Drones Over the Americas


Syracuse, New York.

Like the School of the Americas, the weaponized drone perpetrates terrorism. As Predator drones come to Ft. Benning, some SOA Watch activists are applying our SOAW experience to “outing” the Predator and Reaper drones already in our midst.

Syracuse’s Hancock Air National Guard Base has become one of the national hubs for piloting — via computer screen and satellite — the Reaper over Afghanistan. For three years upstate New York activists have been trying to educate our public and Hancock personnel about the war crimes being committed by these robotic killers [www.upstatedroneaction.org].

The Reaper, a higher-tech offspring of the Predator, is the Pentagon’s and the CIA’s instrument for aerial surveillance and assassination in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other nations “over there.” Now with those US/NATO wars somewhat winding down, the Reaper – and a slew of its robotic cousins — are coming home to roost in the Western Hemisphere. Also driving this trend are the US and Israeli drone manufacturers eager to expand their markets.

The SOA/WHINSEC currently offers a “Masters Training” course familiarizing its students with drones. For several years US drones have been flying deep into Mexico, and now crisscross the Caribbean. Drones are penetrating South American airspaces. They are used for drug-interdiction, monitoring borders and hounding undocumented Latinos trying to enter the US. And within the US there’s strong pressure to use the drone for domestic surveillance and crowd control.

In Colombia drones take on anti-insurgency functions. In 2009 Hugo Chavez claimed that a Colombian drone invaded Venezuelan air space. The Colombian government denied the charge, responding that Venezuelans must have been seeing “Santa’s sleigh.”                

So far there seems to be little evidence that the drones now roaming Latin America are weaponized. But some – like Israel’s  Hermes 900 — can readily be adapted for lethal payloads (including 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles). The so-called “war on drugs” segues into – and serves as cover for — war on “insurgents” or on perceived enemies of the state and of the empire. Missions drift.

While the US Congress regulates the export of drones, the Israelis are selling their drones all over the place, including to Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. Reminds me of back in the eighties when Congress cut out military aid to Guatemala’s genocidal regime, the Israelis – with the Pentagon’s wink and a nod  — provided such aid. Assisted by Israel (and, in the case of Venezuela, Iran), several Latin American nations are already developing their own drones.


Since Ft. Benning is getting into drone warfare mode and since US and Israeli drones are increasingly taking on dubious roles in Latin America, SOA Watchers have our homework to do. We need to get a handle on the multiple threats surveillance and weaponized drones pose. Three books have lots to teach us:

~  Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, by CodePink’s Medea Benjamin, O/R Books, 2012, 241 pages.

Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare 2001 – 2050, by Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt, Dispatch Books, 2012, 177 pages.

Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Centuryby Brookings Institution military analyst, P.W. Singer, Penguin, 2009, 499 pages.

But being better informed isn’t enough. We need to consider joining with drone resisters in our home areas. Often inspired by SOA Watch court witness and prison witness, anti-drone activists are doing civil resistance at military bases  in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, New York — as well as at various drone research and manufacturing sites. For example, at Predator/Reaper manufacturer General Atomics, Inc., based in San Diego…with its lobbying operation three blocks from the White House.

   Anti-drone activists here say “civil resistance” instead of “civil disobedience” — our actions, sometimes leading to pre-emptive arrests, often don’t mean to break the law. Our actions are about enforcing the law. They attempt to expose and impede the law-breaking occurring on drone bases.  The Nuremberg protocols demand citizens do what we can to stop the government’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.

   For the past couple years upstate New Yorkers have been demonstrating twice-monthly outside Hancock’s main gate at shift change. Several times we’ve blocked the main entrance while trying to deliver a citizens’ indictment of base personnel and their chain of command.  Last November at the week-long trial of the “Hancock 38,” former US attorney general Ramsey Clark testified to how Hancock’s Reaper violates international law and how the 38’s actions legitimately responded to the Nuremberg mandate. Instead of paying the DeWitt Town court our $375 fine, many of us diverted that money, via Kathy Kelly’s Voices for Creative Nonviolence, to an Afghan peace group. A former SOAW prisoner , Kathy, like Col. Ann Wright, was one of the “Hancock 38.” 

    Ramsey, now 84, will again testify in the first anti-drone trial heard in federal court, scheduled for September 10 in Jefferson City, Missouri. SOA Watch attorney/mentor Bill Quigley is on the defense team. On April 15 the two defendants, Ron Faust and Brian Terrell, had also attempted to deliver a citizens’ indictment at Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base. Like SOA Watch defendants, they face an unfriendly court and likely six month sentences for alleged trespass. (In one of the major scandals of our era, most US courts resolutely ignore international law — which, as per Article Six of the US Constitution, is the supreme law of the land.)

    Here in the US there’s immense hype in favor of weaponized drones. The media focus on the drone’s gee-whiz technology and its seeming magical ability to keep taking out the “bad guys” – which the Pentagon recently re-defined as any male over 16 years of age in a war zone. Propaganda works. According to certain polls, most US citizens approve of drones: the mantra is “drones are cool” and “drones save lives.”

   Yes, drone surveillance in combat zones can give the boots on the ground an edge over their ragtag, low-tech adversaries. And sure, no human crew is killed when drones crash (as they often do) or are shot down or hacked.  So, yes, a few military lives are saved. But drones kill or maim or displace untold numbers of civilians and non-combatants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and elsewhere.  And terrorize hundreds of thousands.


It goes without saying that drone warfare is immoral (“Thou shalt not kill”). And by perpetrating extra-judicial executions and massacres in sovereign nations, the drone induces chaos and consolidates precedents that bode ill for the entire planet. While the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights finds the case against drones compelling, those arguments fail to budge the commander-in-chief and the militarists…and too few of the public and our Congressional representatives. (Sound familiar? There’s a large pro-drone Congressional caucus made up of reps from districts engorging Pentagon funds for drone bases and drone R&D.)

   In educating and mobilizing against the drone, keep in mind that for at least three reasons while the drone is tactically clever, it is strategically stupid:

~ Tenacity: Human beings under aerial attack tend to dig in and resist all the more fiercely (think London in the 40s, Hanoi in the 70s, Afghanistan for the past decade). Such targets, seeing asymmetric aerial warfare as cowardly, tend to feel an empowering contempt for their brutish attackers.

~ Blowback:  When it strikes, the Reaper generates enormous resentment toward the US. Drone strikes may be the Taliban’s and Al Qaida’s most powerful recruiting pitch.  In Pakistan tens of thousands have demonstrated against the obscenity of drone assassination. The masses of demonstrators have even impeded US military transport into Afghanistan. The young Pakistani-American who attempted to detonate a bomb in crowded Times Square a couple of years ago declared that he did so because he was incensed at US drone terrorism in that part of the world.

~ Proliferation: Drone technology is evolving and proliferating at an alarming pace – at an even faster pace than nuclear weaponry. Worldwide about 50 nations are now importing or developing the drone. There’s no telling when such drones will be used against US bases and US personnel and citizens, whether abroad or within Fortress America. Already here in upstate New York we’ve come to realize that, thanks to the killer robots we host, we live in a war zone. The drone has not made our lives – or the lives of anyone on this planet – any safer.

Friends, let’s forsake our armchairs: there’s work to do.           

Ed Kinane served 14 months in federal prisons for his civil resistance against the SOA. More recently he has been one of the “Hancock 2,” the “Hancock 15,” the “Hancock 33,” and the “Hancock 38.” Reach him at edkinane@verizon.net.

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