Fw: In Syracuse, the Drones Reap Their Verdict
In Syracuse, the Drones Reap Their VerdictEmail not displaying correctly? View it in your browser. The Ghost and the Machine
by Kathy Kelly with research by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
Fazillah, age 25, lives in Maidan Shar, the central city of Afghanistan’s Wardak province. She married about six years ago, and gave birth to a son, Aymal, who just turned five without a father. Fazillah tells her son, Aymal, that his father was killed by an American bomber plane, remote-controlled by computer.
That July, in 2007, Aymal’s father was sitting in a garden with four other men. A weaponized drone, what we used to call an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or UAV, was flying, unseen, overhead, and fired missiles into the garden, killing all five men.
Now Fazillah and Aymal share a small dwelling with the deceased man’s mother. According to the tradition, a husband’s relatives are responsible to look after a widow with no breadwinner remaining in her immediate family. She and her son have no regular source of bread or income, but Fazillah says that her small family is better off than it might have been: one of the men killed alongside her husband left behind a wife and child but no other living relatives that could provide them with any source of support, at all.
Aymal’s grandmother becomes agitated and distraught speaking about her son’s death, and that of his four friends. “All of us ask, ‘Why?’” she says, raising her voice. “They kill people with computers and they can’t tell us why. When we ask why this happened, they say they had doubts, they had suspicions. But they didn’t take time to ask ‘Who is this person?’ or ‘Who was that person?’ There is no proof, no accountability. Now, there is no reliable person in the home to bring us bread. I am old, and I do not have a peaceful life.”
Listening to them, I recall an earlier conversation I had with a Pakistani social worker and with Safdar Dawar, a journalist, both of whom had survived drone attacks in the area of Miran Shah, in Pakistan’s Waziristan province. Exasperated at the increasingly common experience which they had survived and which too many others have not, they began firing questions at us.
“Who has given the license to kill and in what court? Who has declared that they can hit anyone they like?”
“How many ‘high level targets’ could there possibly be?”
“What kind of democracy is America,” Safdar asks, “where people do not ask these questions?”
One question Fazillah cannot answer for her son is whether anyone asked the question at all of whether to kill his father. Forbes Magazine reports that the Air Force has sixty-five to seventy thousand analysts processing drone video surveillance; A Rand review states they actually need half again that number to properly handle the data. Asked to point to the human who actually made the decision to kill her husband, she can only point to another machine.
In June 2010, Philip G. Alston, then the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, appeared before the UN Human Rights Council and testified that “targeted killings pose a rapidly growing challenge to the international rule of law … In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated.”
“Such an expanded and open-ended interpretation of the right to self defense comes close to destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the United Nations Charter. If invoked by other states in pursuit of those they deemed to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”
This past week, on February 23, the legal action charity” Reprieve” spoke up on behalf of more than a dozen Pakistani families who had lost loved ones in drone strikes, and asked the UN Human Rights Council to condemn the attacks as illegal human rights violations.
“In Pakistan, the CIA is creating desolation and calling it peace,” said Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith. “The illegal programme of drone strikes has murdered hundreds of civilians in Pakistan. The UN must put a stop to it before any more children are killed. Not only is it causing untold suffering to the people of North West Pakistan – it is also the most effective recruiting sergeant yet for the very ‘militants’ the US claims to be targeting.”
The lawyer representing the families, Shahzad Akbar of Pakistan’s “Foundation for Fundamental Rights”, said:
“If President Obama really believes the drone strikes have ‘pinpoint’ accuracy, it has to be asked where the deaths of kids like Maezol Khan’s eight-year-old son fit into the CIA’s plan. If the US is not prepared to face up to the reality of the suffering the strikes are causing, then the UN must step in. The international community can no longer afford to ignore the human rights catastrophe which is taking place in North West Pakistan in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.”
Drone warfare, ever more widely used from month to month from the Bush through the Obama administrations, has seen very little meaningful public debate. We don’t ask questions – our minds straying no nearer these battlefields than in the coming decades the bodies of our young people will – that is, if the chaos our war making engenders doesn’t bring the battlefields to us. An expanding network of devastatingly lethal covert actions spreading throughout the developing world passes with minimal concern or comment.
So who does Fazillah blame? Who does one blame when confronted with the actions of a machine? Our Pakistani friend asks, “What kind of a democracy is America where people do not ask these questions?” Becoming an actual democracy, with an actual choice at election-time between war and peace rather than between political machines vying for the chance to bring us war, seems to many Americans, if some of the less-reported polls are to be believed, a near-unachievable goal. The U.S. has become a process that churns out war – today Afghanistan and (in any real sense) Iraq; tomorrow Iran and Pakistan, with China securely, however distantly, on the horizon - and for those of us with any concern for peace, a principled opposition to war ultimately requires a determination to make the U.S. at long last into a democracy, striving as Dr. King enjoined us, in “molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”
It must begin with compassion - powerless compassion perhaps, perhaps only the ghost of dissent, but compassion for people like Fazillah and Aymal, - and with deciding to be human, maybe only the ghost of a human, but alive in some way and alive to what our assent, and perhaps especially our silence are accomplishing in the world. Humanity is the first thing to be won back - and then, if we have the strength, relentlessly defended - against indifference, complacency, and, above all, inaction. If enough of us refuse to be machines, if enough of us refuse enough, can democracy, and even peace, not be at last achieved? But first comes the refusal.
Fazillah wants a peaceful life. She doesn’t want to see any more people killed, any more ghosts like that of her husband. Any more bodies, burned (as she recalls) so charred that they are almost unrecognizable one from another.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone,” says Fazillah. I don’t want any children to be left without parents.”And,” she adds, “I want the U.S. troops to leave.”Five Last Drone Protesters Are Sentenced in DeWitt
February 29, 2012
DeWitt, N.Y. — The last five drone resisters were sentenced Wednesday night in DeWitt Town Court to $250 fines and state surcharges of $125.
They, along with many of the original 31 people convicted last year, said they wouldn’t pay the fines, and it was unclear what will happen next.
“I will continue to do these acts and I will not pay any fines,” Martha Hennessy told DeWitt Town Judge David Gideon after she was sentenced.
At a news conference earlier in DeWitt’s town hall, the drone resisters said they were proud of their actions and committed no crimes.
They were among 38 arrested April 22 after they participated in a “die-in” at the main entrance of the New York Air National Guard Base at Hancock Field to protest the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the guard has been remotely flying over Afghanistan, from Syracuse, since late 2009.
The protest was organized by a group known as the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. Sentenced Wednesday were Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence), retired Army Col. Ann Wright, Hennessy (NYC Catholic Workers), Elliott Adams (past president of Veterans for Peace) and Jules Orkin, who was described by the coalition as a “peace walker extraordinaire.”
Previously, charges were dropped against two defendants, and 31 were convicted on two charges apiece of disorderly conduct. Four were sentenced to some jail time ranging from three to 15 days, while the rest were sentenced to community service and fines of $250 plus a $125 state surcharge.
The five-day nonjury trial ended Nov. 5. Gideon announced his sentences on Dec. 1. None of the five Wednesday night were sentenced to community service.
On Good Friday, most of the defendants — ranging in age from 18 to 87 — lay down in the main entrance roads to the base, off East Molloy Road. Two were in wheelchairs. The protesters were accused of obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic. In addition, they were accused of refusing to comply with a lawful order from police to disperse.
The defendants included Syracuse-area residents Ed Kinane, Rae Kramer, Julienne Oldfield, Kathleen Rumpf, Ann Tiffany and Rich Vallejo. The Coalition that organized the protest consists of activists from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, including the Syracuse Peace Council.
The defendants — with the help of testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark — had argued that they should not be prosecuted for their actions. Instead, they should be applauded for trying to block the use of drones from which the United States fires on sovereign nations and uses to kill innocent civilians, in violation of international law, they said. In fact, they said, they are required to prevent the United States from violating international law.
At that sentencing, Gideon said he was sympathetic to the defendants’ position, but he ruled them guilty because the defendants clearly blocked a roadway and ignored the police order, he said. In his ruling, Gideon said he recognized the importance of civil disobedience, but said it is more effective when the participants face consequences for their actions.
Some of the 31 defendants said they would not pay any fines, which were required to be paid by Wednesday. Gideon told them if they didn’t pay, it will show up on their credit records and might make it more difficult for them to borrow in the future.
Some of the previously sentenced defendants returned to court Wednesday. At the news conference before the sentencing, they said they decided to send their fines to the Voices for Creative NonViolence for the benefit of PeaceJam Afghanistan instead of to the court and they would present receipts to the judge.
Fifteen of the defendants said they had made the donations, ranging from $250 to $400, and one defendant — Bernard Survil — paid both the $375 fine and made a $375 donation.
It was unclear in court how many agreed to pay their fines.
Gideon said he had no authority to accept the donations as a substitute for the fines.
“I don’t have that power under the law,” Gideon said.
Gideon adjourned the court amid confusion about what will happen to those who paid the money elsewhere.
But the issue was easy for Kelly, of Voices for Creative Nonviolence: She’s not paying anything, and she said this has happened to her before.
“They turn it over to a collection agency, and we learn not to answer the phone,” Kelly said after the trial ended. “Because I’m never going to pay that fine.”