Monday, June 24, 2013

Activists march across eastern Iowa to protest drones

Demonstration comes in response to a planned drone command center set to replace F-16 fighters at an Iowa National Guard base.

By Jon Overton

Eastern Iowa — Sleek white planes fly over the skies of the Middle East, some quietly monitoring the landscape below, others unleashing a blaze of Hellfire missiles upon their targets. Troops stationed in U.S. and U.K. bases sit at computer terminals, using these Reapers to observe and to kill. Sometimes these drones destroy the intended objective without loss of civilian lives, and other times, innocents are slaughtered in the hunt for enemy militants.

Peace activists walked from the Quad Cities to Des Moines for the past two weeks, saying that drones are terrorizing civilians across their operating zones in the Middle East and Africa.

Members of Voices for Creative Nonviolence organized the walk, which began at the Rock Island Arsenal where prototype parts for drones were produced. The two-week long demonstration culminated with a protest against a new command center for unmanned drones set to replace F-16 Fighters currently stationed at the Iowa Air National Guard Base in Des Moines.

“If there are 100,000 people outside the entrance to the base ... for seven days in a row, I think it might have an influence on folks, but really you don't know what it takes,” said Ed Flaherty, director of the Iowa City chapter of Veterans for Peace.

However, Flaherty emphasized that educating people about drones and decrying their operation as unacceptable should help raise awareness and opposition to drones.

Presenters for Voices for Creative Nonviolence's anti-drone walk included Brian Terrell and Kathy Kelly, the organization's co-coordinators, and Maya Evans, one of the leading activists with Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK.

Evans said that she became involved with protesting drones after she discovered how the unmanned aircraft affected Afghans.

"You walk down the street and you look people in the eye and you can tell that people have seen the worst possible atrocities after 33 years of war; you can sense that it's a nation of broken people," she said.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism collected data showing that CIA-directed drone strikes have killed between about 400 and 800 civilians in Pakistan.

Maya Evans, Brian Terrell and Kathy Kelly present their case against
drones at the Iowa City Public Library.      (Jon Overton/Iowa Peace Network)
A legal opinion published by Public Interest Lawyers stated that, "We conclude that it is highly likely that the UK’s current use of drones is unlawful. There is a strong probability that the UK has misdirected itself as to the requirements of the IHL [international human rights law] principles of proportionality, distinction and humanity and as to its human rights obligation to protect human life and to investigate all deaths (civilians and combatants alike) arguably caused in breach of that obligation."

Terrell said that while troops may be physically safe from harm while operating drones from computers, that doesn't mean they'll be completely free from harm. He cited the experience of a drone operator, Brandon Bryant, who felt he's become "heartless and a sociopath under the drone program."

Americans, according to Terrell are also becoming less safe as a result of the drone program. It is a display of arrogance on the part of the United States, he said, that says "We will kill whoever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want because we can."

Kelly echoed Terrell's message, arguing that drone strikes were making those affected by them feel increasingly terrified and angry, making the United States less safe.

"[Afghan] men ... were losing their composure, crying, trying to regain composure, telling us how they feel trapped, telling us how they’re always under surveillance, telling us how they don’t know where to run, telling us about brothers, and friends, and medical students, and sisters, and nieces who’ve been killed and asking us, ‘Who are the terrorists?'"

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