Monday, March 17, 2014

Iowans protest new drone command center

DES MOINES — Roughly 100 people gathered at the Iowa Air National Guard Base on Saturday to protest the planned replacement of the 132nd F-16 Fighter Wing with a drone command center.

Catholic Worker and Veterans for Peace organized the rally as part of Catholic Worker’s annual Midwest retreat, which has been a recurring event since March of 2003.

Ed Flaherty, a member of the Iowa City chapter of Veterans for Peace said that he opposes the U.S. drone program because it is illegal, immoral, unwise, based on numerous lies to the public, and makes it much easier to wage war.

“It’s stupid,” Flaherty said. “For every supposed terrorist that we kill, we create more people who distrust or hate the United States.”

Protesters listen to speakers discuss the American drone program.                                      (Jon Overton/Iowa Peace Network)
The MQ-9 Reaper is an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the U.S. Military to target suspected terrorists across the Middle East and parts of Africa. Drones are also commonly used for surveillance and can take a number of forms from toy helicopters to jets to blimps.

Julie Brown, a member of Des Moines Catholic Worker’s Rachel Corrie Project said she saw drones flying above her when she recently traveled to Gaza.

“The first time I saw them I thought, oh it’s just a hot air balloon, and then it was like, wait a minute, that’s not a hot air balloon,” she said. “It was a surveillance drone ... Seeing them above your head, it’s creepy.”

Frank Cordaro, a member of Des Moines Catholic Worker summed up the rally’s opposition to warfare: “We’re going to keep Iowa a field of dreams, instead of making it a killing field of drones.”

A number of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with UN experts, have questioned the use of drones. They typically focus on the legality of extrajudicial killings, civilian casualties, and a lack of transparency from the Obama administration.

Of the 40 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2012 and 2013, a majority of respondents in only three countries approved of the U.S. drone program — the United States, Israel, and Kenya. A majority of people living in several countries allied with the United States like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, didn’t approve of using drones to target extremists in the Middle East and Africa.

Although they may be in the minority in the United States, many of the protesters remain undeterred.

Thirty demonstrators arrived at the Iowa Air National Guard Base on Monday for another protest. Seven were arrested for trespassing while reading a statement against drone warfare, the Des Moines Register reported. They were charged and released shortly thereafter.

“What we’re doing is not a last gasp of defeat, but is part of a continuing effort and isn’t done until it’s done,” Flaherty told the crowd on Saturday. “I don’t know how we stop this here in Des Moines or in the country, but we have to use our creative minds to think of how we do it. We have to talk to our friends and our enemies and try to convince them of the insanity of it.”

Jon Overton is the media editor of Iowa Peace Network and an undergraduate at the University of Iowa studying Ethics & Public Policy and Sociology. He also writes for The Daily Iowan.

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