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Joe Scarry | Scarry Thoughts

I’ve written about how the United States is embarking on a whole new chapter in its history of waging perpetual war -this time in Africa. So I wasn’t surprised to be reminded about some of the African countries that have seen U.S. drone use (Somalia, Libya, Mali, Sudan) at the drones conference this past weekend.

What I was surprised by is the central role of Germany in all this.

At the conference, filmmaker and journalist Elsa Rassbach from Drohnen-Kampagne: Keine Kampfrohnen (Drone Campaign Germany: NO COMBAT DRONES) brought us up to speed on key facts, including the following:

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Chris Cole | Drone Wars UK

It was a joy to meet many readers of this blog at Code Pink’s Drone Summit in Washington DC this weekend.  Over 400 drone campaigners and researchers gathered together to learn, strategize and build the movement to challenge the growing use of armed drone.  Cornell Westkicked off the summit with an uncompromising, angry and forward-looking keynote speech that set the tone for the weekend.

The first day focused on information sharing with the an excellent panel sessions on the legality of drone warfare featuring Pardiss Kebriaeli of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Marjorie Cohn (who wrote about the gathering on Huffington Post) and the wonderful Mary Ellen O’Connell. I spoke on a panel about proliferation issues along with Israeli researcher Dalit Baum of Who Profits?, German drone campaigner Elsa Rassbach and Noel Sharkey of ICRAC and the Killer Robots campaign.  Video of that session and others is available here

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Kevin Gosztola | The Dissenter

A drone and aerial robotics conference sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation is taking place in New York this weekend. In the first few hours of the conference, tension over whether to use the word “drone” to describe “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) or “remotely piloted aircrafts” (RPAs) became apparent.

Vijay Kumar, UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, who was invited to deliver a keynote talk, said he objected to the use of the word “drone.” Buddy Michini, a director of research for a company called Airware, said, I realize that the acronym UAS [Unmanned Air Systems] may seem like old time-y but it’s the industry-preferred nomenclature and I have been told don’t use the “D” word, which is drones.”

That prompted one of the hosts of the conference, who was introducing speakers, to say to the audience, “Why do we call this conference the Drone & Aerorobotics Conference? Because drone is a packed and loaded word and drone also has a specific meaning to people who are building and operating drones.”

“We are talking about flying robots generally,” he explained. “We are talking about both things that are remotely piloted, things that are halfway autonomous and fully autonomous in the past, in today, in the future and in the far future. Drones are really important if we’re talking about the zeitgeist. A lot of people just click with that term and they get the bundle of issues and the policy questions that we’re going to need to be answering.”

Why do individuals use “UAS,” “UAV,” or “RPA” instead of the term that people “just click with”? Does it even matter?

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The New York Times

As the United States government ground to a halt on Tuesday, there were plenty of sardonic comments from bloggers and journalists in parts of the world where the American military footprint is large.

Writing on Twitter, the Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida suggested that the top question for militants in the country’s North Waziristan Agency would be, “Are drones still operating?”

While the Central Intelligence Agency’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt is covert — and there have been hints that some attacks there attributed to the Americans might have been carried out by Pakistan’s own military — there is no doubt that drones operated by the Air Force, at least, will continue to fly.

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Noor Mir and Rooj Alwazir | CODEPINK

Noor is the Pakistani-American anti-drone campaign coordinator at CODEPINK.

Rooj is a Yemeni-American activist and organizer with SupportYemen.

We are not here to proffer an analysis. We aren’t academics. We are here as a Pakistani and a Yemeni, as activists, as citizens of this country and as citizens of our homelands. We are dismayed. We are confused. But we are not hopeless.

We had been waiting for this hearing for a long time. With a handful of location and time changes, rumors floating around of Rand Paul as a witness and a push by human rights organizations around the globe to make calls to their senators and ask them to pose the important questions about civilian casualties of the secret war, the momentum had crescendoed by the time the moment finally approached on Tuesday. We were the first in line at noon for the 4 pm hearing, amused by the cameras trained on members of the Intelligence Committee as they were hurried by their staff into their closed meeting on the Boston bombings. One of our colleagues stood in the receiving line and asked senators the same question as they speed-walked past him, undoubtedly avoiding the activist in pink, “What about Abdulrahman Al-awlaki? He was just a boy? Will you ask about why they killed him with a drone strike?” James Risch eloquently responded with a simple “No.”

Hart 216, ironically the same room where Brennan’s first public confirmation hearing was held and that we disrupted, was filled with journalists and activists, many in Amnesty’s black shirts with white targets. Testimonies started with Retired Marine Corp General James Cartwright and moved down the line, each one with a more or less “pro-drone reform” spin. Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown spoke of the antiquity of the AUMF with regards to targets with more and more tenuous links to al-Qaeda such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab. We nodded. Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason, smiled broadly as he explained that enemy combatants on U.S. soil could be lawful drone targets. Retired Col. Martha McSally was introduced as a special guest of Lindsey Graham’s, which became more and more evident as the hearing proceeded and she spoke about how we were better off calling drones “remotely piloted aircrafts or RPAs” (not dissimilar from CEO of pro-drone lobby AUVSI Michael Toscano’s remark at the Judiciary hearing last month that drones have a negative connotation and we are better off calling them unmanned aerial vehicles). We winced. Peter Bergen spoke about calculating the dead and noted that civilian casualties were significantly reduced in 2013. Then Farea al-Muslimi, a friend from Yemen, took the microphone.

We sobbed.

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Medea Benjamin and Noor Mir | The Huffington Post

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.

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 two-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. Read More

Ann Wright | OpEd News

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As President Barack Obama spent his last day, January 5, in Hawaii, representatives from Hawaii Peace and Justice and World Can’t Wait protested his assassin drone program and lack of effort on Palestinian issues in front of his Hawaii vacation home.

Drone protests in the United States over the past three years have had an effect on reducing the number of drone strikes and the deaths of civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) reported on January 4, that probably due to public criticism, “civilian deaths fell sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with Bureau data suggesting that a minimum of 2.5% of those reported killed were civilians — compared with more than 14% in 2011. This suggests the CIA is seeking to limit non-militant casualties, perhaps as a result of sustained criticism.”

BIJ states that another reason for a decline in Pakistani strikes and civilian casualties may have been growing hostility. Some 74% of polled citizens said they view the US as an enemy, and that Pakistan was the only nation favoring Mitt Romney for US President. Read More

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