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All Drone Politics Is Local

6:17 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

What Localities and States Can Do About Drones

Local protest with drone puppet

Local actions can make a difference against drones.

Charlottesville, Va., passed a resolution that urged the state of Virginia to adopt a two-year moratorium on drones (which it did), urged both Virginia and the U.S. Congress to prohibit information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into court, and to preclude 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 harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being,” and pledged that Charlottesville would “abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.”

St. Bonifacius, Minn., passed a resolution with the same language as Charlottesville plus a ban on anyone operating a drone “within the airspace of the city,” making a first offense a misdemeanor and a repeat offense a felony.

Evanston, Ill., passed a resolution establishing a two-year moratorium on the use of drones in the city with exceptions for hobby and model aircraft and for non-military research, and making the same recommendations to the state and Congress as Charlottesville and St. Bonifacius.

Northampton, Mass., passed a resolution urging the U.S. government to end its practice of extrajudicial killing with drones, affirming that within the city limits “the navigable airspace for drone aircraft shall not be expanded below the long-established airspace for manned aircraft” and that “landowners subject to state laws and local ordinances have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the airspace and that no drone aircraft shall have the ‘public right of transit’ through this private  property,” and urging the state and Congress and the FAA “to  respect legal precedent and constitutional guarantees of privacy, property rights, and local sovereignty in all matters pertaining to drone aircraft and navigable airspace.”

See full text of all resolutions at warisacrime.org/resolutions

Other cities, towns, and counties should be able to pass similar resolutions. Of course, stronger and more comprehensive resolutions are best. But most people who learned about the four resolutions above just leaned that these four cities had “banned drones” or “passed an anti-drone resolution.” The details are less important in terms of building national momentum against objectionable uses of drones.  By including both surveillance and weaponized drones, as all four cities have done, a resolution campaign can find broader support.  By including just one issue, a resolution might meet fewer objections.  Asking a city just to make recommendations to a state and the nation might also meet less resistance than asking the city to take actions itself.  Less can be more.

Read the rest of this entry →

50 Organizations Seek Ban on Armed Drones

10:25 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Fifty organizations and over 75,000 individuals are asking . . .

  • the United Nations Secretary General to investigate the concerns of Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s top human rights official, that drone attacks violate international law — and to ultimately pursue sanctions against nations using, possessing, or manufacturing weaponized drones;
  • the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate grounds for the criminal prosecution of those responsible for drone attacks;
  • the U.S. Secretary of State, and the ambassadors to the United States from the nations of the world, to support a treaty forbidding the possession or use of weaponized drones;
  • President Barack Obama, to abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his “kill list” program regardless of the technology employed;
  • the Majority and Minority Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, to ban the use or sale of weaponized drones.
  • the governments of each of our nations around the world, to ban the use or sale of weaponized drones.

At http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org over 75,000 people have signed a petition, many adding their own statements.

At the United Nations this month, Brazil, China, Venezuela and other nations denounced U.S. drone wars as illegal.[1]

In the countries where the drones strike, popular and elite opinion condemns the entire program as criminal. This is the view of Pakistan’s courts, Yemen’s National Dialogue, Yemen’s Human Rights Ministry and large numbers of well-known figures in Yemen. Popular movements in both Pakistan and Yemen continue to protest against the killing.

The Geneva-based human rights group Alkarama agrees: “Whether they hit civilians and/or alleged al-Qaeda combatants and associates, the U.S. targeted killings policy in Yemen constitutes a blatant violation of international human rights law.”[2]

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights agrees: “Any of these attacks are completely illegal. It’s not about who they’re targeting, or whether it’s a civilian or whether it’s a so-called combatant. … These drone attacks are absolutely 100% illegal.”[3]

Sarah Ludford, Member of the European Parliament, agrees: “U.S. drone killings operate in disregard of the long-established international legal framework about when it is lawful to kill people.”[4]

Joy First of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, recently told the judge who was trying her for the crime of protesting drone kills at CIA headquarters: “According to the Nuremberg Principles, if we remain silent while our government is engaged in illegal activities, then we are complicit, we are equally guilty of being in violation of international law and of going against our most dearly held values. It is our responsibility as citizens, as taxpayers, as voters to speak out.”

Joy quoted Robert Jackson, the U.S. chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, who said: “The very essence of the Nuremberg Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.” And she added: “Your honor, the bottom line is that thousands of innocent people are dying and it is up to all of us to do everything we can to stop the pain and suffering and death being inflicted on these people by our government.”[5]

These organizations back the campaign to ban weaponized drones:

Alaskans For Peace and Justice
Antiwar.com
Arlington Green Party
Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests

BFUU
Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Brave New Foundation
Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases
Christians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East
Code Pink
Drone Free Zone
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Granny Peace Brigade-NY
Hoosiers for Peace and Justice
Indiana Anti-Drone Project
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Jeannette Rankin Peace Center
KnowDrones.com
LA Laborfest
Montrose Peace Vigil
National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Nevada Desert Experience
The Northampton Committee to Stop War
On Earth Peace
Peace of Mind Project
People United for Peace of Santa Cruz County (PUP)
RootsAction.org
Santa Cruz Against Drones (SCAD)
Simple Gifts Inc.
Sitkans for Peace and Justice
United for Peace and Justice
Veracity Now
Veterans For Peace
Veterans For Peace Chapter 10
Veterans For Peace Chapter 27
Veterans For Peace Chapter 91
Veterans For Peace Chapter 154
Veterans For Peace, Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter, Baltimore, MD
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
WarIsACrime.org
War Resisters League
Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice
West Suburban Faith-based Peace Coalition
Women Against Military Madness (WAMM)
Women Standing
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S. Section
World Can’t Wait
Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear DisarmamentRootsAction.org is an online initiative dedicated to galvanizing Americans who are committed to economic fairness, equal rights, civil liberties, environmental protection — and defunding endless wars.  RootsAction is endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, and many others.

http://rootsaction.org

Footnotes:

1. Guardian: Brazil, China and Venezuela Sharply Critical of ‘Illegal’ Program
2. Alkarama: Why the American Drone War on Yemen Violates International Law
3. TheRealNews.com: Michael Ratner on Illegality of Drones
4. Truthout: How Europeans Are Opposing Drone and Robot Warfare
5. Joy First: Who Is the Real Threat to Communities?

Drones from the Other Side

8:53 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Imagine you awake to the sound of a machine noisily buzzing over your house, and another machine nearby in the sky, and another. These machines and others like them have been around for months. They never leave. While you live in the United States, the machines belong to the government of Pakistan. The machines are unmanned drones armed with missiles. Every once in a while they blow up a house or a car or a couple of kids playing soccer or a grandmother walking to the store, sometimes a McDonald’s or a shopping center.

Imagine that you’ve learned to live with this. The popularity of homeschooling has skyrocketed, as nobody wants to send their kids outside. Telecommuting is now the norm for those able to maintain employment.  But there’s no getting used to the change. Your kids wake up screaming and refuse to sleep. Your rage makes you physically ill. Antidepressants are on everybody’s shopping lists, but shopping is a life-and-death proposition.  Canada is facing an immigration crisis.  So is Mexico.

Now, Pakistan claims to be targeting evil criminals with surgical precision. And some in the U.S. government go along with this. But others object. The U.S. Supreme Court declares the drone deaths to be murder or war — murder being illegal under U.S. law, and war being illegal under the U.N. Charter via Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Congress insists that criminals must be indicted and prosecuted, that negotiations with hostile groups cannot succeed while drones tear the negotiators limb from limb, and that Pakistan has no right to put its robots in our skies no matter what its good intentions.  Statements agreeing with this opposition to the drones are signed by everybody who’s anybody. Popular demonstrations against the drones, and — bravely — in the face of the drones, dwarf anything seen before. In fact, the world joins in, and people protest Pakistan’s murder spree all over the globe. Human rights groups in various countries denounce it as criminal. The Pakistani prime minister reportedly checks off men, women, and children to kill on a list at regular Tuesday meetings. He’s burned in effigy across the United States.

But Pakistani human rights groups take a different tack.  In their view, some of the drone murders in the United States are illegal and some are not.  It depends on the knowledge and intentions of the Pakistani officials — did they know those kids were just playing soccer or did they believe their soccer ball was an imminent threat to the nation of Pakistan? Was blowing up those kids necessary, discrete, and proportionate?  Were they militants or civilians? Was blowing them up part of an armed conflict or an act of law enforcement, and what type of armed conflict or what law was being enforced? Pakistan, these groups argue, must not blow people up without identifying them, without verifying that they cannot be captured, and without taking care not to kill too many civilians in the process. Further, Pakistan must reveal the details of its legal reasoning and decision making, so that the process has transparency. Indeed, Pakistan must begin running its proposed drone killings by a judge who must sign off on them — a Pakistani judge, but a judge nonetheless.

The Pakistani human rights groups are not made up of evil people. They very much mean well. They want to reduce the number of Americans killed by drones. And they are not permitted to declare all drone killing illegal, because these killings might be part of a war, and these groups have adopted as a matter of strict principle the position that wars must never be opposed, only tactics within wars. They believe this makes them “objective” and “credible,” and it certainly does do that with certain people. These Pakistani human rights groups are not pulling the trigger, they’re trying to stop it being pulled as often. Lumping them together with the Pakistani military would be Bushian (with us or against us) thinking. But it’s harder to see that from under the drones here in the United States with the kids wailing and Uncle Joe’s brains still staining the side of the Pizza Hut, than it would be perhaps in Pakistan or at the United Nations Headquarters in Islamabad.

From here in the United States, the cries are for justice. Many want the prime minister of Pakistan prosecuted for murder. Many are beginning to view the absence of such legal justice as grounds for violence. I’m growing worried over what my neighbors and even myself might unleash on the rest of the world.  I’m beginning to fall in love with the feeling of hatred.

##

Read more about drones.

Watch the Wounds of Waziristan video.

Do a die-in like this one.

Read the rest of this entry →

Amnesty International Explains Why It Won’t Oppose All Drone Murders

1:41 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

I was on Margaret Flowers’ and Kevin Zeese’s Clearing the Fog Radio today together with Naureen Shah of Amnesty International. The show ought to appear soon on iTunes here, and mixcloud here, and is already on UStream here although it seems to be missing the audio. I had earlier published a critique of AI’s report on drones.

On this show, Shah explained that Amnesty International cannot oppose all drone strikes in an illegal war, because Amnesty International has never opposed a war, because doing so would make it look biased, and A.I. wants to appear to be an unbiased enforcer of the law. But, of course, an illegal war is a violation of the law — usually of the U.N. Charter which most lawyers whom A.I. hangs out with recognize, never mind the Kellogg-Briand Pact which they don’t.

Refusing to recognize the UN Charter, in order to appear unbiased, is a twisted notion to begin with, but perhaps it had good intentions at one time. However, now the U.N. special rapporteur finds that drones are making war the norm rather than the exception. That’s a serious shifting of the ground, and might be good reason to reconsider the ongoing feasibility of a human rights group avoiding the existence of laws against war.

Shah also argued against banning weaponized drones on the grounds that they could be used legally. That is, there could be a legal war (ignoring Kellogg-Briand) and during that legal war a drone could legally kill people in accordance with someone’s interpretation of necessity, discrimination, proportionality, intention, and so forth. Shah contrasts this with chemical weapons, even though I could imagine a theoretical scenario in which a targeted murder in a closed space could use chemical weapons in plausible accord with all of the lawyerly notions of “legal war” other than the ban on chemical weapons.

Of course, practically speaking, weaponized drones are slaughtering and traumatizing innocent people and will do so as long as they’re used. The notion of civilizing and legalizing atrocity-free war was ludicrous enough before the age of drone murder. It’s beyond outrageous now.

Eisenhower’s Drones

8:27 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

President Eisenhower meeting with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at the White House.(1956)

President Dwight Eisenhower is often admired for having avoided huge wars, having declared that every dollar wasted on militarism was food taken out of the mouths of children, and having warned — albeit on his way out the door — of the toxic influence of the military industrial complex (albeit in a speech of much more mixed messages than we tend to recall).

But when you oppose war, not because it murders, and not because it assaults the rights of the foreign places attacked, but because it costs too much in U.S. lives and dollars, then your steps tend in the direction of quick and easy warfare — usually deceptively cheap and easy warfare.

President Obama and his subordinates are well aware that much of the world is outraged by the use of drones to kill.  The warnings of likely blowback and long-term damage to U.S. interests and human interests and the rule of law are not hard to find.  But our current warriors don’t see a choice between murdering people with drones and using negotiations and courts of law to settle differences.  They see a choice between murdering people with drones and murdering people with ground troops on a massive scale.  The preference between these two options is so obvious to them as to require little thought.

President Eisenhower had his own cheap and easy tool for better warfare.  It was called the Delightfully Deluded Dulles Brothers, and — in terms of how much thought this pair of brothers gave to the possible outcomes of their reckless assault on the world — it’s fair to call them a couple of drones in a literal as well as an analogous sense.

John Foster Dulles at the State Department and Allen Dulles at the CIA are the subject of a new book by Stephen Kinzer called The Brothers, which ought to replace whatever history book the Texas School Board has most recently imposed on our children.  This is a story of two vicious, racist, fanatical jerks, but it’s also the story of the central thrust of U.S. public policy for the past 75 years.

The NSA didn’t invent sliminess in the 21st century.  The Dulles’ grandfather and uncle did.  Cameras weren’t first put on airplanes over the earth when drones were invented.  Allen Dulles started that with piloted planes — the main result being scandal, outrage, and international antagonism — a tradition we seem intent on keeping up.  Oh, and the cameras also revealed that the CIA had been wildly exaggerating the strength of the Soviet Union’s military — but who needed to know that?

The Obama White House didn’t invent aggression toward journalism.  Allen and Foster Dulles make the current crop of propagandists, censors, intimidators, and human rights abusers look like amateurs singing from an old hymnal they can’t properly read.

Black sites weren’t created by George W. Bush.  Allen Dulles set up secret prisons in Germany, Japan, and the Panama Canal Zone, the MKULTRA program, and the Gladio and other networks of forces staying behind in Europe after World War II (never really) ended.

The Dynamic Dulles Duo racked up quite a resume.  They overthrew a democratic government in Iran, installing a fierce dictatorship, and never imagining that the eventual backlash might be unpleasant.  Delighted by this — and intimately in on it, as Kinzer documents — Eisenhower backed the overthrow of Guatemala’s democracy as well — both of these operations being driven primarily by the interests of Foster Dulles’ clients on Wall Street (where his firm had been rather embarrassingly late in halting its support for the Nazis).  Never mind the hostility generated throughout Latin America, United Fruit claimed its rights to run Guatemala, and who were the Guatemalans to say otherwise?

Unsatisfied with this everlasting damage, the Dulles Brothers dragged the United States into a war of their own making on Vietnam, sought to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia, teamed up with the Belgians to murder Lumumba in the Congo, and tried desperately to murder Fidel Castro or start an all-out war on Cuba.  The Bay of Pigs fiasco was essentially the result of Allen Dulles’ confidence that he could trap a new president (John Kennedy) into expanding a war.

If that weren’t enough damage for two careers, the Disastrous Dulles Dimwits created the Council on Foreign Relations, shaped the creation of the United Nations to preserve U.S. imperialism, manufactured intense irrational fear of the Soviet Union and its mostly mythical plots for global domination, convinced Truman that intelligence and operations should be combined in the single agency of the CIA, sent countless secret agents to their deaths for no earthly reason, unwittingly allowed double agents to reveal much of their activities to their enemies, subverted democracy in the Philippines and Lebanon and Laos and numerous other nations, made hysteria a matter of national pride, ended serious Congressional oversight of foreign policy, pointlessly antagonized China and the USSR, boosted radically evil regimes likely to produce future blowback around the world and notably in Saudi Arabia but also in Pakistan — with predictable damage to relations with India, failed miserably at overthrowing Nasser in Egypt but succeeded in turning the Arab world against the United States, in fact antagonized much of the world as it attempted an unacceptable neutrality in the Cold War, rejected Soviet peace overtures, aligned the U.S. government with Israel, built the CIA headquarters at Langley and training grounds at Camp Peary, and — ironically enough — radically expanded and entrenched the military industrial complex to which “covert actions” were supposed to be the easy new alternative (rather as the drone industry is doing today).

The Dulles Dolts were a lot like King Midas if the king’s love had been for dogshit rather than gold.  As icing on the cake of their careers, Allen Dulles — dismissed in disgrace by Kennedy who regretted ever having kept him on — manipulated the Warren Commission’s investigation of Kennedy’s death in a highly suspicious manner.  Kinzer says no more than that, but James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable points to other grounds for concern, including Dulles’s apparent coverup of Oswald’s being an employee of the CIA.

Lessons learned? One would hope so. I would recommend these steps:
Abolish the CIA, and make the State Department a civilian operation.
Ban weaponized drones, and avoid a legacy as bad as the covert operations of the 1950s and 1960s.
Stop the disgustingly royalish habit of supporting political family dynasties.
And rename Washington’s international, as well as its national, airport. Read the rest of this entry →

Finally a Drone Report Done Right

11:28 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

The U.N. and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently released a flurry of deeply flawed reports on drone murders. According to the U.N.’s special rapporteur, whose day job is as law partner of Tony Blair’s wife, and according to two major human rights groups deeply embedded in U.S. exceptionalism, murdering people with drones is sometimes legal and sometimes not legal, but almost always it’s too hard to tell which is which, unless the White House rewrites the law in enough detail and makes its new legal regime public.

When I read these reports I was ignorant of the existence of a human rights organization called Alkarama, and of the fact that it had just released a report titled License to Kill: Why the American Drone War on Yemen Violates International Law. While Human Rights Watch looked at six drone murders in Yemen and found two of them illegal and four of them indeterminate, Alkarama looked in more detail and with better context at the whole campaign of drone war on Yemen, detailing 10 cases. As you may have guessed from the report’s title, this group finds the entire practice of murdering people with flying robots to be illegal.

Alkarama makes this finding, not out of ignorance of the endless intricacies deployed by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Rather, Alkarama adopts the same dialect and considers the same scenarios: Is it legal if it’s a war, if it’s not a war? Is it discriminate, necessary, proportionate? Et cetera. But the conclusion is that the practice is illegal no matter which way you slice it.

This agrees with Pakistan’s courts, Yemen’s National Dialogue, Yemen’s Human Rights Ministry, statements by large numbers of well-known figures in Yemen, and the popular movement in Yemen protesting the slaughter. While the other “human rights” groups ask President Obama to please lay out what the law is, whether his killing spree is part of a war or not, who counts as a civilian and who doesn’t, etc., Alkarama actually compares U.S. actions with existing law and points out that the United States is violating the law and trying to radically alter the law. This conclusion results in a clear and useful set of recommendations at the end of the report, beginning with this recommendation to the U.S. government:

End extrajudicial executions and the practice of targeted killings by drones and other military means.

This recommendation is strengthened by a better informed and more honest report that much more usefully conveys the recent history of Yemen (including by noting honestly the destructive impact of the IMF and the USA), describes the indiscriminate terror inflicted by the buzzing drones, and contrasts drone murders to alternatives — such as negotiations. This analysis enriches our understanding of why drone wars are counterproductive even from the point of view of a heartless sociopath rooting for Team USA, much less someone concerned about human rights.

It is, then, possible to write a human rights report from a perspective concerned with the rights of humans, and not some combination of concern with human rights and devotion to U.S. imperialism. This is good news for anyone interested in giving it a try. The field is fairly wide open.

Some nations’ statements at the U.N. debate on drones this month, including Brazil’s, also challenged the legalization of a new form of war. And all of these groups and individuals have something to say about it as well.

Unmanned

11:00 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

 

What, quite unmanned in folly?” –Lady MacBeth

The new film Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars should be required viewing in all schools and homes in the United States, including the home of the U.S. president who could not be bothered to meet with the child victims of his drones who spoke in Congress this week.

One could even speculate what the appropriate fantasized outcome might be if, Clockwork Orange-style, Obama were compelled to view Unmanned. But fantasies are what got us into this. Former drone pilot Brandon Bryant opens this beautifully made, fast-moving film by describing his childhood comic-book-induced fantasies about “good guys” and bad guys” and how to become a hero. Bryant was up against student debt when a recruiter told him that he could work in a James Bond control center.

Bryant, who faced up to reality too late, comes and goes through the course of a film that shows the suffering of drone victims and drone operators, honestly and accurately, without trying to equate the two.

The testimony of drone victims in D.C. this week was far from the first such testimony anywhere. On October 28, 2011, drone victims testified in Islamabad, Pakistan, where their conference was followed by a huge rally protesting U.S. drone strikes. In this film, we watch 16-year-old Tariq Aziz attend the conference to describe the killing of his cousin. Three days later, Tariq and another cousin are murdered in their car by a U.S. drone.

We see numerous people, including law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, point out that Aziz could quite easily have been questioned or arrested if he had been suspected of some crime. Obama has killed thousands and captured a handful, and in many cases we know that capture would have been perfectly possible but was not attempted. The U.N.’s special rapporteur last week admitted this is illegal, as are various other types of drone murders, including one that the film focuses in on: signature strikes.

(Why all drone murders are not illegal and immoral, and why we cannot all clearly say as much, is beyond me.)

We see a publicly announced, publicly held, community meeting hit with numerous missiles from drones.  Pieces of flesh and debris lie everywhere.  Innocents are slaughtered. Tribal elders are killed. People are made afraid to meet each other. Institutions are destroyed. Children are traumatized. Hatred of the United States is inflamed. And — as always — the New York Times prints that an anonymous U.S. official claims the victims were terrorists (never mind the lack of any evidence of that).

Pakistan’s courts have ruled the drone strikes — all of them — illegal, and the CIA guilty of committing murder. Suits have been filed against the U.K. and the U.S. Protests have erupted all over the globe. And experts seem to agree that the drone murders are making Americans less safe, not protecting them.  But drone profiteers are raking in the money.

Unmanned names names and shows faces. This film is what the nightly news would look like in a sane nation not addicted to war. You can watch the film and get a copy of it to screen locally. I highly recommend it. And then I recommend doing something about it. Here’s a place to start.

Drone Island in the East River

8:21 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Remarks at New York University forum with http://NYACT.net

The primary problem with weaponized drones is that the weapons murder people.  And they murder people in a way that looks more like murder to a lot of observers than other forms of military murder do — such as murder by indiscriminate bombing or artillery or infantry or dropping white phosphorous on people.  When President Obama looks through a list of men, women, and children at a Tuesday terror meeting, and picks which ones to murder, and has them murdered, you can call it a war or not call it a war, but it begins to look to a lot of people like murder.

Many of the victims are civilians, many are men suspected of or just of the age for combat — and in fact the policy has been to define military aged males as combatants — and other victims are alleged to be serious criminals; not indicted, not charged, not tried or convicted, just alleged. And they’re blown up along with anyone too nearby. It begins to look like the killing spree of a disgruntled employee at a shopping mall.  But there’s a key difference.  It’s happening in a foreign place to people who don’t all look or talk like we do.  I’ve been asked, more than once: Aren’t drones preferable to piloted planes or ground troops, since with drones nobody dies?  This is what drones do to foreign policy: they create deceptively easy and deceptively cost-free solutions.  The drone war on Yemen didn’t replace some other kind of war that was worse.  It added another war to the list.

Here is the real danger: We’re making murder in its most recognizable form acceptable.  And we’re defining it out of existence when the victims belong to that 96% of humanity that’s never been considered quite all the way human in this country.  Which leaves only the slightest step to include certain traitorous Americans as well.  President Obama jokes about sending drones after his daughter’s boyfriends, and the press corpse laughs.  Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden jokes about adding Edward Snowden to the kill list, and everybody laughs.  If we can be at war with individual criminals, why not add whistleblowers to the list?  They reveal the powerful secrets that give our high priests their prestige.  They reveal crimes and abuses that outrage us but outrage foreign nations too.  They open a door through which we can begin to question what the distinction really is between joking about murder by million dollar missile and joking about murder with an ax, such that we admire one and are horrified by the other.  The fact is that the most realistic mass-murder costumes you’ll see in a Halloween Parade will be on men and women who’ve wandered up from Wall Street in their stylish suits.

The drone industry seems quite pleased with our acceptance of their technology for murder, but frustrated that some of us are resistant in our backward superstitious ways to favoring the use of killer drones that are fully automated.  That is, we’ve accepted drones as a good moral killing device when a human at a desk pulls the trigger, but we find something vaguely disturbing about the drone pulling the trigger itself.  Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International says, “Right now, in human nature, its unacceptable for a machine to kill a human being,” but he’s confident that will change as we begin to wise up and see the advantages.  In fact, there are those who would like to ban automated drones and automated killing robots of all types, and I agree with them in so far as they go.  Any weapon we can ban, let’s ban it.  But let’s not, in the process, make non-automated drone murder acceptable.  If you listen to the accounts of some former drone pilots — so-called pilots who dress up in flight suits to sit at a desk and who drive past a sign on their way home from work every day letting them know that driving on U.S. roads is the most dangerous thing they do, so they should buckle up — if you listen to these people, there’s just not significantly more moral consideration going into the human pulling of the trigger than there would be with the drone pulling the trigger.

The majority of volunteers in experiments are willing to inflict what they believe is severe pain or death on other human beings when a scientist tells them to do so for the good of science. These are usually known as Milgram experiments, and the pain or death is faked by actors.  Drone pilots take part in Milgram experiments where the deaths are real, the injuries are real, the suffering is real.  Drones don’t just kill, of course.  They traumatize children and adults.  The buzzing overhead, threatening imminent death for weeks on end is a severe form of cruelty, and an extreme case of power over others at an extreme distance — and as indiscriminate as poison gas.  Mothers in Yemen teach neighbors’ kids at home for fear of letting them go to school.  In Gaza people refer to Israel’s drones with a word that means buzz but can also mean a relentlessly nagging wife.  The Living Under Drones report produced by NYU and Stanford, I think made a lot of people aware of what drones do in Pakistan.  (By the way, Pakistan’s prime minister told Obama today to stop the drone killings, and Obama slipped the Washington Post evidence that Pakistan’s been in on it. Don’t expect them to give Bob Woodward the Chelsea Manning treatment. And don’t imagine the murders-by-drone are OK because some lying scheming Pakistani officials are sometimes in on it.) Whole societies are devastated by the ongoing threat and the sporadic murders.  Israel has killed hundreds in Gaza with drones.  But the drone “pilot” sits at his desk and follows the instructions of his authority figure.

On June 6th NBC News interviewed a former drone pilot named Brandon Bryant who was deeply depressed over his role in killing over 1,600 people.  He described watching his victims bleed to death and wondering what if anything they were guilty of.  It became clear why drone pilots suffer PTSD at higher rates than real pilots.  They see everything, including the children they kill.

“After participating in hundreds of missions over the years, Bryant said he ‘lost respect for life’ and began to feel like a sociopath. … When he told a woman he was seeing that he’d been a drone operator, and contributed to the deaths of a large number of people, she cut him off. ‘She looked at me like I was a monster,’ he said. ‘And she never wanted to touch me again.’”

Somehow, members of the United States Congress, where drones have their own caucus to represent them, seem less turned off and more aroused.  But what about the rest of us?  Where do we come down?  A majority in the U.S. — a shrinking majority, but still as far as I know a majority — favors using drones to kill non-Americans outside of the United States.  Pew surveyed 39 countries this past summer and found three that supported this U.S. policy: Kenya, the United States itself, and Israel.  And within the United States there’s not a big partisan divide on the matter.  There’s more concern over killing U.S. citizens or killing anyone within the United States, but less if they’re immigrants on the border, less in hostage situations, etc.  The first place the wars come home is in our own minds.

The U.S. Congress recently gave the Capitol Police the longest standing-ovation since Osama bin Laden’s Muslim sea burial for what quickly turned out to be the shooting of an unarmed mother trying to get away.  Congress members are in the habit of cheering for senseless murder abroad in the form of wars.  Drone victims are labeled militants after the fact, by virtue of being dead.  Transfer those habits to the streets of Capitol Hill, and it’s easy enough to imagine that a dead woman deserved to die — after all: she’s dead.  Our police are beginning to look like the military.  The public is the enemy.  Murderers are cheered if they wear a uniform.  Bloomberg claims absurdly to have the seventh largest army in the world.  And small-town police departments with nothing worse than drunk driving to confront them are stocking up on weaponry, including weaponized drones (with tear gas, rubber bullets, and all kinds of anti-personnel devices).  In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff showed off a drone to the media but crashed it into his armored vehicle (thereby, I guess, proving that he needed the armored vehicle).  Also in Texas, when the Department of Homeland Security challenged the University of Texas-Austin to hack into a drone and take control of it, the response was “No problem,” and it was quickly done.  Is this a part of U.S. wars people are really going to sit back and watch come home?

Many of the drones going into U.S. skies are for surveillance. A drone can sit too high up in the sky to see it from the ground but record everything on the ground for hours and hours of video.  A drone as small as a bird or a bug can listen to you and your cell phone inside your house.  Drones can threaten and intimidate potential protesters, as well as racially and religiously profiled groups, with surveillance and with weaponry.  The NSA has been a big part of the kill list program, the same NSA that tracks all of us in the land of the free.  A Congressional Research Service report arrived at the obvious conclusion that drones are incompatible with the Fourth Amendment.  I would add the First Amendment.  I would add representative government.  So the fact that the technology is exciting or that drones can perform lots of useful and harmless functions is all well and good.  But figure out how they’re compatible with Constitutional rights first, and then allow them in those ways if that’s possible.  And if it isn’t, then instead of using drones to watch forest fires let’s focus on halting climate change.  I’ve survived this long without having my coffee delivered by drone, and I can survive a bit longer.

It’s not the technology’s fault, we’re told, by those more offended by insults to technology than by assaults on humans.  ”Drones carrying hellfire missiles over houses on the other side of the world don’t kill people, people kill people.”  But, as it happens, drones don’t hunt deer, drones don’t protect grandma, the second amendment right to have an eighteenth century musket when taking part in a state militia doesn’t create a right to killer flying robots.  This is a new technology and it needs to be dealt with as such.  This is the technology of legalized murder.

It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder.  Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder.  But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?  It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway.  Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen.  Drones make everyone less safe.  As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism.  Drones also kill with friendly fire.  Drones, with or without weapons, crash.  A lot.  And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated.  When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no.  But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.

The U.N., which has been looking at U.S., Israeli, and U.K. drone use, has just submitted a couple of reports on drones to the General Assembly ahead of a debate scheduled for this Friday.  The reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life.  However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.

The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal.  We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism.  Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet them even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward sometimes in certain countries depending.  Remember the liberal applause for that?  Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.  And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors?  We don’t need the memos.  We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder.  That is, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be.  It might slow down the march of the drones — which is in fact being led by the United States and Israel.

Israel developed drones in the 1970s.  Medea Benjamin’s book begins with the story of how an Israeli engineer who had worked for an Israeli military contractor, developed the prototype of the Predator drone in his garage in southern California in the 1980s with funding from DARPA and the CIA. And the first thing he came up with was called the Albatross — not a bad name really.  Israel is the world’s top exporter of drones.  Technion is a leading developer of drone technology, including drones that can fly 1,850 miles without refueling and carry two 1,100 lb. bombs, as well as miniature surveillance drones, bulldozers, and other weapons of fairly massive destruction used in illegally occupied lands, where Israel has used chemical and all other sorts of weapons while continuing to receive billions of dollars worth every year of what the U.S. Orwellianly calls “military aid.”

Creating Drone Island in the East River no doubt appeals to those in the Israeli government who spy on the U.S. and those in the U.S. government who spy on Israel, but especially to those who want to legitimize and Americanize the U.S. image of Israel’s militarism, to make it as unquestionable in the U.S. as U.S. militarism sometimes is.  The U.S. media questions the cost of feeding the hungry, while treating militarism as a jobs program — even though programs to feed the hungry would more efficiently produce jobs.  The federal government’s trillion dollars a year for wars and war preparations doesn’t count contributions from state and local governments and universities.  The plans of Cornell and Technion to advance the technology of death on Roosevelt Island were apparently approved because of the money involved.  And in the process a hospital will be destroyed.  That’s a typical trade-off.  For a fraction of what we spend on weaponry, we could provide food, water, and medicine to the world.  Many, many more people are killed through what we don’t do with our money than through how we do spend it on wars.

Of course, we could also choose to invest in education instead of militarization. It’s no coincidence that the nation that spends $1 trillion every year on war has created $1 trillion in student loan debt, and no coincidence that universities corrupted by military contracts are holding forums promoting war in Syria.

An early supporter of Technion who would be outraged at its current practices is Albert Einstein, who said “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”  He was right. We have to choose one or the other.  A lot of people are doing so.

In September, the University of Edinburgh responded to student protests and withdrew its investment from Ultra Electronics, a company that produces navigation controls for U.S. killer drones.

Here in New York, the Granny Peace Brigade and Know Drones and the World Can’t Wait and lots of other groups have been pressuring the U.N. and the City Council and Congress and educating the public.  The Center for Constitutional Rights is doing legal work against drone murder, and it just may be that lawsuits turn out to be a major tool in stopping the drones.  An organization I work for called RootsAction has set up a petition at BanWeaponizedDrones.org that now has 99,000 signatures in favor of banning weaponized drones. We’re going to deliver it to the U.N. and governments when it gets to 100,000, so please go sign it at BanWeaponizedDrones.org

Where I live in Charlottesville, Va., we passed the first city resolution against drones — weaponized or surveillance, since when three other cities have done the same.  And eight states.  But the state laws have dealt only with surveillance.  They have not sought to limit the weaponization of domestic drones, including with non-lethal weaponry.  Some of them have made exceptions to their surveillance restrictions for the U.S. military.  Four cities is not a lot, and I think one reason why is the complexities of the surveillance issue. I think cities would more readily pass resolutions commiting not to use weaponized drones, and I’d love to see New York City asked to do that.  Even a failure on that would wake a lot of people up to a new danger.

Drone bases around the country are facing endless protests, as I’m sure a Drone Island in the East River will if created.  If New Yorkers can chase David Petraeus away, I’m sure they can chase Technion away!

Nowhere has seen more or better nonviolent resistance to drones that Hancock air base in upstate, New York.  But people have been risking and serving serious jail sentences to call attention and build resistance to these operations all over the country, including in Niagara Falls this past weekend, where activists are advancing a plan to turn the military airport into an array of solar panels that could power half the state.

This November, like this past April, will be a time of drone protests everywhere, and of Code Pink’s drone summit in D.C.

Next Tuesday Congressman Grayson will hear testimony from two kids injured in Pakistan by a U.S. drone, although the U.S. won’t let their lawyer come.  And yesterday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports on drones full of great information, but still maintaining that some drone murders are legal and some aren’t.  They and the UN special rapporteur will be at NYU Law School on Tuesday and you have to RSVP at the Open Society Foundation.  And on Wednesday Brave New Films will release its film on drone killing.

As we take on the drones, I think we should bear a few key points in mind.  Foreign lives are not worth less than local ones.  Killing with one kind of weapon is not worse than killing with another kind.  Killing is evil and illegal whether or not you call it a war.  The killing is multiplied by the spending of funds on it that could have been spent saving lives.  A war is not an activity marred by atrocities and war crimes.  War is the crime.  We shouldn’t oppose waste at the Pentagon more fervently than we oppose efficiency at the Pentagon.  If we can stop believing in just torture or humane rape or good slavery, we can stop believing in acceptable war.  If the government of Israel makes war we should employ every nonviolent tool to resist it — and the very same goes for the government of the United States of America.

ADDENDUM: I mentioned and there was discussion of at this event Amnesty Intl.’s recommendations to the world:

“To the international community including the UN, other states and intergovernmental organizations:

“Oppose unlawful US policies and practices on the deliberate use of lethal force against
terrorism suspects, and urge the USA to take the measures outlined above. States should officially
protest and pursue remedies under international law when lethal force is unlawfully used by the
USA or other states, in violation of the right to life, against individuals on their territory or against
their nationals.
“Refrain from participating in any way in US drone strikes, including by sharing intelligence or
facilities, conducted in violation of international human rights law and, where applicable in specific
zones of armed conflict, international humanitarian law.
“Refuse to permit the international transfer of drone weapons in circumstances where there is a
substantial risk the recipients would use the weapons to commit serious violations of international
human rights law or international humanitarian law.”

It seems that a U.S./Israeli university on Roosevelt Island would be constantly transfering drone technology either to the U.S. or to Israel, either of which would be a violation of the law.

A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized

6:23 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.

Predator Drone

David Swanson explains backdoor attempts to legalize drone strikes.

Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.

Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.” However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.

The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.

The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal.  We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.

(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)

Read the rest of this entry →

Awkwardest and Most Authoritative Comments on Drones Ever

12:41 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Malala Yousafzai: “..drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed..”

The comments come from Malala and the U.N. respectively.

President Obama invited Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls’ education, to meet with his family. And she promptly explained that what he is doing works against her agenda and fuels terrorism.

Malala is a victim of violence in Pakistan, having been attacked by religious fanatics opposed to her work. But Obama may not have expected her to speak up against other forms of violence in her country.

Malala recounted: “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact.”

President Obama may also have not expected most people to notice or care. The corporate media have virtually ignored this part of a widely-reported meeting.

It’s up to us to surprise everyone with the depth of our interest and concern. Almost 100,000 have thus far signed a petition to ban weaponized drones, soon to be delivered to the U.N., the I.C.C., the State Department, the White House, Congress, and embassies.

The United Nations has released a report on “armed drones and the right to life” (PDF). The report begins by noting that, as of now, weaponized drones are legal:

Although drones are not illegal weapons, they can make it easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States. As such, they risk undermining the protection of life in the immediate and longer terms. If the right to life is to be secured, it is imperative that the limitations posed by international law on the use of force are not weakened by broad justifications of drone strikes.

Drones, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reports, risk making war the normal state of affairs:

Peace should be the norm, yet such scenarios risk making its derogation the rule by privileging force over long-term peaceful alternatives. . . . Given that drones greatly reduce or eliminate the number of casualties on the side using them, the domestic constraints — political and otherwise — may be less restrictive than with the deployment of other types of armed force. This effect is enhanced by the relative ease with which the details about drone targeting can be withheld from the public eye and the potentially restraining influence of public concern. Such dynamics call for a heightened level of vigilance by the international community concerning the use of drones.

The U.N. Charter and this report seek to make war an exceptional state of affairs. This is a very difficult, and a morally depraved thing to attempt with an institution that deserves total abolition.  War does not work as a tool with which to eliminate war.  But, even within that framework, the U.N. finds that drones create extra-legal war:

An outer layer of protection for the right to life is the prohibition on the resort to force by one State against another, again subject to a narrowly construed set of exceptions. The protection of State sovereignty and of territorial integrity, which onoccasion presents a barrier to the protection of human rights, here can constitute an important component of the protection of people against deadly force, especially with the advent of armed drones.

The strongest excuse for war is the claim of defense against an actual attack.  The next best thing is to pretend an attack is imminent.  The Obama Administration has famously redefined “imminent” to mean eventual or theoretical — that is, they’ve stripped the word of all meaning.  (See the “white paper” PDF.)  The U.N. doesn’t buy it: Read the rest of this entry →