Drone Protesters Get Their Days in Court


Over 20 activists have been appearing in federal court lately for protesting the brutal, relentless drone killings carried out by the US. On Feb. 3, four of the activists were sentenced in Sacramento, Calif., for blocking the entrance road to nearby Beale Air Force Base. And as of Feb. 7, another five of these activists appeared in US District Court in Alexandria, Va.  

The latter group is appealing their trespass conviction for activities conducted at the Central Intelligence Agency in June of 2013. They attempted to seek a meeting with CIA Director John Brennan concerning CIA drone hits that are seen as a violation of international law. The activists carried with them a letter related to what they call “illegal targeted drone killings.”

The Sacramento activists told this writer Feb. 3 that they’ve been visiting Congress for years to try and get elected officials to at least consider stopping the killings carried out by US Predator and Reaper drones. But, apart from occasional rumblings on the House and Senate floors against drone killings, the activists’ concerns have fallen on deaf ears in Washington. The Sacramento and Virginia protestors want to remind drone-base commanders that US drone hits are war crimes in violation of international law. Moreover, they point out that drone hits are taking place in nations with which the US is not even at war. The impacted nations include: Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. The activists point out that Congress never officially declared war on Afghanistan and Iraq as the Constitution requires.

The Beale Air Force Base protest on April 30, 2013, lasted over an hour. Activist Toby Blome — one of the four activists sentenced with community service and probation in Sacramento—said that staging protests is not necessarily the favored tactic. Instead, the protests are a last-ditch effort to be heard by a federal government which the activists consider more indifferent than ever.

As Blome stated: “We were resolved to blocking that road that morning [because] our elected officials just won’t listen.”

The activists tried to get a letter delivered to the Beale air-base commander because Beale is a key domestic base from which Global Hawk surveillance drones are remotely controlled. These distant drones pinpoint foreign targets. Then, armed Predator and Reaper drones take over and carry out the killing of suspected terrorists. But scores of noncombatants are killed in the process.

Beale’s base commander shot a letter back to the four Sacramento activists — saying that if they carry out the same activities again, the consequences will be more severe than community service and probation. But these and other activists are determined to keep taking their message directly to drone-base sites. They want the general public to know the precise locations of domestic Air Force bases which remotely control drone missions on the other side of the globe.

One of the great myths of our time is that Democrats are a lot more anti-war than Republicans. They are not. Moreover, most peace activists, who tend to have liberal views, will raise hell about war when there’s a Republican in the White House. But put any Democrat in the Oval Office and the war protests tend to abate, although the broader “Occupy” protests a couple years ago were “bipartisan.”

But the anti-drone activists now getting dragged through court recognize that, under Obama, drone wars are droning onward, leading to scores of deaths on an almost daily basis. Asked about visiting the offices of members of Congress, Sacramento protestor Martha Hubert replied that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) and her staff act like the activists don’t exist. Hubert said: “We try to talk to her in Washington and in California. Her staff says they’ll give her the message but they never did. No meetings with her have ever been arranged.”

Speaking of the court ruling in Sacramento, Hubert’s fellow activist Robin Ryan added: “We, the defendants, were denied a trial by jury. Had that not been denied, we would have been able to shed more light on the reasons behind this [protest]. We were able to speak only after we had been found guilty.”

More court hearings involving anti-drone activists are happening, including in upstate New York, where 17 activists are in the midst of an ongoing trial in a DeWitt courthouse for an Oct. 2012 demonstration at Hancock AFB. They protested the use of the Reaper drones piloted from Hancock.

While the outcomes of these trials are certainly noteworthy, the activists have underscored troubling questions about whether our government in Washington is really our government at all. If this is what it takes for citizens to be heard, then the freedom that the military thinks it’s defending may be clinically dead. What good is freedom of speech if it cannot effect change?

Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist. Email him at truthhound2@yahoo.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2014


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