Camp Douglas, WI – Twenty-four Wisconsin citizen activists vigiled outside the gates of Camp Williams/Volk Field on Monday January 31, 2012, calling for an end to drone warfare. People were there from Milwaukee, Afton, Madison, Monona, Ontario, Mauston, and Portage. Camp Williams/Volk Field is a National Guard facility where testing and training for the RQ-7 Shadow 200 drones is conducted.
A week prior to the action, the group mailed a letter to Colonel Gary Ebben, Commander, asking for a meeting to discuss their grave and urgent concerns regarding drone warfare. The letter states in part, “The United States carried out drone attacks inside Pakistani territory during 2011 killing 609 people, and only eight could even possibly be considered to be a threat to the safety of the United States.” They did not receive a response from Colonel Ebben.
The group asserts that it is the killing of innocent children, women, and men that makes drone warfare so egregious. Over 2,600 people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, and other places around the world have been killed by drones since 2004, with only a very small percentage being any kind of threat to the United States according to the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.
They are also concerned because drone warfare is illegal, going against the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, and the principles of the Nuremburg Tribunal. It constitutes extra-judicial killing, killing without any kind of due process, and is often based on faulty evidence.
The activists believe that because drones are killing innocent people around the world, we are becoming less safe at home. More and more young men in Afghanistan and Pakistan are joining groups that will retaliate against the United States for the murder of their loved ones.
Recently Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined how our military budget will be cut by decreasing the soldiers on the ground and increasing the use of technology, specifically drone warfare. Joy First, Monona, said, “Our government is working towards normalizing and desensitizing us to drone warfare. No US soldiers are killed and so we are supposed to accept it as a "good" style of warfare, but we have to open our eyes and realize that our government is killing innocent children, women, and men - all in our name. Drone warfare is illegal and immoral and we must call on our government to stop it immediately.”
The group, which includes members of various Wisconsin peace and justice groups such as Madison Pledge of Resistance, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Casa Maria Catholic Worker House, Pax Christi-Madison, and members of Veterans For Peace, Clarence Kailin Chapter 25, Madison, WI held their first vigil at the base in December.
Long-time activist Bonnie Block, a member of Madison Pledge of Resistanc and Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice talked about the importance of going to Camp Williams, stating, “I join in this monthly vigil because I cannot let drone warfare continue without my protesting it. Extrajudicial killing with unmanned drones is wrong. Even if our protest doesn't stop the drone training facility from being built we can at least make visible our human concern for the well being of others. And we can model the hopefulness that totally rejects war as a way to resolve our conflicts.”
They plan to return to the base on a monthly basis, continuing to speak out against drone warfare and calling on members of the military to do the right thing and refuse to participate in the immoral and illegal activity of drone warfare. Lars Prip, VFP member from Afton, WI, will be back. He said, “As a former Marine and veteran of the War in Vietnam I am opposed to war and consider it a barbaric way of settling mankind differences. My service in the Marines was nothing more than as a hired gun for corporate amerika. The drones are yet another way of promoting warfare, enriching the coffers of the military industrial complex and promoting terrorism thought out the world.”
Don Timmerman, Milwaukee, was an imposing and eerie figure standing at the gate to the military base wearing his black hooded robe, and a white ghostly mask. He was holding a 6-foot pole with a model drone on the top, and a sign that reminded us that the true cost of drone warfare are the deaths of the innocent.