The night before our recent day in a Las Vegas courtroom for protesting the U.S. drones at Creech Air Force Base, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Law School hosted an evening panel discussion on the drones. Much to our surprise, a large crowd turned out, including many law students and faculty, to hear from our all-star speakers invited by the Nevada Desert Experience to testify about the drones.
The panel featured Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General; Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Ann Wright, for 29 years a Colonel in the U.S. military and for 16 years a State department diplomat, even once posted in Afghanistan; and Kathy Kelly, director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and one of our co-defendants. All of them spoke at the trial of the Creech Fourteen.
Kathy Kelly began by reflecting on her recent visit to Pakistan, where she met survivors of a U.S. drone attack. They told ghastly stories of people being blown up around them. “Do people in your country know that your government is using these drones to kill us?” they asked.
“Last week in Afghanistan, a drone bombed and killed six children who were rummaging through fields for food. A recent drone bombing raid may have killed as many as 125 civilians,” she continued.
Under General McCrystal, we know the U.S. specifically targeted civilians for assassinations, she explained. Its goal is to eradicate Al Qaeda–by using the same methods of Al Qaeda. Yet according to the NSA Director, there are only 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. According to Leon Penetta, head of the CIA, there are only 50 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. So why are there so many U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?, Kathy asked. Imagine the cost for having one U.S. soldier there, when every single day, 850 children die of hunger and related illnesses in Afghanistan.
“The drones protect our military, most people think,” Ann Wright began by saying. “But what does the drone program do when we implement it–not only to the people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, but to those who operate it? The Creech AFB operators see the killings that occur when they bomb, and are psychologically damaged.”
The Metro subway system in Washington, D.C., she said, is full of posters by General Atomics, one of the leading manufacturers of the drones. The caption under each picture reads: ‘These make you feel safe.’”
“But how are drones different from B-51, F16, or cruise missiles?” Ann asked. “We should be debating the morality of all our weapons. But we are escalating the number of undeclared wars and the weapons themselves. And what other countries are getting drones from us? To whom will they then sell our drones? Israel recently sold ten drones to Turkey and fourteen to Brazil. This technology will inevitably come back and bite us.”
“What we are talking about is assassination,” Ramsey Clark said from the start. “I know about assassination,” he continued. He spoke movingly of his work in the Justice Department and as Attorney General with John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and their assassinations.
“The drones are extra-judicial executions,” he continued. “And they’re hardly precise…. This technology can destroy us. There is something singularly dangerous about using technology to assassinate. We should only use technology if it is for the good of children.
“How far do we want this technology to go?” Ramsey asked. “We will soon have the capacity to kill anyone wherever they are anywhere in the world. We have to stand up and say No to these drones. These killings are criminal. And the ethical implication of this program is that we are condoning assassination, pure and simple. We are paying for and supporting assassination with our tax money.
“With all the suffering in the world, do we have nothing better to do than to assassinate people? We should get out of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. We should stop killing these people, help them, tell them we love them.”
“I’ve never seen the political environment so chaotic, the people so angry, the future so uncertain. But the issues are crystal clear. There is no good war. We have to prevent war and reduce the U.S. military budget by 90% if there is ever to be peace on earth.
Bill Quigley spoke of two recent scholarly studies on the impact of U.S. drones. One report said at least one third of the people who are killed by our drones are innocent civilians. The second claims that nine out of every ten people killed by drones are civilians!
[Last month, a Pakistani newspaper reported that for the first seven months of this year, fifty U.S. drone attacks killed 13 Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked people and 476 innocent civilians. Only 13 of the 50 strikes actually hit their “targets.” Bob Woodward’s new book reports that our drones have killed “many” Westerners, even U.S. citizens.]
“Where are the checks and balances on these drones?” Bill Quigley asked. “There are none. There is no prosecution, no indictment, no trial, no sentencing. The executive branch has decided that any person at any time can be annihilated. We have a responsibility to check our technology and our military so that human rights are respected.
“Will we allow other countries to use drones against us?” he asked. “Would we be allowed to use drones elsewhere? We wouldn’t be allowed to use them on China or Russia. It’s a violation of law, of morality, of basic fairness–that we treat others the way we would expect to be treated.”
“Both Clinton and Bush used drones,” Bill Quigley noted, “but Obama has radically increased the number of drones. The issue of the drones is not about Democrats or Republicans. It is a human rights issue, a legal issue, a moral issue. No U.S. court has decided on the legality of targeted killing by drones. We have the right to live in safety; that’s a legitimate quest. But these drones are used in so-called ‘anticipatory self defense,’ against people who might someday participate with a group who might use violence. This is unethical.
“Even if you believe in the war in Afghanistan, why are we using drones in Pakistan? In Yemen? Why use the drones in places outside of the countries where we are at war?
“The U.S. claims it uses drones to kill drug dealers in Pakistan. Are we under threat from drug dealers in Pakistan? Then we have given a blank check to our government to kill anyone anywhere at any time and they don’t have to give any explanation for it.”
I was saddened to learn while lecturing and leading a retreat in Nova Scotia these past few days that the drones have even come to Eastern Canada. It was heartening to reflect together with church friends about the nonviolent Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount and his great commandments: “Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil” and “love your enemies that you may be children of your heavenly God.” When we place the Gospel teachings in the context of our wars, nuclear weapons, and drone attacks, it is clear that the God of peace calls us to stop the killings.
I hope that peace people everywhere will rise up against the drones, vigil against them, and call for the dismantling of the drones and an end to drone warfare. The God of peace does not want us to fill the blue skies with these so-called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that bomb and kill our sisters and brothers.
“The greatest threat to life on this planet is our own country,” Ramsey Clark concluded that night in Las Vegas. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and time is short.” Indeed.