WASHINGTON — Even Medea Benjamin was surprised she managed to get into President Barack Obama’s major national security address at National Defense University on Thursday. The long-time Code Pink protestor (and HuffPost blogger) is a fixture on Capitol Hill and well known to most D.C. reporters.
I had my head down for about two hours and was talking on the phone for about two hours. I tried to be inconspicuous. I think sometimes I must be invisible,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, 60, was escorted out of the the hall after she repeatedly interrupted Obama’s address, pressing the president on the use of drone strikes overseas, including the killing of a 16-year-old U.S. citizen.
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.
Dr. Qaisar Abbas | Viewpoint
Medea Benjamin has been a vibrant advocate for social justice and human rights for more than 30 years but she has recently become known to Pakistanis when she visited the long march with Imran Khan. As a cofounder of CODEPINK and the international human rights organization Global Exchange, she has been identified as “one of the high profile leaders of the peace movement” by the Los Angeles Times.
Her work for justice in Israel/Palestine includes taking numerous delegations to Gaza after the 2008 Israeli invasion and organizing the Gaza Freedom March among other bold protests in Israel. In 2011 she was in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising and in 2012 she was part of a human rights delegation to Bahrain in support of democracy activists where she was tear-gassed, arrested and deported by the Bahraini government.
In 2005 she was one of 1,000 exemplary women from 140 countries nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and in 2010 she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
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.
It was good to see The Post calling in an editorial [“Drone war,” Nov. 2] for the U.S. government to bring its drone wars out of the shadows. But having just returned from Pakistan, where I saw the effects of drone warfare, I disagree with The Post’s characterization of drone aircraft as a more “humane way” to combat an irregular army.
People we met from Waziristan talked about how drones, constantly hovering overhead, terrorize the local population. Parents fear sending their children to school; people are afraid to attend weddings, funerals or other community gatherings. They talked about widespread psychological trauma, especially among the children.
The editorial also played down the extent of civilian casualties from drone attacks, mentioning “scores — maybe hundreds — of civilians being killed.” According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, whose count of drone-strike victims is widely acknowleged to be the most accurate, the total ranges from 546 to 1,105. The bureau recently examined The Post’s reporting and concluded that “the paper frequently omits credible reports of civilian deaths in US covert drone strikes.”
Giving a more accurate picture of these deaths would give the public a better understanding of not only the tragic human costs of drone warfare but also why it is creating so much anti-American sentiment around the world.
Medea Benjamin, Washington
The writer is co-director of Codepink.
Having recently returned from Pakistan meeting with drone victims, on November 4 my partner Tighe Barry and I were having a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. The discussion turned to John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism chief and the key person making decisions about drone strikes. We wondered if Brennan ever had a chance to meet innocent drone victims, as we did, and feel their pain.
“Maybe we should go to his house and talk to him,” quipped Tighe. We laughed at the absurdity of the idea but decided to do a little bit of research. Fifteen minutes later, we were out the door, driving to a Virginia suburb an hour south of Washington DC. I had no idea if it was really John’s address, but it was a lovely day for a drive—and Tighe was willing to indulge me.
Exiting the freeway, we came to an area of rolling hills, green grass and private horse farms. As we approached what we thought might be John Brennan’s street, we were sure it was a mistake. How could this be? It was a nondescript upper middle class neighborhood, with children playing in the yards—no security, no government vehicles. The house was in a cul-de-sac sandwiched between two other houses, without so much as a fence surrounding it.
I decided to go knock on the door to make sure we were wrong. A middle-aged, white-haired guy in a casual sweater and jeans opened the door, accompanied by someone who l assumed was his wife.
Could this really be John Brennan? The same man who championed “enhanced interrogation techniques” under President Bush? The same man who now decides, on “terror Tuesdays”, who will be on the CIA kill list? The guy who developed the Orwellian “disposition matrix”—a blueprint for disposing of terrorist suspects for at least another decade.
Medea Benjamin and Robert Naiman | Common Dreams
Islamabad, Pakistan – Many Americans have an image of Pakistan and its people as “teeming with anti-Americanism.”Americans see images on TV of angry Pakistani demonstrators burning American flags. Indeed, polls say three of four Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy.
But in the last week, we and thirty other Americans have been blessed with an experience few Americans have shared, seeing a more hopeful side of the relationship of the people of Pakistan to Americans. For the last week in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and then in the nation’s tribal areas, our delegation that came to Pakistan to protest U.S. drones has been showered with tremendous hospitality, warmth and friendship.
The tribal area our peace delegation visited last weekend borders Waziristan, which since 2004 has been continuously hit with U.S. drone strikes. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,500 and 3,200 people have been killed in these drone strikes. A recent report from Stanford and NYU law schools noted that only 2 percent of these deaths were “high-level” targets. The rest were civilians, including women and children, and low-level fighters.