline for comments from April 10th to April 19th.
However, the two documents may not be the same. The EIS posted on Friday was over 30 megabytes in size, and 665 pages long. The one I got was only 22 megabytes in size, and 642 pages long. What happened to 23 pages of the environmental impact statement?
And, needless to say, how many people are going to be able to wade through all that dense material between now and April 19th?
Following one of the hundreds of articles that have appeared about this controversy, a woman from Texas sent in a comment, that she had made a special trip to Colorado to see the area for herself, and what struck her the most was how quiet it was in comparison to Dallas. And that's how I feel. Not NIMBY (not in my back yard), but NOMV (not on my vacation). I don't want to ride through that special enclave of grasses, bushes, shrubs, and small trees, and hear the sounds of weapons being tested. I don't want to see mock Iraqi villages being blown up. And I don't want pilotless drones in the testing phase hovering overhead, ready to zap anything that moves. And as far as the Army's robotics plans are concerned, I believe Yul Brynner's robot gunslinger in "Westworld" is the bottom line. If you build a robot, and set it in motion, eventually it will organize high-resolution vision for its computer brain, and real ammunition for its guns.
Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site on horseback and by tank: Two views of a region under siege By Alan Prendergast, February 24, 2011
Piñon Canyon Preservation Exhibition: video
Rep. McKinley's Piñon Canyon Trail Ride: video
No Piñon Canyon Expansion: video
Piñon Canyon Ablaze - A Hot Issue Gets Hotter: video
PCMS Uranium News: video
Army's New Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site Map: video
Salazar Piñon Canyon Expansion Protest: video
By Dave Lindorff
Seriously? Venezuela is a “national security threat”?
That is what President Obama has reportedly declared today in a new executive order.
And how exactly is poor Venezuela, a nation of 29 million, with a small military upon which it spends just 1% of GDP, one of the lowest rates in the world (the US spends 4.5% of GDP on its own bloated military), a threat to the US?
During the protests, highway US-95 leading from Las Vegas to the base, renamed the Drone Victims Memorial Highway, was lined with nearly 100 tombstones, with the names and ages of children killed by U.S. drones. The Drone Victims Memorial Highway underscores the dark side of drone warfare and highlights Creech Drone Base as the criminal site where these unlawful killings are executed and from where drone pilots, following illegal orders, have caused the deaths of over 200 Pakistani children alone.
The German Drone Campaign was founded in March 2013. Since then nearly 150 organizations and tens of thousands of individuals in Germany have endorsed our call against the use of drone technology for war, surveillance and oppression.
We in Germany have been inspired by the strong efforts and the many sacrifices made by U.S. citizens to stop murder by drone, beginning with actions of civil disobedience in Creech in 2009. We were honored to work together with you on mounting the successful Global Action Day Against the Use of Drones for Surveillance and Killing on October 4, 2014, with more than 60 local actions worldwide (see http://globaldayofaction.
Under German law, extra-judicial "targeted" drone killings are murders that must be prosecuted. Each of the U.S. drone murders begins with a phone call from the drone pilot at Creech or another base in the U.S. to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, according to the testimony of former drone pilots in the U.S.A. If the German government were to prohibit the use of Ramstein Air Base for the illegal U.S. drone strikes, which by law it must, this would immediately put a stop these drone murders.
The Drone Campaign and other concerned German citizens, as well as leading German media, NGOs, and Members of the German Parliament, have taken first steps to end the complicity of the German government in allowing the use of U.S. military bases in Germany, such as Ramstein and AFRICOM, for the illegal U.S. drone wars.
We see it as our special responsibility to build a movement in Germany which will bring sufficient pressure on the German government so as to end the illegal U.S. drone wars that are killing and terrorizing so many innocent people.
Let us work together hand in hand going forward to end the use of drones for surveillance and killing.
Thank you for your courageous efforts!
German Drone Campaign (Drohnen-Kampagne)
Veterans groups are offering support to Drone Operators and Support Personnel who decide they no longer want to participate in drone assassinations.
Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War have joined with peace activists from around the U.S. who are camped outside of Creech AFB this week, just north of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Civil disobedience actions are being planned at Creech AFB for early Friday morning, March 6.
“It is not normal or healthy for human beings to kill other human beings,” said Gerry Condon, Vice President of Veterans For Peace. “Many veterans continue to suffer from PTSD and 'moral injury' for the rest of their lives. The suicide rate for active duty GI's and veterans is extremely high.
“We are here to offer a helping hand to our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who cannot in good conscience continue to participate in killing human beings, many of them innocent civilians, half way around the globe,” continued Gerry Condon.
The message to Creech airmen says, in part:
“We encourage you to think carefully about your place in the scheme of things. Can you, in good conscience, continue to participate in killing other human beings, no matter how remotely? If, after serious soul-searching, you come to believe you are against all wars, you can apply for a discharge from the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector. If you need advice, there are conscientious objector organizations that can help you.
Military personnel have the right and the responsibility to refuse to participate in war crimes, according to international law, U.S. law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And then there are the higher moral laws.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you decide to refuse illegal orders or to resist illegal wars, we are here to support you.”
In 2005, Creech Air Force Base secretly became the first U.S. base in the country to carry out remotely controlled assassinations using the MQ-1 Predator drones. In 2006, the more advanced Reaper drones were added to its arsenal. Last year, in 2014, it was leaked that the CIA's drone assassination program, officially a separate operation from the Air Force's, has been piloted all along by Creech's super-secret Squadron 17.
According to recent independent research, the identity of only one out of 28 victims of drone strikes is known beforehand. Though officials deny it, the majority of those killed by drones are civilians.
Entire Message from Veterans to Drone Operators and Support Personnel
Message from Veterans to Drone Operators
and Support Personnel at Creech Air Force Base
To our Brothers and Sisters, Sons and Daughters at Creech Air Force Base,
This week, veterans of the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are arriving in Nevada to join protests outside Creech Air Force Base against Drone Warfare. We are not protesting against you, the airmen (and women) who are drone operators and support personnel.
We are reaching out to you because we understand the position you that you are in. We were once in that position ourselves, some of us quite recently. We know what it feels like to be caught up in strange and brutal wars not of our own making, and not clearly in the interests of our nation. We want to share some of our hard won truths, and to offer you our support.
We know that drone operators and support personnel have a tough job. We understand that you are not playing video games, but rather engaging in life and death situations on a daily basis. You are not targeted and don't have to worry about being killed and wounded. But you are human beings with feelings who suffer nonetheless. You have a conscience too.
It is not normal or healthy for human beings to kill other human beings. Many veterans continue to suffer from PTSD and “moral injury” for the rest of their lives. The suicide rate for active duty GI's and veterans is extremely high.
No matter how you spin it, your job involves killing other human beings, thousands of miles away, who are not threatening you. No doubt you want to know who these people are. According to recent independent research, the identity of only one out of 28 victims of drone strikes is known beforehand. Though officials deny it, the majority of those killed by drones are civilians.
As veterans who have served in many wars and on many military bases, we have been educating ourselves about what goes on at Creech AFB. In 2005, Creech Air Force Base secretly became the first U.S. base in the country to carry out remotely controlled assassinations using the MQ-1 Predator drones. In 2006, the more advanced Reaper drones were added to its arsenal. Last year, in 2014, it was leaked that the CIA's drone assassination program, officially a separate operation from the Air Force's, has been piloted all along by Creech's super-secret Squadron 17.
The U.S. wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have been disasters for the people of those countries. These wars have also been a disaster for the soldiers, marines, airmen (and women) who were forced to fight them, as well as their families.
The ISIS terrorist threat of today would not exist if the U.S. had not invaded and occupied Iraq. Likewise, the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia is creating more terrorism, not eliminating it. And, as many veterans have painfully discovered, these wars have been based on lies, and have more to do with rich men's dreams of empire than they do with the defense of our country and the well being of the common people.
So what can you do about it? You are in the military now. There are serious consequences for those who dare to question the mission. That is true. But there are also serious consequences for those who do not. We have to be able to live with ourselves.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
We encourage you to think carefully about your place in the scheme of things. Can you, in good conscience, continue to participate in killing other human beings, no matter how remotely?
If, after serious soul-searching, you come to believe you are against all wars, you can apply for a discharge from the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector.
If you need advice, there are conscientious objector organizations that can help you.
Military personnel have the right and the responsibility to refuse to participate in war crimes, according to international law, U.S. law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And then there are the higher moral laws.
If you decide to refuse illegal orders or to resist illegal wars, we are here to support you.
Please also consider joining us to make common cause with fellow veterans who are working for peace at home and peace abroad. We welcome active duty members.
You can find out more at the websites listed below.
Veterans For Peace
Iraq Veterans Against War
To Know Your Rights, Call the GI Rights Hotline
Courage To Resist
The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.
There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)
On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress -- significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.
In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to work like any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.
They typically “fly” missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over U.S. soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen where they are ordered to kill “high value targets” from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conducting deadly strikes on militants of ISIL.
Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California’s General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts, and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)
The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular “combat air patrols” around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon’s enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.
The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
But is it possible that a brand-new form of war -- by remote control -- is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward's war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?
Killing Up Close and Personal From Afar
There can be no question that drone pilots resent the way other Air Force pilots see them as second-class citizens. "It's tough working night shifts watching your buddies do great things in the field while you're turning circles in the sky," a drone instructor named Ryan told Mother Jones magazine. His colleagues, he says, call themselves the “lost generation.”
“Everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we're Nintendo warriors,” Brandon Bryant, a former drone camera operator who worked at Nellis Air Force Base, toldDemocracy Now.
Certainly, there is nothing second-class about the work tempo of drone life. Pilots log 900-1,800 hours a year compared to a maximum of 300 hours annually for regular Air Force pilots. And the pace is unrelenting. “A typical person doing this mission over the last seven or eight years has worked either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” General Welsh told NPR recently. “And that one- or two-day break at the end of it is really not enough time to take care of that family and the rest of your life.”
The pilots wholeheartedly agree. "It's like when your engine temperature gauge is running just below the red area on your car’s dashboard, but instead of slowing down and relieving the stress on the engine, you put the pedal to the floor," one drone pilot told Air Force Times. "You are sacrificing the engine to get a short burst of speed with no real consideration to the damage being caused."
The Air Force has come up with a pallid interim “solution.” It is planning to offer experienced drone pilots a daily raise of about $50. There's one problem, though: since so many pilots leave the service early, only a handful have enough years of experience to qualify for this bonus. Indeed, the Air Force concedes that just 10 of them will be able to claim the extra bounty this year, striking testimony to the startling levels of job turnover among such pilots.
Most 18Xs say that their jobs are tougher and significantly more upfront and personal than those of the far more glamorous jet pilots. “[A] Predator operator is so much more involved in what is going on than your average fast-moving jetfighter pilot, or your B-52, B-1, B-2 pilots, who will never even see their target,” Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Black, a former Air Force drone pilot says. “A Predator pilot has been watching his target[s], knows them intimately, knows where they are, and knows what’s around them."
Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."
"It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."
Many drone pilots, however, defend their role in targeted killings. “We’re not killing people for the fun of it. It would be the same if we were the guys on the ground,” mission controller Janet Atkins told Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “You have to get to [the enemy] somehow or all of you will die.”
Others like Bruce Black are proud of their work. “I was shooting two weeks after I got there and saved hundreds of people, including Iraqis and Afghanis," he told his hometown newspaper in New Mexico. "We'd go down to Buffalo Wild Wings, drink beer and debrief. It was surreal. It didn't take long for you to realize how important the work is. The value that the weapon system brings to the fight is not apparent till you're there. People have a hard time sometimes seeing that."
Measuring Pilot Stress
So whom does one believe? Janet Atkins and Bruce Black, who claim that drone pilots are overworked heroes? Or Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh, who claim that remotely directed targeted killings caused them mental health crises?
Military psychologists have been asked to investigate the phenomenon. A team of psychologists at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has published a series of studies on drone pilot stress. One 2011 study concluded that nearly half of them had "high operational stress." A number also exhibited "clinical distress" -- that is, anxiety, depression, or stress severe enough to affect them in their personal lives.
Wayne Chappelle, a lead author in a number of these studies, nonetheless concludes that the problem is mostly a matter of overwork caused by the chronic shortage of pilots. His studies appear to show that post-traumatic stress levels are actually lower among drone pilots than in the general population. Others, however, question these numbers. Jean Otto and Bryant Webber of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, caution that the lack of stress reports may only “reflect artificial underreporting of the concerns of pilots due to the career-threatening effects of [mental health] diagnoses, [which] include removal from flying status, loss of flight pay, and diminished competitiveness for promotion.”
Seeing Everything, Missing the Obvious
One thing is clear: the pilots are not just killing “bad guys” and they know it because, as Black points out, they see everything that happens before, during, and after a drone strike.
Indeed, the only detailed transcript of an actual Air Force drone surveillance mission and targeted killing to be publicly released illustrates this all too well. The logs recorded idle chatter on February 21, 2010, between drone operators at Creech Air Force base in Nevada coordinating with video analysts at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Florida, and with Air Force pilots in a rural part of Daikondi province in central Afghanistan. On that day, three vehicles were seen traveling in a pre-dawn convoy carrying about a dozen people each. Laboring under the mistaken belief that the group were “insurgents” out to kill some nearby U.S. soldiers on a mission, the drone team decided to attack.
Controller: “We believe we may have a high-level Taliban commander.”
Camera operator: “Yeah, they called a possible weapon on the military-age male mounted in the back of the truck.”
Intelligence coordinator: “Screener said at least one child near SUV.”
Controller: “Bullshit! Where? I don’t think they have kids out this hour. I know they’re shady, but come on!”
Camera operator “A sweet [expletive]! Geez! Lead vehicle on the run and bring the helos in!”
Moments later, Kiowa helicopter pilots descended and fired Hellfire missiles at the vehicle.
Controller: “Take a look at this one. It was hit pretty good. It’s a little toasty! That truck is so dead!”
Within 20 minutes, after the survivors of the attack had surrendered, the transcript recorded the sinking feelings of the drone pilots as they spotted women and children in the convoy and could not find any visual evidence of weapons.
A subsequent on-the-ground investigation established that not one of the people killed was anything other than an ordinary villager. "Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything," Air Force Major General James Poss, who oversaw an investigation into the incident, later told the Los Angeles Times.
Of course, Obama administration officials claim that such incidents are rare. In June 2011, when CIA Director John Brennan was still the White House counterterrorism adviser, he addressed the issue of civilian deaths in drone strikes and made this bold claim: “Nearly for the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”
His claim and similar official ones like it are, politely put, hyperbolic. “You Never Die Twice,” a new report by Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a British-based human rights organization, settles the question quickly by showing that some men on the White House “kill list” of terror suspects to be taken out have “'died' as many as seven times."
Gibson adds, “We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?” In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 “targets” numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against “him” over the years, according to Reprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.
Deserting the Cubicle
Back in the United States, a combination of lower-class status in the military, overwork, and psychological trauma appears to be taking its mental toll on drone pilots. During the Vietnam War, soldiers would desert, flee to Canada, or even “frag” -- kill -- their officers. But what do you do when you’ve had it with your war, but your battle station is a cubicle in Nevada and your weapon is a keyboard?
Is it possible that, like their victims in Pakistan and Yemen who say that they are going mad from the constant buzz of drones overhead and the fear of sudden death without warning, drone pilots, too, are fleeing into the night as soon as they can? Since the Civil War in the U.S., war of every modern sort has produced mental disturbances that have been given a variety of labels, including what we today call PTSD. In a way, it would be surprising if a completely new form of warfare didn’t produce a new form of disturbance.
We don’t yet know just what this might turn out to be, but it bodes ill for the form of battle that the White House and Washington are most proud of -- the well-advertised, sleek, new, robotic, no-casualty, precision conflict that now dominates the war on terror. Indeed if the pilots themselves are dropping out of desktop killing, can this new way of war survive?
Pratap Chatterjee is executive director of CorpWatch. He is the author of Halliburton's Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War and Iraq, Inc. His next book, Verax, a graphic novel about whistleblowers and mass surveillance co-authored by Khalil Bendib, will be published by Metropolitan Books in 2016.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2015 Pratap Chatterjee
By Joy First
In May of 2014 Bonnie Block and Jim Murphy were arrested at Volk Field, a Wisconsin Air National Guard Base that trains operators to pilot Shadow drones with cameras to do surveillance and “target acquisition” so that the Predator and Reaper drones (remotely piloted from other US military bases) can drop Hellfire missiles on presumed militants in multiple countries. Bonnie and Jim are both part of the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars and have been protesting drones at Volk Field every month for more than three years.
Last May Bonnie and Jim went on a bus tour of Volk Field as part of an open house to which the public was invited. When the bus stopped at a museum on the base, they got off and tried to hand out flyers to others who were on the tour. They were told to stop handing out their “propaganda” and leave the base. Since they had come by the tour bus they had no way of leaving on their own and yet they were arrested for trespassing and taken to the Juneau County Jail. They were released on bail and the ultimate charge was an ordinance violation of “trespass to land.”
In September, Jim was found guilty in a bench trial and ordered to pay a fine.
Bonnie asked for a jury trial and, in response, the Juneau County District Attorney filed a Motion in Limine, asking that Bonnie be prohibited from making “any argument that is known to be false or irrelevant to the issues before the Court” including among other things the policies of the US Government, International laws, the Charter or certain Resolutions of the United Nations, or moral or ethical strictures believed in by the defendant. She was also prohibited from commenting in any way “that her prosecution was a violation of any Constitutional or International Right or privilege.” This hearing was on March 3, 2015 in Mauston, WI.
It is common for prosecutors to file a Motion in Limine when a jury will be hearing a case against protesters, and this is something that we must continue to vociferously object to. In this case, the prosecutor had 25 points listed in his Motion, including 19 that asked the Court to prohibit Bonnie’s possible defense in some way. It looked like he used a boilerplate document that was more applicable to a criminal trial and he actually withdrew 8 of them when Bonnie objected. Many of the points were simple procedural issues that Bonnie didn’t object to and the judge quickly granted.
Of course, the important matters of the motion revolved around whether Bonnie could raise Constitutional free speech issues or provide any of the reasons she has for opposing drone warfare and handing out a leaflet raising four questions about drones. The judge also forbade Bonnie to make any reference to jury nullification i.e. asking the jury to ignore the facts and nullify the jury instructions in reaching their verdict. He did allow that juries have this right, but Bonnie is not allowed to raise it.
In arguing for her right to speak about drones, the US Constitution, or why she was handing out leaflets, Bonnie said that she needs to be able to tell the whole truth for there to be a fair trial. Otherwise the jury could presume she was on the base for no good reason. Prohibiting this in a pretrial order prevents her from presenting a defense for her action. She argued that the prosecutor can object during the trial if something is improper and the judge can make a ruling at that point. Bonnie said that these pretrial motions are overbroad and will have a chilling effect because she will have to wonder if something inadvertent will result in her being found in contempt.
The judge responded saying that this charge is about trespass and that is all that is going to be tried. Political beliefs are not going to be allowed. If Bonnie talked about drones or international law or the US Constitution, it could mislead the jury. He went on to say that there is no way they will get through the trial without referencing the leaflet that Bonnie and Jim were attempting to distribute, but neither side, nor any witness, can say anything about the actual content of that leaflet. If these rules are not followed the judge will grant a mistrial and impose sanctions.
Bonnie said that this trial is about a constitutional free speech issue and the jury should be the ones to decide on whether she was trespassing or had a constitutional right to be on the base sharing her literature. The judge responded that deciding about constitutional issues is not up to the jury and Bonnie will not be allowed to bring that up.
Bonnie will now be going to trial on April 1 without being able to offer a strong defense. Her ability to do so has been taken away by the prosecutor and the judge before the trial even begins. This happens so many times in trials for protestors and it is outrageous. We are gagged and then we are censored.
As we consider this grave miscarriage of justice in Wisconsin, we realize it is all part of a bigger system of illegal actions by our government. Our hearts and minds hold the images of the children, the mothers and fathers, the grandparents who have been murdered by US drone strikes, remembering that the training for this program of targeted assassination begins at places like Volk Field, and knowing for certain that the resistance must continue.