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How Activists Are Striking Back Against Drone Warfare

An excerpt from Medea Benjamin's new book, "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control," published by OR Books.

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"Our state needs jobs, but I hate the fact that people of good conscience may be sucked into the military-industrial complex process of creating machines that contribute to the death of innocent civilians," said Lori Perdue, an Air Force veteran and Indiana member of CODEPINK. "If we could create green jobs instead of war jobs, I bet the guy working the line making jet turbines would rather be building a wind turbine."

Quigley and the local activists have been educating students and plan to organize demonstrations outside the drone warfare support sites.

A group in Iowa didn't even wait until the local factory started working on drones to protest. As soon as they got wind that a company called AirCover Integrated Solutions was going to partner with the University of Iowa to build small surveillance drones in Cedar Rapids, they began protesting. Company President James Hill said the protesters were misdirected, that the drones would be used for good purposes like searching for people lost after earthquakes, finding wandering patients with dementia and looking for suspicious packages in stadiums.

But protesters think the drones will really be used to spy on the public, including folks like themselves. "The prospect of having drones flying around, spying on people, is kind of horrific," said Nate Adeyemi, one of the local organizers. "It's such an infringement upon the human right to privacy." The group is also protesting the university for its involvement and the local officials who gave the company a loan.

Another target for activists has been the organization that lobbies on behalf of the industry, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). The group created in 1978 "to promote and support the unmanned systems and robotics industry." The organization has ballooned to include 1,400 members-all anxious to feed at the government trough. Activists have crashed their press conferences, conventions and fairs.

Given their close connections in Congress-the companies give millions in campaign contributions and get, in return, billions of tax dollars-AUVSI can even show off its wares right inside the Capitol. At an exhibit hosted by the Congressional Drone Caucus in September 2011, activists broke up the lovefest, unfurling white sheets covered in fake blood and falling to the floor, moaning and writhing in pain. "Stop the killer drones," they wailed, while another protester carrying a large cardboard drone made a loud buzzing noise as he zoomed around the room. Startled, the Congresspeople, staffers and corporate employees were forced to stop their conversations-until the police arrived and escorted the group out of the building.

While protesters are busy naming and shaming companies, some of the nation's best legal and human rights groups have been taking the issue of drone warfare and extrajudicial assassinations to court. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner over the government's decision to put US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki on a hit list and freeze his US assets. They brought the case to a US federal court on behalf of Anwar al-Awlaki's father, hoping to prevent the targeted killing of his son. 

They lost the case on procedural grounds, but the judge was disturbed by the "serious questions" raised by the practice. "Can the executive order the assassination of a US citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization?" the judge inquired.

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Drones strikes are wreaking havoc from Pakistan to Gaza with little outcry from the citizens living in the "democracies" that are dropping the missiles. But while protests in the West are still in their embryonic stage, a growing group of activists are at least starting to educate the public, ask questions of their governments and companies, and demand answers.

 
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