• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch is a lifeboat piggybank-icon of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Indefensible Drones

Libby and Jerica are in the front seat of the Prius, and Mary and I are in back. We just left Oklahoma, we’re heading into Shamrock, Texas, and tomorrow we’ll be Indian Springs, Nevada, home of Creech Air Force Base. We’ve been discussing our legal defense.

The state of Nevada has charged Libby and me, along with twelve others, with criminal trespass onto the base. On April 9, 2009, after a ten-day vigil outside the air force base, we entered it with a letter we wanted to circulate among the base personnel, describing our opposition to a massive targeted assassination program. Our trial date is set for September 14.

Creech is one of several homes of the U.S. military’s aerial drone program. U.S. Air Force personnel there pilot surveillance and combat drones, unmanned aerial vehicles with which they are instructed to carry out extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan and Iraq. The different kinds of drone include the “Predator” and the “Reaper.” The Obama administration favors a combination of drone attacks and Joint Special Operations raids to pursue its stated goal of eliminating whatever Al Qaeda presence exists in these countries. As the U.S. accelerates this campaign, we hear from UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, who suggests that U.S. citizens may be asleep at the wheel, oblivious to clear violations of international law which we have real obligations to prevent (or at the very least discuss). Many citizens are now focused on the anniversary of September 11th and the controversy over whether an Islamic Center should be built near Ground Zero. Corporate media does little to help ordinary U.S. people understand that the drones which hover over potential targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen create small “ground zeroes” in multiple locales on an everyday basis.

Libby, at the wheel, is telling Jerica about her visit to Kabul, in 1970. “I worked for Pan Am,” said Libby, “and that meant being able to stay for free at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. After landing in Pakistan, we hired a driver to take us across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. All along the highway we saw herds of camel traveling along a parallel old road. I wonder if the camel market in Kabul is still there?”

Jerica says she’ll look for it. She and I have been hard at work to obtain visas and arrange flights for an October trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan. [Libby is exceptional in that she hasn’t tried to talk Jerica out of the dangerous travel.]

Conversation switches to whatever CD has just come on, and I tune out, wondering if I’ve done my share of issuing warnings to Jerica about traveling in a war zone.

Tinny music and rural Texan countryside blend together.

My thoughts drift to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, in Kabul. A little over two months ago, Josh and I met Nur Said, age 11, in the hospital’s ward for young boys injured by various explosions. Most of the boys welcomed a diversion from the ward’s tedium, and they were especially eager to sit outside, in the hospital garden, where they’d form a circle and talk together for hours. Nur Said stayed indoors. Too miserable to talk, he’d merely nod at us, his hazel eyes welling up with tears. Weeks earlier, he had been part of a hardy band of youngsters that helped bolster their family incomes by searching for scrap metal and unearthing land mines on a mountainside in Afghanistan. Finding an unexploded land mine was a eureka for the children because, once opened, the valuable brass parts could be extracted and sold. Nur had a land mine in hand when it suddenly exploded, ripping four fingers off his right hand and blinding him in his left eye.

On a sad continuum of misfortune, Nur and his companions fared better than another group of youngsters scavenging for scrap metal in the Kunar Province on August 26th.

Following an alleged Taliban attack on a nearby police station, NATO forces flew overhead to “engage” the militants. If the engagement includes bombing the area under scrutiny, it would be more apt to say that NATO aimed to puree the militants. But in this case, the bombers mistook the children for militants and killed six of them, aged 6 to 12. Local police said there were no Taliban at the site during the attack, only children.

General Petraeus assures his superiors that the U.S. is effectively using drone surveillance, sensors and other robotic means of gaining intelligence to assure that they are hunting down the right targets for assassination. But survivors of these attacks insist that civilians are at risk. In Afghanistan, thirty high schools have shut down because the parents say that their children are distracted by the drones flying overhead and that it’s unsafe for them to gather in the schools.

I think of Nur, trapped in his misery, at the Emergency surgical center. He’ll be one among many thousands of amputees whose lives are forever altered by the war and poverty that afflict his country. Many of these survivors are likely to feel intense hatred toward their persecutors. 300 villagers in the Sayed Abad district of Wardak province took to the streets in protest on August 12, following an alleged U.S. night raid. “They murdered three students and detained five others,” one of the protesters said. “All of them were civilians.” Villagers, shocked by the killing, shouted that they didn’t want Americans in Afghanistan. According to village eyewitnesses, American troops stormed into a family home and shot three brothers, all young men, and then took their father into custody. One of the young men was a student who had returned to the family home to celebrate the traditional “iftar” fast at the beginning of Ramadan. Local policemen are investigating the allegations, and NATO recently conceded that they may have killed some civilians. (see www.vcnv.org Afghanistan Atrocities update).

The drones feed hourly intelligence information to U.S. war commanders, but the machinery can’t inform people about the spiraling anger as the U.S. conducts assassination operations in countries throughout the 1.3 billion-strong Muslim world. “Sold as defending Americans,” writes Fred Branfman, “(it) is actually endangering us all. Those responsible for it, primarily General Petraeus, are recklessly seeking short-term tactical advantage while making an enormous long-term strategic error that could lead to countless American deaths in the years and decades to come.”

The Prius is comfortable, but my side of the backseat has become a makeshift office. The most important file contains Bill Quigley’s comprehensive argumentation as to why the court should allow us to present a necessity defense based on international law. Bill is the Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights. On September 14, we want to call on him as an expert witness. We and our codefendants have chosen to mount a pro se defense to try to persuade our judge that far from committing a crime we have exercised our rights and our duties, under international and U.S. law, to try to prevent one and to raise public opposition to usage of drones in “targeted” assassinations.

Jerica hands me the questions we can use to elicit Bill’s testimony. We try to word our questions so that the evidence will be admissible in court. “Could Bill please inform the court about citizen’s responsibilities under international law, could he explain to the court what articles and statutes we will be invoking?” To a layperson, it seems like an elaborate game of “Mother May-I,” and we haven’t even started developing questions to ask Col. Ann Wright, the former U.S. diplomat, who had helped re-open the U.S. Embassy in Kabul shortly before resigning her job in a refusal to cooperate with buildup toward the May 2003 U.S. Shock and Awe invasion of Iraq.

Rounding out our trio of expert witnesses is former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. We hope his personal experience within the U.S. government might arouse the court’s more careful attention to the seldom-discussed legal issues that are fundamentally at stake here. However, the judge has already indicated that his calendar only allots one day for our trial.

Libby, Jerica, Mary and I have blocked out at least ten days, inclusive of travel, for our small contribution to an ongoing effort of people around the world working to put drones on trial. We’re in New Mexico now. I feel cramped and restless, and I wonder if Tucumcari, where we plan to stop for lunch, has internet. We can’t possibly bring the testimony of Afghans and Pakistanis to court this Tuesday. Their testimony, borne on bodies scarred and mutilated and harbored in memories of nightmare, will never be given away and cannot be given in court. Extrajudicial killings are killings without rule of law, without trial. Few if any Afghan or Pakistani civilian survivors of U.S. wars will ever travel to a U.S. court of law for consideration of their grievances.

And at this moment I realize that if we were four Afghans or Pakistanis or Iraqis traveling in a war zone, we’d have spent this entire trip watching not the Southwestern landscape, but the skies.

KATHY KELLY (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) Her book, Other Lands Have Dreams, is available through CounterPunch.

More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 20, 2019
Richard Greeman
The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle
Manuel García, Jr.
Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?
Robert Fisk
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes
Tom Clifford
From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf
Chandra Muzaffar
Targeting Iran
Valerie Reynoso
The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition
Howard Lisnoff
They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade
Eileen Appelbaum
Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings
Binoy Kampmark
Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam
J.P. Linstroth
End of an era for ETA?: May Basque Peace Continue
Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
Paul Street
It’s Even More Terrible Than You Thought
Rob Urie
Grabby Joe and the Problem of Environmental Decline
Ajamu Baraka
2020 Elections: It’s Militarism and the Military Budget Stupid!
Andrew Levine
Springtime for Biden and Democrats
Richard Moser
The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos
Ron Jacobs
Uncle Sam Needs Our Help Again?
Eric Draitser
Elizabeth Warren Was Smart to Tell FOX to Go to Hell
Peter Bolton
The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated
Peter Lackowski
Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective
Karl Grossman
Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?
Howie Hawkins
Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?
Gary Leupp
Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants
Jill Richardson
Climate Change was No Accident
Josh Hoxie
Debunking Myths About Wealth and Race
David Barsamian
Iran Notes
David Mattson
Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle
Christopher Brauchli
The Pompeo Smirk
Louis Proyect
Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists
Martha Burk
Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?
John W. Whitehead
The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America
Binoy Kampmark
The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet
David Rosen
Florida’s Sex Wars: the Battle to Decriminalize Sex Work
Ralph Nader
Trump: Importing Dangerous Medicines and Food and Keeping Consumers in the Dark
Brett Haverstick
America’s Roadless Rules are Not Protecting Public Wildlands From Development
Alan Macleod
Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing
Binoy Kampmark
Modern Merchants of Death: the NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights
Kim C. Domenico
Anarchism & Reconciliation, Part II
Peter LaVenia
Game of Thrones and the Truth About Class (Spoiler Warning)
Manuel E. Yepe
The Options Trump Puts on the Table
Renee Parsons
The Pompeo/Bolton Tag Team
David Swanson
Where Lyme Disease Came From and Why It Eludes Treatment
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail