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Mary Anne Grady Flores (pictured, far right) and Judy Bello have long been among those protesting drone murders in Afghanistan conducted at Hancock Air Base in Upstate New York. Grady Flores is out on bail and facing a year behind bars for allegedly violating an Order of Protection, a legal order normally used to protect someone from domestic violence but currently used to "protect" the commanders of an Air Force base from some 50 nonviolent demonstrators. Learn more:
Read this background:
Harassing the Drones, by Kathy Kelly.
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By Kathy Kelly, written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24
Kabul-- On July 10, 2014, in New York State, Judge David Gideon sentenced Mary Anne Grady Flores to a year in prison and fined her $1,000 for photographing a peaceful demonstration at the U.S. Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field (near Syracuse) where weaponized Reaper drones are remotely piloted in lethal flights over Afghanistan. Dozens have been sentenced, previously, for peaceful protest there. But uniquely, the court convicted her under laws meant to punish stalkers, deciding that by taking pictures outside the heavily guarded base she violated a previous order of protection not to stalk or harass the commanding officer.
Mary Anne is a 58 year-old grandmother of three, from Ithaca, New York, where she is part of the Upstate Drone Action.
Since late 2009 this grassroots group has persistently raised awareness about the consequences of drone attacks in Afghanistan, the global epicenter of U.S. drone warfare. In December 2012, the U.S. Air Force revealed that U.S. drones had struck targets in Afghanistan 477 times during just the preceding year. Members of the Upstate Drone Action, alarmed by the proliferation of drones and the ease with which they kill suspects far from any battlefield, are troubled in general to live in a society that so automatically and heedlessly chooses warfare over other available solutions to its problems.
Hundreds have gathered in Syracuse, NY, for events the Coalition has organized, including nonviolent civil resistance at the Hancock base.
Frustrated by the tenacity of war resisters willing to risk arrest, the commander at the base, Colonel Earl Evans, has sought and received an “Order of Protection Grant” - a restraining order - from the DeWitt Town judges, claiming that peace activists posed a threat to his personal safety as an individual when they protested there.
At first, the thought of such an order imposed on nonviolent demonstrators seems merely laughable. These orders of protection are typically used in domestic violence cases, against stalkers, or to protect a victim of (or witnesses to) a crime. How could a U.S. military commander, living in a fortified base, surrounded by advanced weaponry and the soldiers preparing to use it, be threatened by unarmed civilians like Mary Anne? She, like most of her companions in the coalition, has worked throughout her adult life to prevent bloodshed and killing.
But De Witt courts have upheld Colonel Evans’s right to be protected from the peace activists, and so everyone with an OOP who crosses the boundary (which isn’t clearly marked) outside the military base risks being charged with contempt of court for violating the order. Mary Anne had lingered for a few moments with the group she wanted to photograph to ask her sister, Ellen, something about the camera she was using.
During her court case and at her sentencing hearing, Mary Anne tried to help Judge Gideon understand that young people like the Afghan Peace Volunteers, (APVs), with whom I’m now living, here in Kabul, are threatened by the drones. She and other coalition members have already presented the court with a letter from Raz Mohammed, an APV whose brother-in-law was killed by a drone, asking that the U.S. courts issue a mandate protecting him and his family from sudden annihilation by remote control.
In Syracuse, NY, a Probation Department pre-sentencing report had recommended no jail time at all for Mary Anne, noting that she has been the major caregiver for her mother and that the infraction didn’t warrant incarceration. But Judge Gideon worried aloud that if he didn’t jail Mary Anne, she might thumb her nose at the courts and again risk arrest.
Judge Gideon has tried numerous peace activists in the De Witt Town Court for their actions protesting drone warfare. “This has got to stop,” he declared, in a moment of exasperation following an earlier court hearing. It seems that he imposed this sentence on Mary Ann because he and other authorities want to deter activists from gathering peaceably to petition, as the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment phrases it, “for redress of grievances.”
“I hope she feels proud,” said Abdulhai, a member of the APVs here in Kabul, when he learned that Mary Anne was sentenced to a year in prison. “She has a good heart. She thinks about other people far away.” Abdulhai’s smiling face appears on many of the posters carried by activists when they appear in court and when they demonstrate at the base. In the photo, he’s wearing a blue scarf which the APVs use to symbolize the same blue sky shared by all humans. His sign says: “We want to live without war.”
Mary Anne Grady Flores wearing the blue scarf in court
“Laws should be made to protect human beings,” said Faiz, also part of the APV community. “Laws shouldn’t protect ways to kill other people. Here in Afghanistan, the U.S uses drones to kill children, moms, and ordinary people. I hope the judge will think about this.”
At her sentencing hearing, Mary Anne told Judge Gideon that a series of judicial perversions brought her before him. “The final perversion,” she concluded, “is the reversal of who is the real victim here: the commander of a military base whose drones kill innocent people halfway around the world, or those innocent people themselves who are the real ones in need of protection from the terror of US drone attacks?”
Is it a crime to take photos of peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment right, or is it a crime to take multiple drone reconnaissance photos of private Afghan homes in villages and subsequently use the information to target and kill Afghans without detention or trial?
Mary Anne and the Upstate Drone Action activists have a deep grievance. They object to using Reaper drones to fire Hellfire missiles into homes and communities where Afghan civilians, including children, could be killed. They raise crucial questions about the likelihood of drone attacks exacerbating and prolonging wars, conflicts and other armed strife. Aerial spies insertable anywhere, ready to kill suspects by missile strikes, make the entire world a battlefield where the U.S. is a combatant. What’s more, this is a technology other nations and non-nation groups are seeking to acquire. Blowback could cause spiraling levels of lethal exchanges. Even think-tanks like the Stimson Center, itself in part funded by weapons manufacturing corporations, have begun publicly questioning the effectiveness of drone warfare.
As peace activists, we should voice our concerns about the U.S. military’s accelerating reliance on weaponized robotics before every branch of government, including the judicial branch.
The problem is not that Mary Anne lacks appreciation for the law of the land. She’s exercising her First Amendment right to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance. The problem is that Judge Gideon refuses to challenge military elites, some of whom never, ever want people of compassion and conscience to interfere with their use of threat, force, and even assassination to control people in other lands.
Mary Anne has appealed her case, and a NY judge has released her from prison until the appeal is resolved. Another activist, Jack Gilroy, awaits sentencing, and in coming days and weeks, more activists will be tried on similar charges in the De Witt Town court. Judge Gideon and his fellow DeWitt Court Judge Robert Jokl have many more opportunities to think about these critical issues. I hope they’ll be influenced by having encountered some of the finest people in the world as they hear the cases of peace activists in upstate New York.
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)
There's a chance to watch DRONES, the movie, online on July 30th and then to join a discussion with filmmakers and experts. There's a preview video below. The movie's website is at http://dronesthefilm.com and the free screening is at http://demandprogress.tv/drones
I saw a screening of this film back in November at the drone summit in DC. It's wonderful. I was a bit put-off and staggered, to be frank, at the time, because someone involved with the film bragged about how inexpensively it had been made, and yet the budget was so unfathomably huge that I knew that if an anti-war organization had that kind of money we could hire organizers all over the world and quite possibly make the abolition of war a major mainstream force.
And, of course, you can't simply ask if the money was well spent, because no one will say that it was spent to end the practice of drone murder. The director and the cast, of course, say they wanted to make a socially important film about a serious issue, but not what they wanted to accomplish, beyond raising questions and being entertaining. Everyone's always happy to say that a film opposes racism or cruelty to animals or bullying, but not war.
But, you hundreds of millions of odd-balls who, like me, happen to give a damn whether your government is murdering people in your name with your money will, in fact, want to make this film a huge viral success. I'm telling you, right now, it's a good one. It is indeed entertaining. It's not simple, predictable, pedantic, or preaching. But neither is the film itself reluctant to face head-on the banal, evil, arrogant mass-murder engaged in by these young people who dress up in pilots suits to sit at desks in trailers taking orders from military bureaucrats and private contractors, and ultimately from a president who reviews a list of potential men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays.
Drones look like a golden opportunity to war makers who don't want to ask Congress or the U.N. or the public, don't want to send in armies, just want to target people and groups for death anywhere in the world and obliterate them with the push of a button from an air-conditioned -- or, sometimes not so air-conditioned -- office.
But drones also look like a golden opportunity to those of us who have been trying to point out that murder and war are distinguished only by scale. I suspect that many who cannot see the bombing of a city as murder will see the drone-targeting of an individual as nothing else -- particularly if they watch this film.
If you can watch the film and not want to Ban Weaponized Drones, watch it again.
Last night Mary Anne Grady Flores was released on $5,000 bail from the Syracuse Justice Center after appearing before County Court Judge Thomas J. Miller who granted a stay of execution of her one year sentence, pending appeal of the Order of Protection granted to Col. Earl A. Evans by the DeWitt Town Court judges requiring drone protesters to stay away from the Hancock Airbase.
“The local judges of the Town of DeWitt have helped shut down the protests of the murder of Afghan civilians by drones piloted from the airbase. They have prevented us from exercising our First Amendment rights by issuing the Orders of Protection on behalf of the base,” said John Hamilton of Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones.
Hancock is a training center for drone pilots, technicians and maintenance workers, as well as a hub of drone activities. From the base the unmanned aircraft are flown over Afghanistan, where they kill people, including numerous civilians.
Grady Flores, grandmother of three, was the first alleged violator of the 50 drone activists who have been given the Order of Protection in 2012. She was tried and sentenced for a year in jail. Despite being out on bail, she still faces returning to jail. Her appeals process will take months.
“There are 30 upcoming trials over the next year. DeWitt Town judges threaten to sentence activists to a year in jail, many of them in their 60’s and 70’s,” said Judy Bello of Rochester. Bello noted that donations are essential to meet the costs of bail for so many as well as $5,000 transcripts for the appeals to move forward.
“This is far from over! The drones are still flying and the killing continues. We invite people to join the non-violent witness at the base,” said Rae Kramer of the Syracuse Peace Council.
The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Warswww.upstatedroneaction.org
PDF available at: http://upstatedroneaction.org/
On July 10, grandmother of three, Mary Anne Grady Flores was sentenced to one year in prison for being found guilty of violating an order of protection. A packed courtroom of over 100 supporters was stunned as she was led away, and vowed to continue the resistance.
These orders of protection, typically used in domestic violence situations or to protect a victim or witness to a crime, have been issued to people participating in nonviolent resistance actions at Hancock Air Base since late 2012. The base, near Syracuse NY, pilots unmanned Reaper drones over Afghanistan, and trains drone pilots, sensor operators and maintenance technicians. The orders had been issued to “protect” Colonel Earl Evans, Hancock’s mission support commander, who wanted to keep protesters “out of his driveway.”
Mary Anne began her sentencing statement with, “Your honor, a series of judicial perversions brings me here before you tonight.” She concluded that the “final perversion is the reversal of who is the real victim here: the commander of a military base whose drones kill innocent people halfway around the world, or those innocent people themselves who are the real ones in need of protection from the terror of US drone attacks?”
The orders of protection are being challenged on many legal grounds.
Mary Anne had been issued a temporary order in 2012. The next year, she photographed a nonviolent witness at the base, not participating herself because she did not want to violate the order. The irony is that those who actually participated in the action were acquitted, while Mary Anne was charged with violating the order.
Even though the pre-sentencing report recommended no jail time, Judge Gideon sentenced Mary Anne to the maximum of a year in prison. As he imposed his sentence, the judge referred to his previous Hancock decision. He had stated then and insinuated now, “This has got to stop.”
In addition, Mary Anne was fined $1000 plus a $205 court surcharge and a $50 fee to have her DNA collected.
Her verdict is being appealed.
For information on how to support Mary Anne, contact Ellen Grady at email@example.com.
Now that the U.S. government has released parts of its We-Can-Kill-People-With-Drones memo, it's hard to miss why it was kept secret until now.
Liberal professors and human rights groups and the United Nations were claiming an inability to know whether drone murders were legal or not because they hadn't seen the memo that the White House said legalized them. Some may continue to claim that the redactions in the memo make judgment impossible.
I expect most, however, will now be willing to drop the pretense that ANY memo could possibly legalize murder.
Oh, and yall can stop telling me not to use the impolite term "murder" to describe the, you know, murders -- since "murder" is precisely the term used by the no-longer secret memo.
The memo considers a section of the U.S. code dealing with the murder of a U.S. citizen by another U.S. citizen abroad, drawing on another section that defines murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought."
David Barron, the memo's author, needed a loophole to make murder-by-missile a lawful killing rather than an unlawful killing, so he pulls out the "public authority justification" under which the government gets to use force to enforce a law. It's a novel twist, though, for the government to get to use force to violate the law, claiming the violation is legal on the Nixonian basis that it is the government doing it.
Alternatively, Barron suggests, a government gets to use force if doing so is part of a war. This, of course, ignores the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact and the illegality of wars, as well as the novelty of claiming that a war exists everywhere on earth forever and ever. (None of Barron's arguments justify governmental murder on U.S. soil any less than off U.S. soil.)
In essence, Barron seems to argue, the people who wrote the laws were thinking about private citizens and terrorists, not the government (which, somehow, cannot be a terrorist), and therefore it's OK for the government to violate the laws.
Then there's the problem of Congressional authorization of war, or lack thereof, which Barron gets around by pretending that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was as broad as the White House pretends rather than worded to allow targeting only those responsible for the 911 attacks.
Then there are the facts of the matter in the case of Anwar al Awlaki, who was targeted for murder prior in time to the actions that President Obama has claimed justified that targeting.
Then there are the facts in the other cases of U.S. killings of U.S. citizens, which aren't even redacted, as they're never considered.
Then there are the vastly more numerous killings of non-U.S. citizens, which the memo does not even attempt to excuse.
In the end, the memo admits that calling something a war isn't good enough; the targeted victim has to have been an imminent threat to the United States. But who gets to decide whether he or she was that? Why, whoever does the killing of course. And what happens if nobody ever even makes an unsupported assertion to that effect? Nothing, of course.
This is not the rule of law. This is savage brute force in minimal disguise. I don't want to see any more of these memos. I want to see the video footage of the drone murders on a television. I want to see law professors and revolving-door State Department / human rights group hacks argue that dead children fall under the public authority justification.
A Pakistani High Court ordered Pakistani police to lodge a complaint against former CIA station chief Jonathan Banks on Thursday, for the killing of civilians in U.S. drone strikes along the country's northwestern border with Afghanistan.Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court made the order in a case filed by Karim Khan, a North Waziristan resident and an anti-drone activist whose son and brother were both killed in a drone strike in 2009.
Join the first Global Action Day Against the Use of Drones for Surveillance & Killing - October 4, 2014
As global citizens who believe in justice and the rule of law, we oppose weaponized and surveillance drones because their deployment:
- is used for extrajudicial "targeted" killings based merely on suspicion -- murders -- even of children inside and outside of war zones,
- violates democratic rights of freedom of speech and assembly and the right not to be unreasonably searched,
- terrorizes populations in targeted territories, thereby fueling hatred and increasing the cycle of violence,
- lowers the threshold to war and initiates a new round in the arms race,
- leads to the development of autonomous killer robots, thereby making even more horrifying wars likely.
We demand that all governments cease the production and acquisition of armed drones, as well as their research and development, and work towards a worldwide ban of these weapons.
We further demand that our governments prohibit the use of drones for surveillance and prohibit using space satellites, ground stations, and military bases to enable drone surveillance and to trigger drone killings.
We call on people all over the world to join us in the Global Day of Action on October 4.
To add your endorsement to this call or to send a URL link regarding your October 4th protest event, contact Colleen from CODEPINK at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Brian Terrell
On April 15, 2014, when the story broke on the world that the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert program of assassination by remotely controlled drones is not distinct from the drone program of the U.S. Air Force as we had been told, I was on the “Sacred Peace Walk,” an event sponsored each spring by the Nevada Desert Experience, a 70 mile trek from Las Vegas to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Creech Air Force Base is along the way and we had already made plans for a protest there the next morning. While the CIA’s drone program is shrouded in secrecy, the Air Force supposedly has been using drones strictly as a weapon for waging war against combatants in recognized areas of conflict such as Afghanistan and formerly in Iraq, under a chain of command that is accountable to elected officials. Some who condemn the CIA’s assassinations by drones as illegal give a pass to or even laud the Air Force use of drones as a more restrained way to fight war.
This distinction has now been exposed as a lie. In a new documentary film released in Europe, “Drone,” former Air Force drone operators, veterans of a super-secret Squadron 17 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, reveal that “it’s always been the Air Force that flies” the CIA’s missions, “the CIA might be the customer, but the Air Force has always flown it.”
The fact that airmen at Creech are carrying out assassination missions and extrajudicial executions far from declared zones of conflict on orders from unknown and unnamable bureaucrats did not come as a surprise. Neither was the news a “game changer” in regard to the actions we had planned, although we quickly revised the indictment listing the war crimes committed at Creech that some of us would attempt to deliver to the base commander.
My arrest at Creech along with eight others on April 16 was a “return to the scene of the crime” (the Air Force’s crime, not mine) for me, as I was among the “Creech 14” in April 2009, the first nonviolent direct action against drones in the U.S. Creech was then one of only a few sites from which drones were controlled by the U.S. and by the United Kingdom, which has a wing of the Royal Air Force stationed there to fly their own drones. Since then the use of armed drones has been proliferating around the world and so has the number of drone operation bases in communities around the U.S. My work with Voices for Creative Nonviolence has brought me to the scenes of the crime in Afghanistan, the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia and at the gates of drone bases in New York, Iowa, Missouri and in England as well.
The latest revelation is but the exposure of one more lie, one more layer of criminality and venality of this corrupt and dangerous program. Over the years since April 2009, the promises of a new era of better war through drone technology have been steadily unravelling, each of them proving false. It is increasingly clear that rather than limiting the scope of war, drones are expanding and proliferating it, killing more civilians both on battlefields and far from them, endangering our soldiers and the safety of our communities. Instead of keeping the horrors of war at a safe distance, drones bring the war home in unprecedented ways.
President Obama, in an address before the National Defense University May 23, 2013, described this new technology as more precise and by implication more humane than other weaponry: “By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.” There is an understandable appeal to the idea of a weapon that can discriminate between the good and the bad people and limit regrettable “collateral damage.” It is understandable too, that a nation weary of sending its sons and daughters to fight on battlefields far away, risking injury, death or the debilitating effects of posttraumatic stress, might look to embrace a new method of war whereby the warriors fights battles from safe distances. Thousands of miles beyond the reach of the enemy, drone combatants often do not even have to leave their hometowns and are able to return to homes and families at the end of a shift.
In his National Defense University speech, the president contended that “conventional airpower and missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage.” A few weeks later a study published by the same National Defense University refuted his claim. Drone strikes in Afghanistan, the study found, were “an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement.” Despite the president’s assurances to the contrary, drone strikes cause immense “local outrage” in the countries where they happen, turning America’s allies into enemies. "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world," said former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal. "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."
Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates also warns of the seductive power and precision of armed drones that leads many to perceive war as a “bloodless, painless and odorless” affair. “Remarkable advances in precision munitions, sensors, information and satellite technology and more can make us overly enamored with the ability of technology to transform the traditional laws and limits of war. A button is pushed in Nevada and seconds later a pickup truck explodes in Kandahar.” Defense experts and policy makers, Gates warns, have come to view drone warfare as a “kind of video game or action movie. . . . In reality, war is inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain.” General Mike Hostage, chief of the US Air Combat Command, claims that while weaponized drones are useful in assassinations of terror suspects, they are impractical in combat. "Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment," Hostage said.
Some enlisted personnel are also questioning the use of drones. Heather Linebaugh, a drone operator for the US Air Force for three years says: “Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I'd start with: ‘How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?’ And: ‘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?’ Or even more pointedly: ‘How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?’”
Distance from the battlefield does not isolate soldiers from posttraumatic stress or the moral injury of war. Heather Linebaugh speaks of two friends and colleagues who committed suicide and another former drone operator, Brandon Bryant, said that his work had made him into a “heartless sociopath.” While drone pilots are at a greater distance from their victims than other soldiers, he says, the video feed they watch brings them closer: “Artillery doesn’t see the results of their actions. It’s really more intimate for us, because we see everything.”
The Air Force is relegating much of its drone operations to Air National Guard units in various states, creating virtual war zones in local communities. “In an F-16, your whole mission was to train to go to war,” said a pilot of an Ohio Air Guard wing that made a conversion from fighters to drones. “In this mission, we go to war every day.” Foreign postings of state National Guard units are usually made public, but where in the world these citizen soldiers will be fighting from now on will be shrouded in secrecy, hidden even from their families. Reason and the rules of war both suggest that assassinations and acts of war on sovereign nations carried on by local National Guard units will make their communities into legitimate targets of war.
Drone warfare is based on the lie that war can be made more exact, limited and humane through technology. Our civilian and military authorities, proliferating drone attacks around the globe from more and more American bases, are acting recklessly and in defiance of domestic and international law. They are acting without regard for the safety and wellbeing of our troops, of American civilians or of people in faraway places who otherwise would mean us no harm. Rather than limiting war, being an answer, drones perpetuate and multiply the horrors of war and bring them home into our communities.
As our band of walkers approached Creech Air Force Base on the morning of April 16, we were greeted by a large sign at the gate that read “Force Protection Alpha in Effect,” announcing that the base was in its highest security alert. We were also met by an impressive contingent of military police and sheriff’s officers, heavily armed and some on horseback, which easily exceeded in number our little band that left Las Vegas on foot four days earlier. These public servants were clearly responding to a perceived threat to public safety and so were we. Our purposes were disjointed, though, in that we were at Creech in response to a clear and present danger presented by the murderous crimes of Squadron 17 somewhere in the depth of this desert outpost. The official and ostensible law enforcement squad, on the other hand, was there in response to the threat that a few unarmed citizens might step across an arbitrary and ever shifting line on the pavement.
I write this on my way to Kansas City, where, this weekend, good and faithful friends will go to nearby Whiteman Air Force Base to confront the predator drones based there. A few days later, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and friends will start walking from Boeing corporate headquarters in Chicago (a major drone contractor) 160 miles to Battle Creek, Michigan, where a National Guard unit is poised to begin operating predator drones over far away skies. “Force Protection Alpha” is truly “in Effect” and people in Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as well as communities in the U.S. and Europe are responding to the emergency.
Brian Terrell is a Co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and lives on a Catholic Worker farm in Maloy, Iowa
Photo credit: John Amidon
On May 20, a drone ban resolution was approved in a 4 to 1 vote by the Woodstock, NY Town Board. (There was one abstention).
The resolution (below) was introduced by board member Jay Wenk, who said he adapted it from a resolution that was approved in Charlottesville, VA.
Here is a report of the board action from The Woodstock Times:
Drone free Woodstock seeks ban on law enforcement drones
by Nick Henderson
‘I do not believe, from the bottom of my shoe soles, that the use of this equipment in particular is in any way designed or implemented to protect us…’
As surveillance technology becomes more widely used by law enforcement, Woodstock lawmakers, at their May 20 meeting, took one step toward making the town a drone-free zone.
The use of drones in war zones, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan is well known, but the unmanned craft are now being used by police agencies in the United States.
The Shadow Hawk drone, made by Vanguard Industries, which can be outfitted with a grenade launcher, tear gas and rubber buckshot, is being marketed to police agencies.
But Woodstock went in the opposite direction, passing a resolution expressing the desire that the town be a "No Drone Zone."
"The rapid development of drone technology throughout the United States poses a threat to the privacy and Constitutional rights of the American people, including the residents of Woodstock," reads the resolution, proposed by Councilman Jay Wenk.
The resolution states that drones can also be used to "film individuals or groups around the clock, in public spaces or through the windows of private homes, and to continuously monitor cell phone and text messages." It calls on Congress, the state and county legislatures to prohibit use of drones for domestic surveillance and law enforcement. It also calls for the prohibition of weaponized drones.
The original resolution declared Woodstock a "No Drone Zone," but wording was changed after concerns from Councilman Bill McKenna. "To me, it brings the resolution down a little bit." he said. We can't declare Woodstock a no drone zone. I know it's a great sentiment."
McKenna agreed with the other points made in the resolution, but thought the declaration would open the town to ridicule. "For us to go and declare something is meaningless and it almost makes the rest of it a joke in some people's eyes and I don't want that to happen," he said.
Wenk agreed to the change in language.
Deputy Supervisor Laura Ricci said she wants to protect law enforcement's ability to use technology for legitimate purposes, but Wenk countered that these drones have no such use in his view. "I do not believe, from the bottom of my shoe soles, that the use of this equipment in particular is in any way designed or implemented to protect us," Wenk said. Rather, it is "designed to create more of a police state."
Added Wenk, "We are living in a state where agencies like the NSA, for example...have run roughshod over the constitutional respect for Americans. To say nothing of the fact that these drones have been used in horrible ways overseas."
Woodstock is not the first municipality to work toward banning drones. Charlottesville, Virginia, Iowa City, and St. Bonifacius, Minnesota are other examples, Wenk noted.
All voted in favor of the resolution except Councilman Ken Panza, who abstained. When asked, Panza said he didn't have enough understanding of the resolution, which was added late, to cast a vote.
The resolution does not apply to recreational drones, provided they are not used to monitor people or residences.
Desire Town of Woodstock to be a “No Drone Zone”
Offered by Councilman Wenk, seconded by Councilman McKenna:
Whereas, the use of drones by the United States military provides a dangerous precedent for their domestic use; and
Whereas, the rapid development of drone technology throughout the United States poses a threat to the privacy and Constitutional rights of the American people, including the residents of Woodstock; and
Whereas, the Federal Government and the State of New York have failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones within the United States; and
Whereas, drones can be used to film individuals or groups around the clock, in public spaces or through the windows of private homes, and to continuously monitor cell-phone and text messaging; and
Whereas, Police departments throughout the country have begun implementing Drone technology absent any guidance from law-makers; and
Whereas, Vanguard Defense Industries has confirmed that its Shadow Hawk Drone, which is already being sold to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, will be outfitted with weapons, including a Grenade launcher, or Tear gas and rubber buckshot, thus sending a clear and chilling message to those attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights by taking to the streets to protest government policies; now therefore be it Resolved, that the Town Board of the Town of Woodstock New York,
· Desires Woodstock to be a “No Drone Zone;”
· Strongly warn that the unrestricted, unregulated use of drones is a serious threat to the Constitutional rights of all Americans;
· Call upon the United States Congress and the New York State legislature to recognize the extreme danger and urgency of the issue, and to adopt legislation that would prohibit the use of drones for domestic surveillance and law enforcement purposes;
· Call upon the United States Congress and the New York State legislature to adopt legislation that would strictly prohibit the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices, meaning any projectile, chemical, electrical, directed-energy (visible or invisible), or other device designed to intimidate, harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact human beings;
· Call upon the United States Congress and the New York State legislature to adopt legislation to prohibit information obtained by drones to be used as evidence in Federal or State judicial proceedings; and
be it further Resolved, this resolution does not apply to hobbyists that fly remote controlled model aircraft, away from areas where they could harm people, as long as those devices are not equipped to monitor any person or residence; and
be it further Resolved, that the Town Board authorize the Town Clerk to forward a certified copy of this resolution to Ulster County Executive, State and Federal representatives, to the Governor of New York State, and to the President of the United States.
All voted 4-1-0:
Supervisor Wilber - aye
Councilwoman Magarelli - aye
Councilman Wenk - aye
Councilman McKenna - aye
Councilman Panza - abstained
"MaryAnne Grady-Flores was convicted in DeWitt Town Court last night on 2nd Degree Contempt of an Order Of Protection. Grady-Flores, who did not intend to violate the Order despite its immorality and invalidity, was taking pictures of others at the base - the Ash Wednesday Witnesses - who engaged in nonviolent civil resistance blocking the front Gate to Hancock base for which they were subsequently acquitted.
"In a heinous abuse of an instrument meant to protect the innocent from violence, Orders of Protection are being used to protect violent transgressions of international and moral law from citizen oversight. While trying to publicize and support a movement to ground the drones and end the wars which take countless innocent lives, Grady-Flores was arrested for noncompliance with an order that does not specify particulars outside of how you might attack another human, something she would never do. She understood the Order to mean that she was forbidden to join the protest.
"The Guilty verdict was proffered by a jury 5 minutes after they had asked the judge for a legal definition of 'keep away', and he had replied that they 'are the sole triers of fact'.
"The two-day trial included testimony from Colonel Earl A. Evans who is the party protected by the OOP, Catholic Priests Father Bill Pickard and Tim Taugher, Catholic Workers Bill Frankel-Streit and Ellen Grady, sister. Grady-Flores also testified on her own behalf."
Back in the USA I had my senior high students watch as I climbed a fence into the largest store house of nuclear weapons in the USA. I was in a Santa Clause suit and a bag with candy and hand bills urging federal workers to find a real job….a life giving job.
Environment was major with my students and they commandeered the four corners of the original IBM setting in Endicott NY demanding that IBM pay per pound of hydroflorocarbons emitted each year…IBM the greatest polluter of the Ozone according to the EPA. Locals, with IBM the backbone of the job force, had no idea that their wonder company was doing wrong -- until students contacted media and the story was blasted. Kids can make a difference. (Two years later, President Bush met with IBM officials in the Rose Garden to award them for their winning reduction of ozone pollutants. Students by then were in college or elsewhere and of course, not mentioned.) My main claim to fame is my thousands of students who understood I didn’t buy the lies fed to them by the text books and media bullshit. I hope they are questioning and acting. But being a sheep has its advantages even for the committed.
So, my activism has been education. Our play, The Bench, a story about apartheid, made it to many schools around the Southern Tier of NY while Mandela was still incarcerated at Robins Island. Today, my play, The Predator, (you helped clean up a few items in it) has been done around the nation in small group settings such as the Pittsburgh Foreign Affairs Council etc. I believe education is the key -- slow, but it works if persistence is one’s forte.
I told you a bit about my activism to close the US Army School of the Americas and my southern jail, federal diesel therapy and various federal prisons for a six month ‘holiday’. It did close but opened up weeks later with a new name. C’est la vie. C’est la guerre.
Why do you believe protesting is a strategic tool?
It has worked historically. Need I repeat what most people of historical awareness know as fact….in the past 100 years….Gandhi, King, Chavez, Walesa, Mandela, Romero, Berrigans, etc.
Silence is the enemy of justice and we have great silence today. Silence is based in fear but is comfortable and safe. Sheepherders are our guides today rather than national leadership. Hiding in the middle of the flock is safe. Few speak out about our murderous ways.
How have the approaches of the police and the courts changed?
Police are doing their job. I once witnessed Federal Marshalls at the Pentagon (back in pre 2001 days) hosing down old ladies who were doing a ‘die in’ to protest Pentagon support for a school of assassination at Ft Benning. Elizabeth McAllister (widow of Phil Berrigan) was standing next to me and she asked one of the Marshalls if he would do the same thing if it was gasoline. The Marshall turned to Liz and said: "I'd follow my orders, Lady".
So cops are doing what they are paid to do. They are not told to stop the killing going on inside of the base so they do what they are told and arrest those who say our government should not be breaking the law of country and God and natural law. But like the pilots who do the killing and the surrounding support people, it's the system that thrives on doing what they are told to do by the criminals at the top. We need to educate the police to have a conscience and see the real enemy . . . the killers, not those who protest.
Courts are not much different. There is a sense of affinity between the Air Force personnel, smartly dressed, ramrod straight who stand or sit before judge and/or jury and make a fine presentation of patriotism . . . doing the job of heroes. It's a tough act to question. Judges and jurors have been taught to respect those who kill to keep us safe. The decisions made by the judges have been almost all in favor of the base and the killing Q9 drones and their crews. The one jury trial so far, just last week (May 17th.) rendered a decision in favor of the base. The case was a charge of a violation of an Order of Protection. An OPP is usually used to allow a spouse to keep away an abuser. Now, it is being creatively used at Hancock Air Base as an instrument to prevent First Amendment Rights to be practiced. Mary Anne Grady, a long time nonviolent peace activist, mother of four, every day hard working business woman was at a demo on Ash Wednesday at Hancock to do the media work of photos and video. She did not engage in the demonstration for she was ordered to not go on the base. She is shown in videos on the road in front of the base (cars and joggers going by right next to her) but Hancock Air Base now claims to have a lease on half of the public road that Mary Anne stood on and filmed. She faces a possible severe sentence on July 10th being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a Syracuse jury of six. (Mary Anne was told months ago that juries may not be any better than judges -- tens of thousands stand and cheer at Syracuse Basketball games for the military and staff of the 174th Attach Wing at Hancock.)
What is your current legal situation?
My legal status is a jury trial at DeWitt Court starting at 8:30 a.m. on July 14th. First day mostly picking of jurors and opening statements and second day direct and cross examination, judge advise to jury and decision of guilt or innocence. I could be sentenced to one year in the Jamesville Penitentiary for my nonviolent die to remember those we have killed in Afghanistan (and God and the NSA only know where else). I think there is a chance of winning this one. If so, it could set a precedent. There are many jury trials to follow mine. Schedules go into late 2015….all for the same action. One judge said: "This has got to stop". Former President of Veterans For Peace, Elliott Adams, agreed with the judge. Elliott said, "Yes, your honor, it has to stop, we need to stop the killing and you need to be part of that stop effort."
I’ve been to most trials and have to say that there is little concern of judges to do anything to stop the assassinations. They are doing their job and following the "law". Now, we need to prove the so called law is illegal.
What would you recommend that people do who share your concern?
Here is what Ed Kinane had to say about recommending what to do. Ed walks the walk. Ed has lived in federal confinement for his peace and justice activism. Ed says:
That depends on whether they are far or near and where they are in life (in terms of dependents and responsibilities). Our campaign has a whole range of tactics they can join in or support: educate themselves; read some of the key drone books and reports; write letters to the editor...to elected officials...to base commanders; take part in our twice-monthly demos across the road from Hancock; attend the De Witt court when we defendants appear there; take part in annual conferences (usually in April); invite us to speak to their classes, community groups or congregations; contribute $$$ to our bail fund or to such anti-drone groups as codepink; work to pass local resolutions and ordinances restricting surveillance and weaponized drones over local or regional airspace; take part in fact-finding delegations to drone-plagued areas (Pakistan); risk arrest at Hancock, at other drone bases, or other relevant venues (federal buildings, drone research or production facilities, etc.); become a federal tax resister -- i.e.stop paying federal income taxes (much of which goes to the Pentagon war machine).
I'll add a few more:
Visit Upstate Drone Action Reports at http://upstatedroneaction.org/wordpress
Plan for a Global Day of Action Against Drones on October 4, 2014.
Join the movement to end all war, with all weapons, at http://WorldBeyondWar.org
By World Can't Wait It would be hard to have missed Michelle Obama's photo with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, displaying sad eyes as she gave the pre-Mothers Day President's talk Saturday, assuring the public that the US would do everything it can to help rescue the hundreds of girls kidnapped by the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram in Nigeria. We hope this turns out like the New York Police Department's Twitter campaign recently, which asked for photos of people with #MyNYPD, and got barraged with photos of police brutality from Occupy protests, stop & frisk arrests and unjust murders by the NYPD.
ARTICLE 36: I move that Town Meeting endorse Article 36 as two separate resolutions as they appear on the screen.
1. WHEREAS, the use of drones, often referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), raises far -reaching concerns about targeted governmental killings, the loss of constitutional protections, privacy, democracy, and the rule of law,
2. WHEREAS, drones now being marketed to domestic law enforcement agencies, potentially could be armed with weapons, including tear gas, rubber bullets and firearms,
3. WHEREAS, drone technology as a means of data collection has the potential for misuse affecting individual privacy and civil liberties, freedom of association and assembly, equal protection, and due process,
4. NOW, THEREFORE; BE IT RESOLVED, that this Resolution declares that no agency of the town of Amherst, nor any agents under contract with the town, will operate drones in the immediate airspace over Amherst in a manner that violates the constitutional rights of its residents,
5. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Town of Amherst affirms that within the town limits, landowners and tenants, subject to state laws and local ordinances, have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the airspace and that no drone, unmanned aircraft, or other airborne object shall have the “public right of transit” through this private property.
1. WHEREAS, drones have been used intentionally to kill people in foreign lands including at least two American citizens, without a
public judicial process,
2. WHEREAS, such a use of lethal force without due process is a misuse of governmental powers specifically prohibited in the United States Constitution,
3. WHEREAS, drones have killed many non-targeted people including children,
4. BE IT RESOLVED, that the town of Amherst request its representatives, Congressman Jim McGovern and Senators Elizabeth
Warren and Edward Markey, to introduce a resolution in the United States Congress to end the practice of extrajudicial killing by armed drones, to specifically withhold money for that purpose, and make restitution to those who have been killed or injured through the actions of the United States government, the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their private contractors.
By Judy Bello
MaryAnne Grady-Flores was convicted in DeWitt Town Court last night on 2nd Degree Contempt of an Order Of Protection. Grady-Flores, who did not intend to violate the Order despite its immorality and invalidity, was taking pictures of others at the base - the Ash Wednesday Witnesses - who engaged in nonviolent civil resistance blocking the front Gate to Hancock base for which they were subsequently acquitted.
In a heinous abuse of an instrument meant to protect the innocent from violence, Orders of Protection are being used to protect violent transgressions of international and moral law from citizen oversight. While trying to publicize and support a movement to ground the drones and end the wars which take countless innocent lives, Grady-Flores was arrested for noncompliance with an order that does not specify particulars outside of how you might attack another human, something she would never do. She understood the Order to mean that she was forbidden to join the protest.
The Guilty verdict was proffered by a jury 5 minutes after they had asked the judge for a legal definition of "keep away", and he had replied that they "are the sole triers of fact'.
The two-day trial included testimony from Colonel Earl A. Evans who is the party protected by the OOP, Catholic Priests Father Bill Pickard and Tim Taugher, Catholic Workers Bill Frankel-Streit and Ellen Grady, sister. Grady-Flores also testified on her own behalf.
The media is awash with information about a potential presidential run by Hillary Clinton. She has the overwhelming support of Democrats, unparalleled name-recognition, and the assurance of more money for her campaign than either candidate had in the historically-expensive Obama-Romney match-up of 2012. Her credentials – mastermind of her husband’s comeback campaign for Governor of Arkansas, former first lady, former senator from a heavily populated state, presidential candidate, former Secretary of State – look very impressive, if one doesn’t look too closely. However, it is high time one did so.
Here are the other five.
Leverett and Amherst, Mass., both were expected to consider resolutions. I haven't heard any news from Amherst.
The Leverett news is courtesy of Beth Adams.
I haven't seen official text, but here's some idea of what was passed, or at least what was considered for passage, in Leverett:
Town meeting in Leverett will consider a resolution calling on the federal government to end the use of drones for assassinations on foreign soil and to enact regulations on the use of the unmanned aircraft in the United States.
It would ask U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. James McGovern to bring forward legislation “to end the practice of extrajudicial killing by armed drone aircraft” by withholding money for that purpose and “to make restitution for injuries, fatalities and environmental damage resulting from the actions of the United States government, the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, allied nations and/or its private contractors.”
The second aspect of the article is to ensure that drones stay at least 500 feet above private properties unless otherwise authorized by town officials.
According to Beth Adams, a Leverett resident and co-author of the measure, the resolution was inspired by one passed in Northampton last summer. “We think it is important for the public to be informed about the rule-making going on without any public input,” Adams said.
May 3 town meeting
The resolution in Leverett, which was authored by a group called Pioneer Valley Citizens Concerned About Drones, received 19 signatures — nearly double the number required to get an article on the warrant. It will be voted on close to the end of the meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. May 3, according to Town Clerk Lisa Stratford.
Adams said “We think people need to be educated about this topic, and we hope other communities will follow our example and pass resolutions that will protect their communities from potential violations before the (Federal Aviation Administration) changes the rules.”
"Town meetings in Amherst and Leverett will consider resolutions calling on the federal government to end the use of drones for assassinations and regulate the unmanned aircraft locally. The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that Amherst Select Board member James Wald said he isn’t comfortable with the town having a foreign policy when the federal government doesn’t have one. Frank Gatti, a Town Meeting member and lead petitioner in Amherst, said the drone resolution would express concern about the US government killing people in Pakistan and Yemen. It would ask US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and Representative James McGovern to propose legislation to stop funding drone killings. A second restriction would keep drones at least 500 feet above private property unless otherwise authorized by town officials."
"A second restriction would keep drones at least 500 feet above private property unless otherwise authorized by town officials."
Recent revelations over German complicity in US drone strikes will tomorrow cast a shadow over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks with President Barack Obama in Washington.
Investigative journalists in Germany recently revealed Ramstein, a US base in the country, to be a major data centre for the secretive strikes, which have killed thousands of civilians in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan. Legal charity Reprieve this week revealed that a strike in Yemen over the Easter weekend killed four builders on their way to work, leaving at least 20 children fatherless.
The Ramstein findings contradict claims made by both leaders at their last meeting in June 2013, when Obama dismissed reports that US bases in Germany had been used for drone attacks. He told journalists: “We do not use Germany as a launching point for unmanned drones […] as part of our counterterrorism activities. […] I know that there have been some reports here in Germany that that might be the case. That is not.” During the same visit, Merkel spoke of Ramstein as filling “a very important function”, saying “our work is based […] on shared values.”
Recent questions in the German parliament have increased pressure on Merkel to reveal the true extent of Germany’s involvement in the strikes, but there is little evidence that the government plans to challenge the Obama administration over them.
Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve, said: “One year on from Chancellor Merkel’s assertions about shared US-German ‘values’, the extent of Washington’s use of German soil to perpetrate illegal killings is clear. Despite Obama’s promises to the German people last year, the number of civilian deaths from these secretive drone strikes is higher than ever, and the response of the German government has been to ignore the issue. It is high time that Merkel raised concerns with Obama about the launching of illegal drone strikes from Germany – concerns that are echoing loudly throughout her country. ”
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was one of three U.S. diplomats who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.
Drone attacks bring Yemeni government to brink of no confidence vote
Yemeni parliamentarians are today challenging the legitimacy of President Hadi's government, following the administration's failure to stop repeated US drone attacks.
MPs are planning a vote of no confidence if President Hadi's ministers do not attend parliament to answer questions on the drone program; some are calling for an immediate dissolution of the government.
The parliament’s attack on the Hadi administration follows a particularly deadly drone strike on Al Bayda on April 19, in which Reprieve has discovered that four builders were killed on their way to work, leaving 20 children without fathers. The Yemeni government has admitted that their killing was a mistake.
The strike violated last December's parliamentary resolution banning the use of drones on Yemeni territory. Yemeni lawmakers are furious that the administration has repeatedly failed to enforce the ban, and that President Hadi's Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Oil have refused to attend several parliamentary meetings on the subject.
Shawki al-Qadhi, an MP in the Yemeni parliament and a member of the parliament’s Committee on Freedoms and Human Rights said: “How can we talk about the rule of law when another country kills our citizens without charge or trial? How can we talk about governance when Parliament's resolutions are ignored by the both the US and Yemeni administrations? We Yemenis are the people who suffer most from the unrest in our country, and as we have heard recently, the majority of people causing the unrest are foreigners who come from outside Yemen. We would obviously welcome external help in dealing with the problem, but only if Yemen has clear agreements and control over what takes place. As MPs we have a responsibility to protect our constituents and to uphold the values of our country. Drones undermine both. Our citizens are less safe with drones in the air-- not only are they vulnerable to mistaken targeting but we have seen time and time again that when civilians are killed, it immediately swells the ranks of the armed groups. We even lack a clear law about compensating the families of the victims, which is something we urgently need. Drones are undermining our nascent democratic institutions.”
From World Can't Wait Honolulu A small crew got out more than 1300 anti-drone brochures and leaflets at two recent events. On Tuesday we went to the talk by Al Gore; on Friday to the Bruno Mars Concert. While we got rained on during leafleting at both events, we felt each was a big success.
Yemeni lawmakers angered by Easter violation of parliamentary drone ban, as US pledges to maintain secrecy
Yemeni MPs have voted to summon the Yemeni Minister of Interior and Minister of Defense over drone strikes which occurred over the Easter weekend killing at least four civilians. These strikes contravened a parliamentary resolution passed in December 2013 banning the use of drones on Yemeni territory.
In a parliamentary session on Sunday, MPs described the ongoing drone program as illegal, beyond the pale of international norms, and a violation of Yemeni sovereignty.
A Yemeni news source reported that the MP for Al-Bayda, the region in which four civilians were killed in a strike on April 19, stated that ongoing drone strikes are a primary motivation for locals to join Al-Qaeda.
Yemen's parliamentary vote came only days before it was revealed that the US Senate has axed a legal provision which would have required the Administration to report on drone casualties.
The Yemeni government has admitted that the Easter weekend killings mistakenly killed civilians. The US has made no comment, either to Yemeni lawmakers or the Yemeni people.
Yemeni MP Zaid Alshami said: “The US and Yemeni governments bear the responsibility for these utterly counterproductive killings which only increase sympathy for Al-Qaeda and revenge. These attacks continue to take place without warning, information or parliamentary approval. All we see is killing outside of the rule-of-law, which has increased the retaliatory violence, explosions and instability which are destroying Yemen and its people and destabilizing its economy. At the same time, Yemenis are only getting angrier at their government and the United States. These two governments must compensate bereaved Yemeni families, and end their drone attacks.”
Reprieve's Strategic Director Cori Crider said: “We’re still largely in the dark about who died in the massive strikes over Easter, but Reprieve’s initial findings about al-Bayda are worrying. Meanwhile, drones are driving a dangerous wedge between the US and Yemen. The Obama administration claims to support democracy in Yemen; it’s time for the US put its money where its mouth is, and bring its counter-terrorism policies within the rule of law.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact katherine.oshea@
2. The two ministers summoned by Yemeni parliamentarians were the Minister of Defence, Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed and the Minister of Interior, Major General Abdo Hussein Al-Tareb.
3. Reprieve US opened in New York City in February 2014. A partner organization to Reprieve UK, Reprieve US provides advocacy and litigation aimed at stopping abuses in the death penalty and in counter-terrorism. For information about the work of Reprieve US please visit reprieve.org or contact Katherine O’Shea on email@example.com or +1 917 855 8064.
Drone Strikes and Transparency
The craven U.S. Senate has stripped from a bill a requirement that the president disclose casualties resulting from his murderous, almost indiscriminant drone strikes. The original wording of the bill, authorizing intelligence operations for fiscal year 2014, required an annual report stating the number of ‘combatants’ and ‘non-combatant civilians’ that were either killed or injured by drone strikes.
By Catie O'Toole | firstname.lastname@example.org
DeWitt, NY -- A DeWitt town judge Monday night acquitted a U.S. Marine veteran who wore a Grim reaper costume during a permitted protest last year outside Hancock air base.
John Amidon, 66, president of the Albany chapter of Veterans for Peace, was charged April 28, 2013 with attempted criminal trespass and loitering, both violations.
Amidon was among 31 people arrested that day. He was the first of the group to be tried.
DeWitt Town Judge David Gideon found Amidon not guilty of both charges after watching a video of the arrest and hearing from six witnesses, said defense lawyer Kathy Manley.
During his trial Monday night, Amidon testified he was standing on top of a barrier within the free-speech zone in front of Hancock Field during a permitted protest. He was wearing a Grim Reaper mask and long black robe at the time. The protest, he said, was organized by the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, and the Syracuse Peace Council.
"I was doing street theater," Amidon said. "I was arrested in a free-speech zone and dragged out of it."
Assistant District Attorney Jordan McNamara argued Amidon was trying to climb over the barricade, Manley said. One of the prosecutor's two witnesses was the arresting police officer who testified he thought Amidon was going to climb over the barrier, Manley said after the trial. McNamara could not be reached for comment.
Amidon and three witnesses at the protest also testified.
"I did not trespass," Amidon said. "I had a Constitutional right to wear the mask."
The defense argued there was a reason for why Amidon chose the Grim Reaper costume: "The Grim Reaper is a symbol of the drone program," said Manley, a lawyer from Albany. The New York Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing operates unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drones from Hancock Air Base and the Navy drone program's logo is that of a Grim Reaper, she said.
"The Reaper drone is killing indiscriminately and the Grim Reaper collects the souls of the innocent and guilty alike," Amidon said.
The judge found Amidon not guilty of loitering because his Grim Reaper mask and costume were props and props were included in the permit, Manley said. Gideon found Amidon not guilty of attempted criminal trespass because "the evidence showed he was not trying to climb over the barrier," Manley said.
"They ran in and grabbed him from behind," she said. "He was surrounded by other officers and handcuffed, and his mask was pulled off."
After court, Amidon said he was happy with the verdict.
"It was an absolute splendid victory," he said. "Freedom of speech was protected."