Photo Credit: Code Pink

Photo Credit: Code Pink

It would be easy to make a list of 10 bad things—wars, government shut-down, drone attacks, lack of progress on immigrant rights, lousy health-care reform.  But it’s also been a year of extraordinary activism: whistleblowers, DREAMers, Walmart workers, peacemakers, gay rights advocates, garment workers. As the year ends, let’s pay tribute to the good things their efforts have wrought.

1. A spontaneous uprising by the American people kept President Obama from invading Syria. This Fall’s “peaceful insurrection” was by far my favorite moment of 2013. It was one of those all-too-rare occasions when folks came together across ideological divisions, flooding their congressional reps with calls. Yes, after 12 years, Americans have become “war-wise”, understanding that US intervention is no solution. So instead, chemical weapons are being destroyed thanks to successful negotiations. But the war in Syria rages on, with casualties mounting daily. Peace talks are scheduled for January 22 in Switzerland, and women’s groups—including CODEPINK—are mobilizing to surround the meetings with a desperate plea to all the guys with guns: Ceasefire NOW!

2. Talks with Iran are progressing, despite Israel and AIPAC’s objections. The P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany has made great headway in finding a solution to diffuse the crisis around Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiators are anxious to take advantage of the opening represented by the election of a moderate Iranian leader, President Hassan Rouhani. Sadly, a group of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with the AIPAC lobby, threaten to derail the talks by pushing for greater sanctions against Iran. If we can move ahead with talks, 2014 could be the year we finally ditch the Bush-era “axis of evil” treatment and build friendly relations with Iran.

3. Edward Snowden has rocked the world of NSA spying. When Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on the NSA’s sweeping surveillance, he said his greatest fear was not what the government would do to him, but that nothing would change. A mere six months later, the cascading effects have, according to the Washington Post, made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals.” There is now a vibrant global dialogue about privacy rights. In December, a federal court judge declared the secret collection of domestic phone records unconstitutional and President Obama’s own review panel called a major overhaul of NSA’s activities. President Obama claims he will consider the review board’s suggestions, indicating that reforms are necessary to restore public confidence. While Snowden is under indictment for criminal acts here in the US, thanks to this whistleblower, the days of the NSA doing whatever it wants—in secret and free from public criticism—are coming to an end. Thanks, Edward, for your service!

4. Killer drones are taking a beating. The international community is finally standing up to the use of killer drones and the proliferation of this technology around the globe. With reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, investigations by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs, and two briefings in Congress with testimony by drone strike survivors, the dialogue and the outrage around the drone program has increased. This year saw a ban on drone strikes by both the Pakistani National Assembly and the Yemeni Parliament (if only the U.S. would listen!), more protests inside the U.S. and the creation of a global anti-drones network.

5. Yes, the Pope, who beat Snowden for Time’s Person of the Year, is astonishing. I must admit that even as a secular Jew, this pope fills me with awe. He sneaks out at night to feed the homeless; invites homeless people to celebrate his birthday in the Vatican; washes the feet of young prisoners; says he is not one to judge gay people; calls on the church to get beyond its fixation on reproduction and sexual morality; debunks trickle-down economics and questions the morality of capitalism; lives simply and loves to take public transportation. What a cool guy! Unfortunately, he doesn’t support abortion rights or the ordination of women, but he is certainly injecting new spirit into the moribund, scandal-ridden Catholic church.

6. Low-wage workers rise up, saying “Low Pay Is Not OK!” Around the county, fast food and other low-wage workers from McDonalds to Walmart rose up in to demand a living wage.  Today, 34 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, as well as dozens of cities, have introduced or passed legislation on minimum wage issues, including increasing the state minimum wage, automatic cost-of-living increases and addressing base wages for tipped employees. (And overseas in Bangladesh, after a huge factory blaze in April left 1,100 people dead, massive strikes led to a 77% pay increase for Bangladeshi garment workers!) Pressure is now on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, which has remained at a shameful $7.25 per hour for the past three years.

7. Immigrant advocates did spectacular organizing, and are poised to reap the benefits. They held prayer vigils, press conferences, marches. They chained themselves to the White House fence and the gates of detention centers. They encircled ICE facilities to shut down deportations.  Hundreds were arrested, including 8 members of Congress, calling for immigration reform. They fasted on the national mall in Washington DC, getting a visit from the President and his wife. This organized, mobilized community with significant voting power stands ready to see major changes in U.S. immigration policy next year.

8. Gay marriage is becoming like apple pie. The Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Illinois became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. This year alone saw not only Illinois, but Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, California, Hawaii and New Mexico added to the list of marriage equality states. This number is certain to keep rising, now that a majority of Americans are supportive.  Also, the Senate voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to ban discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill is being blocked in the House but a growing number of Republicans are starting to embrace LGBT rights. Who knows? 2014 might not only see more gay marriages in our nation’s homes, but basic LGBT rights in the workplace as well.

9. The death penalty at home and abroad is dying, slowing but steadily. This year Maryland became the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish the death penalty and the 18th state to do so. Signing the bill, Maryland’s Governor O’Malley said the death penalty does not deter crime, cannot be administered without racial bias, costs three times as much as life without parole, and a mistake cannot be reversed if an innocent person is put to death. The number of people executed in the U.S. declined to 39—near its lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S. in the 1970s. The trend is true abroad. In 1981, when France abolished the death penalty, over 150 countries put their citizens to death. Today, only 21 nations do so. In the past five years, Uzbekistan, Argentina, Burundi, Togo, Gabon and Latvia have all abolished capital punishment.

10. One nation has come to its senses about smoking weed: Uruguay. In 2013, the nation of Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize marijuana. Back home in the US, Washington and Colorado passed full legalization laws (yes, that means recreational use without big brother stepping in) and the Federal government has stated it will not mount a challenge. Also this year, Illinois and New Hampshire joined the 18 other states that have legalized medical marijuana use. Even the stuffy Canadian federal government made medical marijuana legal. You’ll soon be able to get a deal on your dope from GroupOn and pay in Bitcoins. The times they are achangin’.

We begin the new year with renewed awareness of the effectiveness of nonviolent action and nonviolent movements. The possibilities for a more peaceful and just 2014 are boundless.

What About PeaceHow is your “What About Peace?” project coming along?  Don’t forget that the deadline for youth aged 14-20 is February 17, 2014  to enter the contest, win prizes (up to $1000) and show the world that you care passionately and creatively about peace on earth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about peace–inner peace, cease fires between nations, freedom from violence on our city streets, an end to discrimination and bullying in our schools — and what our individual responsibility is for peace.  It can seem so overwhelming at times and so out of our control. But one thing has been clear over and over again from the works of 14 – 20 year old contest participants, young people want to be empowered to make the world a better place.  Here is a small opportunity to make your voice heard!

Earlier this month the highly regarded human rights organization, Amnesty International made a bold assertion that US officials should face war crimes charges over drone strikes.  They highlighted the case of a grandmother who was killed while she was picking vegetables and other incidents which could have broken international laws designed to protect civilians.

But aren’t we’re mostly just killing the “bad guys”?  No. According to Human Rights Watch, another leading human rights watch dog organization that has studied the missile attacks in Yemen, American airstrikes in Yemen kill more civilians than terrorists.  Their new report  confirms that Hellfire rockets lack selectivity and exterminate women and children more often than they hit Al-Qaeda members,  which the group believes goes against the laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and Barack Obama’s own guidelines on drones.

Wondering what you can do? Learn more, speak up to your friends, in the newspaper and blogs and engage your representatives. We need to create a groundswell of opposition to this.

Fifty organizations and over 75,000 individuals are asking the United Nations Secretary General and the International Criminal Court to declare that drone attacks violate international law — and to ultimately pursue sanctions against nations using, possessing, or manufacturing weaponized drones.

Take-ActionTAKE ACTION! Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask your US Representative and President Obama to support a treaty forbidding the possession, use of weaponized drones and extra-judicial “kill lists”
  • Ask the governments of each of our nations around the world, to ban the use or sale of weaponized drones.
  • Join the over 75,000 people who have signed this Ban Weaponized Drones petition  by adding your name and comments now!
  • Spread the word to youth and teachers who work with youth aged 14-20 about Global Exchange’s What About Peace art contest to inspire our next generation to create peace.
Drone summit Nov 2013

Drone summit Nov 2013

Faisal bin Ali Gaber is a soft-spoken engineer from Yemen. After he lost his cousin and brother-in-law in a drone strike in August 2012, he published an open letter to President Obama and Yemeni President Hadi. He said his brother-in-law was an imam who had strongly and publicly opposed al-Qaeda, and that his young cousin was a policeman. “Our town was no battlefield. We had no warning. Our local police were never asked to make any arrest,” he wrote to the presidents. “Your silence in the face of these injustices only makes matters worse. If the strike was a mistake, the family — like all wrongly bereaved families of this secret air war — deserve a formal apology.”

Now Faisal Gaber will get a chance to appeal directly to the American people. This weekend for the first time ever, a Yemeni delegation of drone strike victims’ family members, human rights experts and grassroots leaders will be visiting Washington as part of the Global Drone Summit–– You can watch the Summit live all weekend on the CODEPINK livestream channel.

While the CIA and US military have been using lethal drones for over a decade, this will be only the second time that drone victims have gotten visas to come to the United States to tell their stories. The first visit was just a few weeks ago when, on October 29, the Rehman family — a father with his two children — came all the way from the Pakistani tribal territory of North Waziristan to the US Capitol to tell the heart-wrenching story of the death of the children’s beloved 67-year-old grandmother. The hearing, convened by Congressman Alan Grayson, had the congressman, the translator and the public in tears. The Rehman family’s story is documented in the new film Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Foundation, which was released at the time of their visit.

Just as the visit and the film have put real faces on drone victims, new reports by prestigious institutions have brought the covert drone wars out of the shadows. Amnesty International issued a report on drone strikes in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch issued a report on the civilian cost of US targeted killings in Yemen, the new focal point of the US drone wars. Also just released are two UN reports: one by Christof Heyns, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the other is by Ben Emmerson, the special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism. Both question the US legal framework in light of international law and decry the lack of transparency and accountability. The UN reports engendered the first-ever UN discussion on remote-controlled killing at the General Assembly when, on October 26, representatives from a broad swath of nations took turns denouncing US drone policies.

The US government is feeling the pressure. It has taken steps to reduce civilian casualties and has reduced the actual number of strikes, but certainly not eliminated them. In fact, there was a drone strike in Somalia on October 28, one in Pakistan on October 31, and yet another one in Yemen on November 7.

While the reduction in the number of strikes is a partial victory, it cannot erase the hundreds of innocent lives lost over the years. Also, with the global proliferation of drones (thanks to the easing of restrictions on overseas sales and the introduction of domestic drones into US skies by September 2015), their usage will inevitably increase.

That’s why the Global Drone Summit on November 16-17 will bring together hundreds of people from across the US and around the world to discuss strategies to stop the proliferation of drones used for killing and spying. It is organized by the peace group CODEPINK, along with the Institute for Policy Studies, The NationMagazine, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Lawyers Guild.

In addition to the Yemeni delegation, the Summit will include drone pilots, legal experts, human rights advocates, authors, technology experts, artists and grassroots activists. Their hope is to build a global movement to rein in the use of drones for the purposes of killing and spying. With the FAA mandated to open up US airspace to drones by 2015, and police departments around the country anxious to purchase drones with Homeland Security grants, the issue of drones for domestic surveillance is of grave concern to civil liberty and privacy activists.

It seems that the more Americans know about the effects of killer drones, the less likely they are to support them. Polls show a precipitous decline in support from 83 percent in 2012 to 61 percentone year later. Hearing directly from the victims will continue to erode the support.

As Predator drones are forced out into the light of day, the veneer about their pinpoint precision and effectiveness in fighting terrorism is being peeled away. What gets exposed is the innocent lives destroyed and the blowback that keeps us in a state of perpetual war.


You can watch video of the Drone Summit  that live streamed over the weekend

 Update 9/11/13: The judge in David Hartsough’s case doesn’t send him and fellow protestors to prison, but instead agrees to allow them to do community service. A press release about the decision has been issued which you can read below.

David Hartsough (middle) with wife Jan Hartsough (right) and Carleen Pickard (left) at Global Exchange's 2013 Human Rights Awards

David Hartsough (middle) with wife Jan Hartsough (right) and Carleen Pickard (left) at Global Exchange’s 2013 Human Rights Awards

9/10/13: David Hartsough’s Statement at his Sentencing for Nonviolent Action Against Drones

Long-time Global Exchange supporter David Hartsough appeared at Federal Court in Sacramento this morning for his nonviolent protest against drones at Beale Air Force Base, just north of Sacramento, CA.

The following is a statement written by David to make at his sentencing. We’ll be posting an update about David’s sentencing on this blog post as soon as more information becomes available:

Drones have killed thousands of innocent civilians and are immoral and illegal under US and international law. They also recruit many more people into Al Qaeda.

We are one human family. All people in the world are children of God and are our brothers and sisters. If someone attacks our blood brother or sister, we would do everything in our power to stop them. This is the way we feel about innocent civilians being killed by drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

One hundred and seventy-eight children and thousands of other civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan and Yemen. Does this strengthen our national security? Is this making the world a safer place?

Drones are totally immoral and are against everything we have been taught in our religious Faiths: Love one another, Love your enemy and Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a question of religious freedom. I am a Quaker and my religious Faith requires me to try to stop the killing of innocent people.

How would we feel if Russians or Chinese or Afghanis or Pakistanis were flying drones over the US and killing American people?

It is illegal under international law to go into another country and drop bombs on people our government doesn’t like. The Nuremberg Principles require citizens to attempt to stop crimes against humanity and killing innocent civilians is a crime against humanity. Doing nothing or remaining silent is complicity in these crimes. In protesting at Beale AFB, I was trying to uphold international law.

The United States is making decisions to kill people without them ever coming before a court or found guilty. The US government is playing Judge, Jury and Executioner. Is this what we call the rule of law?

Using drones and killing many innocent people is creating more and more enemies of the US. Every person we kill has at least 50 family members and friends who will mourn the loss of their loved ones.  Many will seek revenge on the people and nation that has killed their loved one or friend.

Instead of drones and dropping bombs on people we need to send Peace Corps people to build schools and medical clinics and help people in these countries recover from the wounds of war. We could be the most loved country on earth rather than the most hated.

By our silence we condone this senseless killing. We must speak out and act to stop this madness. By our nonviolent protest at Beale AFB, we were acting to uphold God’s law, US law, the Nuremberg Principles and international law.

We call on our fellow Americans, people in churches and synagogues and mosques, students, all people of conscience to join us in stopping Drones before they kill more innocent people and recruit more people into Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, our “war on terror” is a receipe for perpetual wars and endless suffering and death for people around the world.

Judge Carolyn Delaney, at a time when our country is preparing to reign down missiles and bombs on Syria which could start a much larger war in the Middle East killing thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps the best place for people of conscience is behind bars.

I am at peace with whatever you sentence me to.  I cannot pay a fine or accept probation for a nonviolent action in which I was trying to uphold God’s law, US law and international law. Judge, if you so decide, I am ready to do community service or spend time in prison.

David was arrested along with eight others blocking two entrances at Beale Air Force Base, CA where they closed the main entrance for over three hours. 


  • Read this press release about the judge’s decision in this case:


for Monday, September 9, 2013

Contact: Cres Vellucci, National Lawyers Guild/Sacramento  916/996 9170

 Judge Doesn’t Send Obama Drone Protesters to Prison, Agrees to Allow Them to Do Community Service After ‘Beale 5’ Refuse to Pay Fines

 SACRAMENTO – Five peace advocates convicted of trespassing at a demonstration opposing the Obama Administrations killer drone program at Beale AFB near Marysville were sentenced here Monday to only 10 hours community service – after they said they rather go to prison than accept a fine and probation.

Judge Carolyn Delaney listened to passionate statements (Available upon request) by the defendants, who told the judge they were willing to go to federal prison rather than pay any fines or accept 3 years probation. They faced up to six months in federal prison and a $5,000 fine each for trespassing at Beale.

Delaney relented, and after acknowledging prison would serve “no purpose,” sentenced the most minimum of community service to Janie Kesselman, Camptonville; Sharon Delgado, Nevada City; Shirley Osgood, Grass Valley; and David and Jan Hartsough, both of San Francisco.

The “Beale 5” considered the very light sentence a “victory.” They were arrested October 30, 2012 protesting the U.S. drone program at Beale AFB, which provides surveillance drones that scout locations for killer drones, responsible for killing hundreds of innocent people, including children, around the world.

The defendants were convicted by Delaney August 12 after she  refused to allow a jury trial. She also refused the admit the “Necessity” and  “Nuremberg Principles” defenses, which argues citizens have a duty to prevent the killing of civilians by their own government. She also disregarded key testimony by witnesses.

The all-volunteer defense team – Sacramento lawyers Mike Hansen, Mark Reichel, Joe Marman and Tatiana Filippova – was coordinated by the National Lawyers Guild of Sacramento. They objected to the court’s decision to exclude a jury trial. They have 14 days to appeal.

The NLG/Sacramento also said the judge in the case refused to allow key witnesses – including people who have seen the devastation to civilians in Pakistan and other parts of the world.

A second anti-drone trial is scheduled later this year for another group of five people arrested at Beale AFB this past April 30.

The following post was written by Medea Benjamin and Noor Mir and originally appeared on

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Efforts to counter drone warfare at home and abroad are growing everywhere you look, from the United Nations to the courts to places of worship.

Rand Paul’s marathon 13-hour filibuster was not the end of the conversation on drones.

Suddenly, drones are everywhere, and so is the backlash. Efforts to counter drones at home and abroad are growing in the courts, at places of worship, outside air force bases, inside the UN, at state legislatures, inside Congress–and having an effect on policy.

10 Ways the Public Backlash Against Killer Drones Is Taking Off:

1. April marks the national month of uprising against drone warfare. Activists in upstate New York are converging on the Hancock Air National Guard Base where Predator drones are operated. In San Diego, they will take on Predator-maker General Atomics at both its headquarters and the home of the CEO. In D.C., a coalition of national and local organizations are coming together to say no to drones at the White House. And all across the nation—including New York City, New Paltz, Chicago, Tucson and Dayton—activists are planning picket lines, workshops and sit-ins to protest the covert wars. The word has even spread to Islamabad, Pakistan, where activists are planning a vigil to honor victims.

2. There has been an unprecedented surge of activity in cities, counties and state legislatures across the country aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones. After a raucous city council hearing in Seattle in February, the Mayor agreed to terminate its drones program and return the city’s two drones to the manufacturer. Also in February, the city of Charlottesville, VA passed a 2-year moratorium and other restrictions on drone use, and other local bills are pending in cities from Buffalo to Ft. Wayne. Simultaneously, bills have been proliferating on the state level. In Florida, a pending bill will require the police to get a warrant to use drones in an investigation; a Virginia statewide moratorium on drones passed both houses and awaits the governor’s signature, and similar legislation in pending in at least 13 other state legislatures.

3. Responding to the international outcry against drone warfare, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, is conducting an in-depth investigation of 25 drone attacks and will release his report in the Spring. Meanwhile, on March 15, having returned from a visit to Pakistan to meet drone victims and government officials, Emmerson condemned the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, as “it involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

4. Leaders in the faith-based community broke their silence and began mobilizing against the nomination of John Brennan, with over 100 leaders urging the Senate to reject Brennan. And in an astounding development, The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans, issued a scathing statement about Obama’s drone policy, calling it “evil”, “monstrous” and “immoral.” The group’s president, Rev. Anthony Evans, exhorted other black leaders to speak out, saying “If the church does not speak against this immoral policy we will lose our moral voice, our soul, and our right to represent and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

5. In the past four years the Congressional committees that are supposed to exercise oversight over the drones have been mum. Finally, in February and March, the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee held their first public hearings, and the Constitution Subcommittee will hold a hearing on April 16 on the “constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings, the scope of the battlefield and who can be targeted as a combatant.” Too little, too late, but at least Congress is  feeling some pressure to exercise its authority.

6. The specter of tens of thousands of drones here at home when the FAA opens up US airspace to drones by 2015 has spurred new left/right alliances. Liberal Democratic Senator Ron Wyden joined Tea Party’s Rand Paul during his filibuster. The first bipartisan national legislation was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., saying drones used by law enforcement must be focused exclusively on criminal wrongdoing and subject to judicial approval, and prohibiting the arming of drones. Similar left-right coalitions have formed at the local level. And speaking of strange bedfellows, NRA president David Keene joined The Nation’s legal affairs correspondent David Cole in an op-ed lambasting the administration for the cloak of secrecy that undermines the system of checks and balances.

7. While trying to get redress in the courts for the killing of American citizens by drones in Yemen, the ACLU has been stymied by the Orwellian US government refusal to even acknowledge that the drone program exists. But on March 15, in an important victory for transparency, the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected the CIA’s absurd claims that it “cannot confirm or deny” possessing information about the government’s use of drones for targeted killing, and sent the case back to a federal judge.

8. Most Democrats have been all too willing to let President Obama carry on with his lethal drones, but on March 11, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and seven colleagues issued a letter to President Obama calling on him to publicly disclose the legal basis for drone killings, echoing a call that emerged in the Senate during the John Brennan hearing. The letter also requested a report to Congress with details about limiting civilian casualties by signature drone strikes, compensating innocent victims, and restructuring the drone program “within the framework of international law.”

9.There have even been signs of discontent within the military. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had approved a ludicrous high-level military medal that honored military personnel far from the battlefield, like drone pilots, due to their “extraordinary direct impacts on combat operations.” Moreover, it ranked above the Bronze Star, a medal awarded to troops for heroic acts performed in combat. Following intense backlash from the military and veteran community, as well as a push from a group of bipartisan senators, new Defense Secretary Senator Chuck Hagel decided to review the criteria for this new “Distinguished Warfare” medal.

10. Remote-control warfare is bad enough, but what is being developed is warfare by “killer robots” that don’t even have a human in the loop. A campaign against fully autonomous warfare will be launched this April at the UK’s House of Commons by human rights organizations, Nobel laureates and academics, many of whom were involved in the successful campaign to ban landmines. The goal of the campaign is to ban killer robots before they are used in battle.

Throughout the US–and the world–people are beginning to wake up to the danger of spy and killer drones. Their actions are already having an impact in forcing the Administration to share memos with Congress, reduce the number of strikes and begin a process of taking drones out of the hands of the CIA.


Check out this list of April Days of Action Against Drones.

The most positive outcome of Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster—which ended when Paul was forced to take a bathroom break—was giving the American public a sense of the treacherous path that President Obama’s drone program could take, i.e. the targeted killing of Americans here at home. It was a marathon civics lesson and a scathing critique of President Obama’s civil liberties record.

The biggest flaw, however, was Rand’s refusal to strongly condemn the way drones are already being used overseas and to blame CIA nominee John Brennan for being the mastermind of a nefarious program that has led to the deaths of so many non-American civilians and spread anti-American sentiment globally.


While mentioning many of the problems related to drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, Rand Paul stuck to the issue of killing Americans with drones, and even more narrowly, killing Americans with drones here on US soil.

Rand Paul decided to filibuster President Obama’s nominee after receiving a letter this month from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that refused to rule out the use of drone strikes within the United States in “extraordinary circumstances” like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Obama administration has also affirmed that Americans don’t have the right to a judicial process, just some vaguely defined “due process” that could land you on a “kill list” if high-level US officials deemed you were an imminent threat.

“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA,” Senator Paul began. “I will speak until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

Paul said that the U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil was an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.

“Is objecting to your government or objecting to the policies of your government sympathizing with the enemy?” Paul asked, invoking the case of Jane Fonda. “No one will ever forget Jane Fonda swiveling around in North Vietnamese armored guns, and it was despicable,” he said. “And it’s one thing if you’re going to try her for treason, but are you just going to drop a drone hellfire missile on Jane Fonda?”

Paul also suggested that many college campuses in the 1960s were full of Americans who could have been considered enemy sympathizers. “Are you going to drop a missile on Kent State?,” he asked.

While a series of Republicans appeared on the Senate floor to stand by Paul, the only Democrat to show support was Ron Wyden from Oregon. Wyden is the member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who had used John Brennan’s nomination as an opportunity to pressure the Obama administration to give Congress the legal documentation for targeted killings. The pressure worked, at least partially. After two years of seeking the documents, with no response, the administration finally gave the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee a chance to see the documents. Wyden says it’s not enough. A true champion of transparency, he wants the papers to be made public. And he wants more documents, including the ones that lay out the criteria for the killing of non-Americans.

droneconvention2Wyden said he would not oppose Brennan’s confirmation, but he felt that “the executive branch should not be allowed to conduct such a serious and far-reaching program by themselves without any scrutiny, because that’s not how American democracy works.”

It was frustrating to hear the Senator waffle between supporting and not supporting lethal drones overseas. While he questioned the use of signature strikes overseas, strikes where people are killed simply on the basis of suspicious activities, he did not call on the government to stop them. He did not ask the government to stop the practice of hitting the same area twice, often times killing rescuers who are trying to help the victims of the first strike. He was not asking the government to take drones out of the hands of the CIA, a civilian agency that is supposed to focus on intelligence gathering. He did not ask for an accounting of civilian casualties overseas, and that the US publicly acknowledge when it kills civilians. Although he mentioned the case of 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, killed in a drone strike in Yemen two weeks after his father was killed, he did not demand a response from the government.

Paul’s concern was whether tactics used overseas could be transferred to American citizens within the U.S. His request from the government was simple. Paul repeatedly stated that he would be willing to move to a vote on Brennan’s nomination if the Obama administration gave a written response stating that it did not believe that the executive branch could target and kill American non-combatants on American soil.

But Paul did use the filibuster to speak out against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that he would have supported the Afghanistan war at the outset, but said it had since become far wider than its initial response to the Sept. 11 attacks. “The problem is as this war has dragged on, they take that authorization of use of force to mean pretty much anything, and so they have now said that the war has no geographic limitations,” he said. “So it’s really not a war in Afghanistan, it’s a war in Yemen, Somalia, Mali. It’s a war in unlimited places.” Paul said that when Congress voted for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force post 9/11, they voted to go into Afghanistan to get the people who attacked us, not to authorize a worldwide war with no end, one that included America as part of the battlefield.

And he chided Congress for abrogating its authority to declare war. “Were we a body that cared about our prerogative to declare war, we would take that power back,” he said.

Paul questioned whether the drones might be doing more harm than good, and if the United States could afford perpetual war. “We have to find a way to end war,” he said.

While progressives have all sorts of reasons to dislike Rand Paul’s Tea Party, small government libertarian views, killer drones is one issue on which progressives should make common cause with Paul and his growing legions of supporters. After all, it’s not about the messenger but the message. And compared to the Democratic Senators who have, with few exceptions, remained either silent or support of President Obama’s killer drones, Rand made a heroic stand. In gratitude, progressives should “Stand with Rand.”

On November 16th I testified in Congress at a congressional briefing on drones organized by Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Here is her testimony.

Drones Create Enemies

I recently returned from leading a US delegation of 34 Americans to Pakistan, looking at the results of US drone attacks. We found that drones are actually jeopardizing our security by spreading hatred of Americans and sowing the seeds of violence for decades to come. Drones help extremists recruit more discontented youth. In the tribal society of Waziristan where the drones are attacking, we learned that people who have lost their family members in these deadly attacks are bound by the Pashtun honor code — Pashtunwali — to retaliate and seek revenge.

While for the most part we were received with great hospitality, we found intense anger over the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and what people perceived as a cavalier attitude towards their lives. “To Americans, we are disposable people; our lives are worth nothing” an angry young man told me. At a meeting with the Islamabad Bar Association, we were confronted by a group of lawyers yelling, “Americans, go home. You are all a bunch of terrorists.”

A June 2012 Pew Research poll found that 3 out of 4 Pakistanis considered the US their enemy. With a population of over 180 million, that means 133 million people! Surely that cannot be good for our national security. When Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked why there was so animosity towards the United States, she gave a one word answer: drones.

Suspending drone strikes won’t automatically make us loved or stop Islamic radicals, but continuing the strikes only exacerbates the problem. Whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia—Al Qaeda, the Taliban or Al Shabab may be callously killing innocent people, local police and armed forces, but by capitalizing on the fear of drones and the intrusion of Westerners, they cast themselves as defenders of the people.

The US Use of Drones Is Setting a Dangerous Precedent

The US is using drones as if it were the only country to possess them. But the overwhelming US dominance is coming to an end, with the technology falling into the hands of other nations, friends and foes alike.

According to a GAO report, by 2012 more than 75 countries have acquired drones. Most of these are for surveillance and reconnaissance missions but many countries—including Israel, Britain, France, Russia, Turkey, China, India and Iran—either have or are seeking weaponized drones.

Israel is the world’s leading exporter of drones, with more than 1,000 sold in 42 countries. China is producing some 25 different types of drones. Iran has already begun deploying its own reconnaissance drones and weapons-ready models are in the works. In October the Iranian government announced a new long-range drone that can fly 2,000 kilometers; just weeks ago, an Iranian drone launched by Hezbollah flew in Israeli airspace for three hours, beaming back live images of secret Israeli military bases before being shot down by the Israeli military.

A 2012 GAO study reported that “certain terrorist organizations” have acquired small, more rudimentary drones, such as radio-controlled aircraft that are available through the Internet. But if terrorists were able to equip these drones with even a small quantity of chemical or biological weapons, it could produce lethal results.

The proliferation of drones should evoke reflection on the precedent that the US is setting by killing anyone it wants, anywhere it wants, on the basis of secret information. Other nations and non-state entities are watching—and are bound to start acting in a similar fashion.

Surveillance Drones at Home

Here at home, the use of surveillance drones is about to explode thanks in large measure to the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus. Self-described as “industry’s voice on Capitol Hill”, this group of fifty lawmakers has close ties with the powerful industry lobby group: the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

The Caucus not only pushes to lift export restrictions, but also to relax regulations that limit the use of drones domestically. It pushed through legislation that requires the FAA to fully integrate drones into US airspace by September 15, 2015.

Some police departments have already applied for—and received—permission to test out various kinds of drones. From Miami to Houston to Mesa Country, Colorado, police departments have drones that can be equipped with tasers, stun batons, grenade launchers, shotguns, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

These drones can also be outfitted with high-powered cameras, thermal imaging devices, license plate readers, and laser radar. In the near future, they might add biometric recognition that can track individuals based on height, age, gender, and skin color and will soon have the capacity to see through walls and ceilings.

All the pieces appear to be lining up to introduce routine aerial surveillance into American life—a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States. This is especially worrisome since our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values.

Drones at home also pose a threat to our safety because the technology is still in its early stages and many drones don’t have adequate “detect sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions. In 2009, the Air Force admitted that more than a third of their drones had crashed. In August 2012 a drone in Afghanistan collided with a C-130 cargo plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing.

In June 2012 the military’s largest drone, the Global Hawk, did not crash in some far-flung overseas outpost but right here in southern Maryland. The aircraft, valued at $176 million, was on a Navy test mission when the ground pilot lost control. Luckily, it crashed into a marsh, not a residential neighborhood.

The Way Forward

The burden is now squarely on Congress and the public to push back against the proliferation of drones as a military and law enforcement tool.

Peace groups such as CODEPINK, Voices of Creative Non-Violence, and Catholic Workers are part of a growing movement protesting at US bases where lethal drones are remotely operated and at the headquarters of drone manufacturers. Faith-based leaders are questioning the morality of killer drones.

More and more, people of conscience are calling for international guidelines to curb robotic warfare, as the world community has done in the case of land mines and cluster bombs.

We are calling on friends in Congress to act as a counterweight to the pro-drone Caucus and the drone lobby. We need congresspeople who will stand up to a lethal presidential policy run amok, who will advocate on behalf of the privacy and safety of Americans at home, and on behalf of the rule of law overseas, who will demand that the CIA revert to being an intelligence-gathering agency, who will say that after 10 years of waging a war on terror by terrorizing people, it’s time to try another way—a way that includes speeding up the US troop exit from Afghanistan, stopping the deadly drone strikes, promoting peace talks and helping to educate and provide economic opportunities to people in the conflict regions.

The response to the brutal shooting of 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousefzai points in that direction. While the police undertook a nationwide search for her aggressors, Malala’s shooting awoke Pakistani’s silent majority who are saying “Enough” to Taliban threats and oppression. Pakistanis organized rallies throughout the country; girls everywhere, even in SWAT Valley where Malala was shot, expressed their determination to return to school; fathers vowed to protect the schools themselves; and citizens delivered one million signatures to the government demanding free and compulsory education.

Right now, less than half of Pakistani children are enrolled in school; in the tribal areas the figures are less than 20 percent, and only one in five students is female. The numbers are even worse in Yemen and Somalia. For the cost of one Hellfire missile, we could educate 750 children a year.

For the cost of one Predator drone, we could send 37,000 children to school. What a great way to fight extremism, build a better future for the youth of these nations, and make ourselves safer by winning the hearts and minds of the people. Schools not drones should not just be a catchy slogan, but a radical shift away from a 10-plus year failed policy of endless war towards one based on making peace with our Muslim neighbors.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Foreign policy played a minor role in a presidential election that focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. But like it or not, the United States is part of a global community in turmoil, and U.S. policies often help fuel that turmoil. The peace movement, decimated during the first Obama term because so many people were unwilling to be critical of President Obama, has a challenge today to re-activate itself, and to increase its effectiveness by forming coalitions with other sectors of the progressive movement.  Over the next four years, this movement must grapple with key issues such as the Afghan war, killer drone attacks, maintaining peace with Iran, US policy vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, and the bloated Pentagon budget.

Despite President Obama’s talk about getting out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military still has some 68,000 troops and almost 100,000 private contractors there, at a cost of $2 billion a week. And Obama is talking about a presence of U.S. troops, training missions, special forces operations, and bases for another decade. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Americans think this war is not worth fighting, a sentiment echoed in a recent New York Times editorial “Time to Pack Up.” It is, indeed, time to pack up. The peace movement must push for withdrawal starting now—and definitely no long-term presence! Veteran’s Day should be a time to take a hard look at the impact of war on soldiers, particularly the epidemic of soldier suicide.  We must also look at the devastating impact of war on Afghan women and children, particularly as winter sets in. Despite the billions of dollars our government has poured into development projects, Afghan children are literally freezing to death.

American drone attacks are out of control, killing thousands in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, many of them civilians. Drones are sowing widespread anti-American sentiment and setting a dangerous precedent that will come back to haunt us. Anti-drones protests have sprung up all over the United States at air forces bases where the drones are piloted, at the headquarters of drone manufacturers, at the CIA and in Congressional offices. Our job now is to coordinate those efforts, to launch a massive public education campaign to reverse pro-drone public opinion, pass city resolutions against drone use, and to call on our elected officials to start respecting the rule of law. If we strengthen our ties with people in the nations most affected, as we have begun to do on our recent CODEPINK delegation to Pakistan, and join in with those at the UN bodies who are horrified by drone proliferation, we can make progress in setting some global standards for the use of lethal drones.

Also looming ominously is a possible Israeli attack on Iran that would draw the US into a devastating regional war. Almost 60 percent of Americans oppose joining Israel in a war with Iran. We must make sure Obama and Congress hear that voice above the din of AIPAC lobbyists gunning for war, and steer clear of dragging the US into yet another Middle Eastern conflict.  Public opinion campaigns such as the “Iranians We Love You” posters on busses in Tel Aviv, and cross-cultural exchanges in Iran and the US bring humanity to a tenuous political situation.  We also must renew efforts to oppose the crippling sanctions that are impacting everyday citizens in Iran, and rippling out to spike food prices elsewhere, including Afghanistan.

Perhaps hardest of all will be to get some traction on changing US policy towards Israel/Palestine. The grassroots movement to stop unconditional financial and political support for Israel is booming, with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation building networks across the country. Campaigns to boycott and divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation continue to win victories and attract global support. We’re unlikely to see the Obama administration and Congress condemning settlements, human rights abuses, or the ongoing siege of Gaza, much less cutting off the $3 billion a year that helps underwrite these abuses. But we can continue to shift public opinion and gain more allies in Congress, with an openness to reaching out to libertarians and fiscal conservatives calling for cuts in foreign aid.  In the aftermath of the election, Jewish Voice for Peace and interfaith allies have pledged to continue efforts to call for US aid to Israel to be conditioned on compliance with international law.

And then there’s the bloated Pentagon budget. At a time when the nation is looking at how best to allocate scarce resources, all eyes should be on the billions of dollars wasted on Pentagon policies and weapons that don’t make us safer. From the over 800 bases overseas to outdated Cold War weapons to monies given to repressive regimes, we need a rational look at the Pentagon budget that could free up billions for critical social and environmental programs.

Key to building a vibrant peace movement in the next four years is coalition-building, reaching out to a broad array of social justice groups to make the connections between their work and the billions drained from our economy for war. Environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, labor unions, civil rights—there are so many connections that have to be rekindled from the Bush years or started anew.

Finally, we have to provide alternatives to the worn narrative that the military interventions around the world are making us more secure. It’s time to demand alternatives like negotiations, creative diplomacy and a foreign policy gearing toward solving global problems, not perpetuating endless war. The UN declared November 10th “Malala Day” in honor of Pakistan’s 15-year-old Malala Yousefzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for supporting education for girls.  This tragedy awoke international commitments to ensuring girls can get to school, a relatively inexpensive goal with major returns for the advancement of women’s rights, health, prosperity, and security.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see our government prioritizing funds for school over drone warfare and endless weapons stockpiling?

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King. If we can connect these foreign policy issues with domestic needs and climate change, if we can follow the powerful examples of mass direct action movements from Chile to Egypt, and if enough people practice democracy daily rather than waiting until the next presidential election, then maybe–just maybe—we’ll be able to push the arc of Obama’s second term in the direction of peace and justice.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

When is the last time you heard from a civilian victim of the CIA’s secret drone strikes? Sure, most of them can’t speak because they’re deceased. But many leave behind bereaved and angry family members ready to proclaim their innocence and denounce the absence of due process, the lack of accountability, the utter impunity with which the U.S. government decides who will live and die.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has increasingly deployed unmanned drones in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. While drones were initially used for surveillance, these remotely controlled aerial vehicles are now routinely used to launch missiles against human targets in countries where the United States is not at war, including Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. As many as 3,000 people, including hundreds of civilians and even American citizens, have been killed in such covert missions.

The U.S. government will not even acknowledge the existence of the covert drone program, much less account for those who are killed and maimed. And you don’t hear their stories on FOX News, or even MSNBC. The U.S. media has little interest in airing the stories of dirt poor people in faraway lands who contradict the convenient narrative that drone strikes only kill “militants.”

But in Pakistan, where most strikes have occurred, the victims do have someone speaking out on their behalf. Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who co-founded the human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Right, filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims and has become a critical force in litigating and advocating for drone victims.

Akbar is by no means anti-American. He has traveled to the United States in the past, and has even worked for the U.S. government. He was a consultant with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and helped the FBI investigate a terrorism case involving a Pakistani diplomat.

But his relationship with the US government changed in 2010, when he took on the case of Karim Khan, a resident of a small town in North Waziristan who claimed that his 18-year-old son and 35-year-old brother were killed when a CIA-operated drone struck his family home.

“Khan could have responded by taking up arms and joining the Taliban. Instead, he put his trust in the legal system,” Akbar told me in an interview from Islamabad. Akbar helped Khan sue the CIA and the US Secretary of Defense for the wrongful deaths of his relatives. Since then, dozens of families have come forward and joined the legal proceedings.

According to the New America Foundation, from 2004-2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 individuals were killed in Pakistan by drone strikes, and of those, between 293 and 471 were civilians. The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts those figures higher, saying that some 3,000 have been killed, including between 391 and 780 civilians.
Akbar disputes even the Bureau’s figures, claiming that the vast majority of those killed are ordinary civilians. “Most of the victims who are labeled militants might be Taliban sympathizers but they are not involved in any criminal or terrorist acts,” Akbar said. “The Americans often use the fact that someone carries a weapon as proof they’re a combatant. If that’s the criteria then the US will have to commit genocide, because all men in that area carry AK-47s. It’s part of their culture.”

Now that Akbar has become the voice of drone victims, it appears that the Obama administration is trying to silence him.

He was invited to speak at a human rights symposium at Columbia University’s law school in May 2011, but he never received a visa. Despite repeated enquiries, he was merely told there was “a problem” with his application. Now he has been invited to speak at the first ever Drone Summit on April 28-29 in Washington DC, organized by the peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Once again, his visa remains stuck in the never-never land of  “administrative review.”

The Summit organizers have appealed for help from the State Department, key members of Congress and the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. After looking into the case, U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Hoagland responded: “Whether we like it or not, the current U.S. visa system faces significant constraints within the Homeland Security structure.”  Insisting that the issuance of visas was not used as an ideological tool but was a reflection of “complicated and even byzantine laws and regulations,” Hoagland concluded, “I fully sympathize, but I cannot change law and regulation.” His recommendation? “Continued patience.”

“The Obama administration has already launched six times as many drone strikes as the Bush administration in Pakistan alone, killing hundreds of innocent people and devastating families,” said Leili Kashani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of Summit sponsors. “By refusing to grant Shahzad Akbar a visa to speak at the Summit, the Obama administration is further silencing discussion about the impact of its targeted killing program on people in Pakistan and around the world.”

The Drone Summit’s organizers vow to keep pressuring the U.S. government to grant Akbar a visa and are encouraging their supporters to contact Consul General Steve Maloney in Pakistan. If all fails, they will have Akbar speak, via satellite, at a press conference at the National Press Club on Thursday, April 26, just before the Summit begins.

“Our legal challenges disrupt the narrative of ‘precision strikes’ against ‘high-value targets’ as an unqualified success against terrorism, at minimal cost to civilian life,” said Akbar, “The CIA does not want anyone challenging their killing spree, but the American people should have the right to know.”

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, is author of the new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. To get your copy of the book – click here. Register here for the Drone Summit on April 28-29.

A recent NewYork Times article about military drones had some ominous warnings about the technology getting out. Global Exchange Co-founder Kevin Danaher shares his thoughts on the subject.

Military Drones are the Opposite of Nature’s Drones

A drone in nature is “a stingless male bee that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen.”

But the drones used by the US military are certainly not stingless and they do create nectar, but it is the bitter nectar of hatred and resentment when we kill innocent bystanders in so many of our drone attacks.

Within US society, who benefits from people around the world hating us? Could it be the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us against? An imperial power structure based on formal democracy must have a credible threat to justify spending so much taxpayer money on weapons that are ineffective against the real threats we face.

When Soviet communism collapsed, it created a huge problem for the U.S. military and the corporations that supply it with everything from guns and bombs to boots and socks.  As the USSR declined as a threat, US taxpayers started asking about a “peace dividend” that would switch military spending to dire social and environmental needs.

But along came the events of September 11, 2001 and, conveniently, a new threat was created. Even if you buy the official story, why would U.S. leaders hasten to define the incident as war instead of crime, and thus anoint the rag-tag Al Qaeda forces as an equal combatant with the world’s only superpower?

The greatest threat to the US military-industrial complex faces is not outside our borders; it is the minds of the American people. If enough people get out in the streets (does the word Occupy ring a bell?) we can demand a shift of resources away from death and destruction toward green jobs, better schools, no more home foreclosures, and affordable health care for all.

In addition to the money being wasted, the drones have another dangerous impact: the undermining of the US Constitution, this nation’s most precious document. The Obama administration and the Bush administration before it have executed US citizens in Yemen without any trial, based solely on the US government’s perception that these US citizens were a threat to US national security.

Last time we checked, it was not legal for the US government to execute US citizens without a trial. Is the empire so fragile now that it requires the sacrifice of our basic rights in order to suppress some “bad guys”?

And if all that is not bad enough, chew on this trajectory for the technological future of drones.  The Pentagon and private contractors are developing tiny remote-controlled drones, and these can be weaponized with explosives or disease agents. Can anyone be so naïve as to think that this technology will not eventually get into the hands of people who would fly a mass of hummingbird sized, weaponized drones into some corporate headquarters or the Pentagon?

Drones were developed as a response to the American people’s distaste for US soldiers dying abroad. Our leaders thought, “how can we run an empire when our people don’t want to spend their own blood?” And instead of heeding the wisdom of the masses, US leaders instead developed weapons that can be remotely controlled, thus lowering the US body count in foreign wars.

But these chickens will come home to roost, and we will rue the day we let the military-industrial complex define security in ways that make us LESS secure.

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