Anti-Drone Protesters Arrested While Blocking Traffic at US Drone Base
November 2, 2018 CODEPINK and Veterans for Peace, et al. & Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
Four drone protesters arrested at a US drone base in California face trespassing charges with a maximum penalty of six months in prison. Thousands of civilians have been killed. Funerals, weddings, mosques, and schools have been hit by US drones. The activists oppose the use of drones to kill both civilians and "enemy soldiers," explaining the use of "remotely controlled aggressive violence, without any imminent threat, has become normalized in US foreign policy." The US owes the public an accounting of who is being killed.
Anti-Drone Protesters Arrested While Blocking Traffic for Nearly an Hour at Beale Drone Base CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace et al.
BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (October 30, 2018) -- Four demonstrators were arrested early Tuesday, October 30, as they opposed the ongoing 17-year US bombing campaign in Afghanistan and US occupation of one of the poorest countries in the world.
Traffic was backed up for 1/2 mile or more down two merging roads, for nearly an hour as protesters -- arriving in the dark of early morning -- blocked the main entrance road into Beale Air Force Base, South Beale Rd, near Wheatland, CA.
Activists stretched a large banner across the road that said: STOP DRONING AFGHANISTAN; 17 YEARS ENOUGH!
Four protesters were arrested, and held for 2.5 hours in military jail cells on the base. They face misdemeanor trespassing charges in US Court with a maximum penalty of six months in federal prison. Those arrested were Michael Kerr, Bay Point, CA; Mauro Oliveira, Montgomery Creek, CA; Shirley Osgood, Grass Valley, CA and Toby Blome, El Cerrito, CA.
Afghanistan, referred to as "the most droned country on earth," has over 40,000 foreign troops, including US military, allied forces and private mercenaries. "Mission Accomplished" was declared by two previous US Administrations, Bush and Obama, yet, after October 7, the 17th anniversary of the US invasion, the bombing campaign continues under President Trump, with no end in sight.
Beale Air Force Base is intimately involved in the US drone assassination program. Airmen at Beale who are in the covert unit that controls the US Global Hawk surveillance drone work cooperatively with armed drone operators elsewhere to surveil, target, and execute drone strikes remotely in foreign countries.
Thousands of civilians have been killed, and funerals, wedding parties, mosques, schools and other public gatherings have been attacked by US remotely controlled planes, known as drones.
Just two weeks ago, on October 12, over 75 Somali new young "recruits" with Al-Shabaab were killed by a single US drone attack. "We oppose the use of armed drones in all killing attempts. This type of remotely controlled aggressive violence, without any imminent threat, has become normalized in US foreign policy. To whose benefit?" asks Toby Blome, one of the arrestees. "What world is being created?"
Most often these strikes occur unannounced, without any warning. Bodies are often charred beyond recognition. "The relatives of the dead, the sons, fathers, cousins and even friends of the killed, could easily become the next recruits for any militant organization. This is no solution, and only further destabilizes any community," says Ms. Blomé.
Activists arrested said they are committed to continue their ongoing anti-drone campaign at Beale AFB, Creech AFB and other US drone bases until the cruel, illegal and immoral practice of drone killing ceases.
New Report Calls on Government
To Disclose More on Drone Deaths
Debate about drone strikes often centers on who is killed: "militants" or civilians. In the absence of official information, casualty estimates provided by media fill the gap; however, the estimates are incomplete and may significantly undercount the extent of reported civilian deaths. The US government owes the public an accounting of who is really being killed.
NEW YORK -- The US government should provide an official accounting on who is being killed by drone strikes, said a new report released today by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic.
Counting Drone Strike Deaths is a systematic review of drone strike casualty estimates provided by media and aggregated by three major casualty tracking organizations: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Long War Journal, and New America Foundation.
These organizations have filled the gaps left by the US government, which refuses to officially provide information on casualties; however, their estimates are incomplete and, in the case of the latter two organizations, significantly undercounted the extent of reported civilian deaths in Pakistan during 2011.
"Drone strike casualty estimates are substituting for hard facts and information about the drone program," said Naureen Shah, Acting Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School. "These are good faith efforts to count civilian deaths, but it's the US government that owes the public an accounting of who is being killed, especially as it continues expanding secret drone operations in new places around the world."
The report warns that low civilian casualty estimates may provide false assurance to the public and policymakers that drone strikes do not harm civilians. According to the report, despite their strong efforts, two of the tracking organizations, the Long War Journal and New America Foundation, significantly and consistently underestimated the potential number of civilians killed in Pakistan during the year 2011.
Recounting the data, the Columbia Human Rights Clinic found reports of between 72 and 155 civilians killed in 2011 Pakistan drone strikes, with 52 of the reportedly civilian dead identified by name -- a relatively strong indicator of reliability.
By comparison, New America Foundation's count was just 3 to 9 civilians killed during this period; Long War Journal's was 30 civilians killed.
In percentage terms, the Clinic found 2300 percent more "civilian" deaths than the New America Foundation and 140 percent more "civilian" deaths than the Long War Journal, based on minimum figures for Pakistan in 2011. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's estimates came closest to those found by the Columbia Human Rights Clinic: the Clinic found just 5.9 percent more "civilian" deaths than the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based on minimum figures.
"The tracking organizations are all credible institutions, and the discrepancies in their counts show just how hard it is to get an accurate understanding of the impact of drone strikes from media reports alone," said Chantal Grut, lead researcher and 2012 L.L.M. graduate of the Human Rights Clinic.
The tracking organizations' estimates are based on news reports of particular strikes. The news reports suffer from common flaws. For example, they often rely on anonymous Pakistani government officials or unnamed witnesses for the claim that "militants" -- rather than civilians -- were killed. In Pakistan, more in-depth reporting is all too rare because of limited access for journalists, and it is likely that some deaths and possibly even entire strikes are not captured.
"Accuracy and access are problems for any war-time reporting," said Grut. "But with drone strikes, we're seeing the labels 'militant' or 'terrorist' used to describe people killed, despite the limited information and on-the-ground reporting." The report explains the ambiguity of these terms and cautions media and observers against repeating "militant" estimates without more information and greater qualification.
In the rare but significant cases where on-the-ground reporting has offered evidence of civilian deaths from drone strikes, the US government has failed to officially respond or provide information about whether it conducts its own investigations into potential civilian deaths.
The report calls on the government to investigate reports of civilian casualties, track and release drone strike casualty information, and disclose the standards and definitions it uses to categorize individuals as subject to direct attack.
Investigations are a crucial first step toward recognizing and dignifying the loss of families and local communities.
Note: The report is based on an independent review of the publicly available materials relied on by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Long War Journal, and New America Foundation for drone strikes in Pakistan during the year 2011. The Human Rights Clinic recently published a major study on civilian harm from drone strikes, Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions, with the Center for Civilians in Conflict.