2012-04-17 "This Is The USA? Jackboots Meet Protest Against Drone Wars"
Protestors with www.peaceworkskc.org meet resistance at a protest against drone war during Midwest Trifecta in Kansas City Missouri.
2012-04-18 "Col. Ann Wright targets predator drones" by Jim Hannah, PeaceWorks, Kansas City, Board member
Col. Ann Wright defies pigeonholing.
She doesn’t carry the military bearing you might expect of someone who served 29 years in the U.S. Army and received a heroism award.
She doesn’t convey the worldly manner you might expect of someone who served 16 years in the State Department, including assignment in Mongolia and Afghanistan.
And she doesn’t come across in the strident manner you might expect of a strongly opinionated whistleblower.
But when this rather quiet-mannered woman of middle age speaks in her soft voice, words of steel emerge. And those truth-telling words found their mark for the 80 or so persons gathered Feb. 20 at Kansas City’s All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. The audience gave her a standing ovation even before she began to speak. Her reputation preceded her: she resigned from the State Department to protest the Iraq War, she has been arrested for protesting predator drones, and she wrote a primer on speaking out, Dissent: Voices of Conflict.
Wright opened by thanking Kansas City-area peacemakers for their activism in opposition to the new nuclear weapons parts plant being built in south Kansas City. She termed "heart-breaking" the way nuclear weapons and the military-industrial complex have become "the biggest industry in America."
In her quiet manner, Wright then proceeded to pillory U.S. foreign policies that have led to military misadventures such as Iraq, noting that violence there has decreased since the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (even though some 30,000 private contactors still remain).
Among the many word pictures Col. Wright painted, those sketching the growing use of predator drones by the U.S. were the most gripping. Our foreign policy and the war on terror, she said, are used as justification to "go after everyone, anywhere." Our country increasingly relies on drones to cross national boundaries on search-and-destroy missions globally. As many as 3,000 persons may have been killed by predator drones to date, she said—most of them civilians. "Assassin drones are everywhere," she said, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Not even U.S. citizens are safe from their reach if the U.S. government deems them to be terrorists. No trial by jury, just assassination from the air.
Most of the drone operators, Wright said, are "kids"—young adult males who have grown up with video war games and now are operating actual weapons of death 7,000 miles from their targets. Because they are distanced from their kills (unlike ground combat, where everyone has "some skin in the game"), the drone operators at Whiteman Air Force Base simply go home to their families at the end of the day. The process is so depersonalized, Wright said, that civilian deaths by drones are termed "bug splat," and those that get away are called "squirters."
One policy she particularly decried was the bombing of funerals, where a first drone strike is followed by a second strike to kill those who came to the aid of the injured. "If we are to be in the community of nations," she said, "we need to consider carefully our actions." American imperialism, she said, is having inevitable blowback as the number of civilian deaths by drones mounts; the ratio of civilians killed to combatants is 50 to 1.
One of the most eye-opening moments of the evening was Wright’s observation that assassin drones like those being flown over Pakistan are not operated by the U.S. military, but by the Central Intelligence Agency. Oversight of this covert agency and its secret budget is problematic since its personnel are civilians, rather than military, and operate in areas of undeclared war. For those reasons, Wright said, "they fit in the category of unlawful combatants and terrorists."
Unless policies change, Wright said, drones seem to be the way of the future. Twelve predator drones are already cruising the U.S.-Mexico border, she said, and law enforcement is increasingly looking to them for surveillance. Their range and capabilities are also expanding rapidly—some as small as a hummingbird for maneuvering tight places, others capable of operating at 50,000 feet and staying aloft two weeks. "Drone construction, operation, and maintenance is a growth industry of the Defense Department," she noted.
Whistleblowers like herself, she said, can expect pushback from those who profit from war. She herself is banned from Canada after being placed on a felony list because of her war resistance. "They want you to know they can threaten you," she said. But then she opened her jacket to show a black T-shirt with words in white: "We will not be silent."