Killer Drones: The New Focus of SOA Rally
By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team
There’s now another reason to participate in the annual rally in front of Fort Benning, GA.
For years, the Sisters of Mercy have been gathering with thousands of others to call for closing the training facility formerly known as the School of the Americas, and now called WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). The school trains military personnel from countries throughout Latin America, and graduates have been implicated in cases of torture and killing in their home countries, including the well-known cases of the murder of four U.S. churchwomen in 1980 and of six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter in 1989.
This year, we learned that Fort Benning is the home for testing unmanned drones, aircraft that fly without human guidance for surveillance purposes and actual bombing of specified targets.
While that technology is still evolving, we learned that drones that rain down bombs on areas deemed terrorist havens already are being operated by pilots sitting at banks of computers at military bases around the U.S., including outside my hometown of Syracuse, NY.
There’s something deeply disturbing about removing the risk of U.S. casualties from the equation when considering whether to go to war with another country or, in many cases, to develop “kill lists” outside the parameters of a declared war. If they don’t have to worry about the stateside impact of dead American service members, won’t our leaders feel more free to go after people and communities they see as threats? And where is the line between war that must be declared by Congress under the Constitution, and executive decisions by the president, the military and the CIA to drop bombs on targeted sites?
According to law professor Bill Quigley, the line is much too blurry.
Quigley spoke at a crowded workshop sponsored by Pax Christi USA, the evening before the start of the two-day SOA rally. He teaches law at Loyola University in New Orleans and has served as an adviser to many human rights organizations, including School of the Americas Watch, the sponsor of the rally at Fort Benning.
I was appalled to learn that the U.S. has had more than 300 drone strikes on Pakistan, a country with which we aren’t even at war. While the U.S. government denies any civilian casualties, Quigley claimed that 300 to 400 of those killed by these armed drones were non-combatants.
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, who followed Quigley’s talk, told us about some of the victims she heard about during a visit to Pakistan. One was a teacher who had argued with the Taliban to keep his school open and who had taught his students that education is more powerful than weapons. “Imagine the lessons his students learned” from the drone attack, she said.
Benjamin also told of 42 leaders of a village who were killed by a drone strike when they were gathered for a traditional meeting to resolve local disputes. Could it have been that on some computer screen somewhere this gathering of men with long hair and dressed in traditional clothes looked threatening? “Imagine the hatred generated there,” Benjamin said.
“It’s not just the people who are killed, but the traumatizing of communities 24/7” with drones flying overhead, Benjamin said. Children fear going to school, women fear going to the market (what if the person next to them has been targeted for a strike?), and people fear going to funerals and weddings since the large gatherings could attract unwanted attention.
Quigley argued that drone strikes violate U.S. and international law. They are unconstitutional when they target U.S. citizens without due process, for example. And armed drones threaten the rule of international law by targeting areas that are far from areas of recognized armed conflict. You may see the very informative slides from his presentation here.