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Stop the Deportations and Drone Wars: What We Told the Homeland Security Chief

A massive snowstorm didn't stop CODEPINK from telling Jeh Johnson about the reality of killer drones.
 
 
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Back in November, the CODEPINK DC office hosted a movie screening about drone warfare on the side of Jeh Johnson's elegant home in Georgetown. Jeh Johnson was chief counsel at the Department of Defense from 2009-2013 and wrote the legal memos that justified the targeted killing of people overseas by drones. He had just been nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and we decided to do a creative protest at this house because we didn’t think that one of the architects of the US drone program—a program that kills so many innocents and makes us so hated around the world—should be put in charge of  “homeland security”.

So we invited our friends, and the press, to join us for the movie night. We brought a popcorn machine, set up chairs on the sidewalk across the road from his house, and rigged the projector up to a car battery. Even the neighbors came out with glasses of wine to join us as we watched footage of almost life-sized killer drones projected onto the side of his house and villagers talking about how the drones terrorized their communities and killed their loved ones.

When the documentary ended, to our surprise, Johnson himself came out to talk to us. After an intense discussion about the ethics and efficacy of drone warfare, he invited us for a followup meeting once he was confirmed at the DHS.

That meeting was scheduled for Monday, March 17, 2014. It had snowed the night before, and the federal government was shut down. We thought that the meeting might be cancelled, but Secretary Johnson’s scheduler informed us that even though most employees wouldn’t be there, the meeting was still on.

We had been told beforehand that we could bring a total of 5 people, so in addition to Alli McCracken, Medea Benjamin, and Tighe Barry of the CODEPINK staff, we had invited two colleagues from the immigrant rights community since DHS is responsible for the unprecedented number of deportations (an astounding 1,100 people a day) occurring every day under President Obama, dubbed the “Deporter-in-Chief”. Our colleagues were Catalina Nieto of Detention Watch Network and Roxana Bendezú of School of the Americas Watch.

All five of us had filled out the required security forms days in advance. We braved the snow and drove out to the DHS headquarters in Northwest DC, following an elaborate treasure-hunt-type map once we got inside the DHS compound, in case we lost our security escort Don. Don was a nice guy who drove a silver pickup truck about 5 miles an hour just ahead of us from checkpoint to checkpoint.

To our amazement, while we had to show our IDs, no one ever searched us. No metal detectors, no looking through our bags—nothing. We parked in an empty parking lot and when we got inside, the place was practically deserted, with most folks home for the snow day. We couldn’t help but feel like we were in some sort of Trojan horse inside the walls of the fortress. Why would Secretary Jeh Johnson agree to have a meeting with CODEPINK (...possibly because we told him if he didn’t, we would show up at his house again)?

We were shuffled into a conference room, where we waited for our meeting to begin and chatted with a member of the Secretary’s staff. When asked if there was anything we would like, Medea asked if we could get tea or coffee. With a serious and somewhat sad face, the staffer told us they couldn’t provide tea to guests because of budget cuts! We laughed at the absurdity of a $60-billion-dollar institution not being able to afford 30-cent Lipton tea bags for guests.

 
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