Drones Are Coming Home to Snoop on the Americas

From the November-December 2012 PNL #819

by Ed Kinane

 “Predator drones from the war in Afghanistan are being transplanted to the control of the US Command (SOUTHCOM)for use in its operations in Latin America.”
– “!Presente!,” SOA Watch Fall 2012 newsletter

This past November, like every November since the mid-nineties, Central New Yorkers traveled to Ft. Benning, Georgia. There, with thousands of others, we rally to close the Pentagon’s School of the Americas. Each year such protests involve a few in direct action leading to arrest and trial. For these nonviolent actions over a dozen Central New Yorkers have served federal prison terms ranging from two to 12 months.

    Having finally been “outed” by SOA Watch for training Latin American soldiers in torture and other terrorist tactics, in 2000 the SOA was forced to close…but weeks later it reopened under its current alias: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (“different name, same shame”). Recently Benning acknowledged that it had become a drone base. 

  The two-decades-long SOA Watch campaign has now become a template for our own campaign to expose and de-fang Hancock Air Base on the outskirts of Syracuse. Hancock, like Benning, is an “anti-insurgency” training school. Hancock trains and deploys technicians to maintain and pilot the Pentagon’s MQ9 Reaper drone – a deadly flying robot, wreaking havoc over Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Like soldiers indoctrinated at the SOA, with the weaponized drone these technicians and their chain of command perpetrate terrorism, shattering civilian lives.

Drone resisters attempted again on October 25 to deliver an indictment for war crimes to personnel at Hancock Airbase. 17 people were arrested as they blocked all three gates to the base (see SPC in Action, PNL #819). Photo: Ellen GradyDrone resisters attempted again on October 25 to deliver an indictment for war crimes to personnel at Hancock Airbase. 17 people were arrested as they blocked all three gates to the base (see SPC in Action, PNL #819). Photo: Ellen Grady   Lately many of us who persistently protest the SOA/WHINSEC have also been arrested as we protest outside the gates of Hancock. Here, named for the number of arrested in each protest, is the roster so far: the Hancock 38, the Hancock 33, the Hancock 2, the Hancock 15, the Hancock 10, the Hancock 17. In what we call a “Gandhian Wave,” the last five arrests have occurred in 2012.

Drones Over Latin America
The MQ9 Reaper is the Pentagon’s and the CIA’s lead device for aerial surveillance and assassination “over there.” Now the Reaper – and a slew of its robotic cousins – are coming home to roost in the Western Hemisphere. Driving this trend are US and Israeli drone manufacturers eager to expand their markets.

   For several years US drones have been flying deep into Mexico, and now crisscross the Caribbean. Drones are penetrating South American airspaces. They are used for drug-interdiction, monitoring borders and detecting the desperate and undocumented trying to enter the US. Within the US there’s strong pressure for local police to use the drone for domestic surveillance and crowd control.                   

   So far there seems to be little evidence that the drones now roaming Latin America are weaponized. But some – like the Reaper and Israel’s  Hermes 900 drone – can be adapted to deploy bombs and missiles. Missions drift: the so-called “war on drugs” segues into – and serves as cover for – war on “insurgents,” i.e. perceived enemies of the local oligarchies and clients of the US empire.

   While the US Congress currently regulates drone export, the Israelis sell their drones all over the place. Customers include Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. Reminds me of when back in the eighties Congress cut out military aid to Guatemala’s genocidal regime, the Israelis conveniently (for the Pentagon and for the US corporations operating there) provided such aid. Assisted by Israel – and, in the case of Venezuela, by Iran – several Latin American nations are already developing their own drones.

Since Benning is getting into drone warfare mode and since US and Israeli drones are increasingly taking on dubious roles in Latin America, SOA Watchers and anti-Reaper activists have our homework. We need to grasp the multiple threats that surveillance and weaponized drones pose. A good place to begin is with Medea Benjamin’s Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (2012).

   But being better informed isn’t enough. We can actively resist the Reaper in our midst. Often inspired by the SOA Watch campaign, anti-drone activists are doing civil resistance at military bases  in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Florida, New York – as well as at various drone research and manufacturing sites. [ See report on our recent Drone Country Tour in SPC in Action, PNL #819.]

   Anti-drone activists here say “civil resistance” instead of “civil disobedience” – our actions, sometimes leading to pre-emptive arrests, are meant to enforce both US and international law. These actions attempt to expose and impede the law-breaking at Hancock. The Nuremberg protocols demand citizens do what we can to stop the government’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. For the human face of those crimes, read the Stanford and NYU law school document, Living Under Drones [see Living Under Drones: A Synopsis].

   For over two years upstate New Yorkers have been demonstrating at afternoon shift change twice-monthly outside Hancock’s main gate. Several times we’ve been arrested blocking the main entrance while trying to deliver a citizens’ indictment of base personnel and the chain of command. In November 2011 at our week-long Hancock 38 trial, former US attorney general Ramsey Clark testified to how Hancock’s Reaper violates international law and how the 38’s actions legitimately responded to the Nuremberg mandate. Instead of paying the DeWitt Town court our $375 fines, we diverted those thousands of dollars to an Afghan peace group which, like us, is committed to ending militarism nonviolently. 

    In a scandal comparable to an earlier era’s judicially-tolerated lynching, US judges violate their oaths of office and ignore international law – which Article Six of the US Constitution decrees is the supreme law of the land. Such judicial disregard for the Constitution seems to stem from either careerism or willful ignorance.

Do Drones “Save Lives”?
Propaganda works. Here in the US there’s been immense hype promoting weaponized drones. The mantra is “drones save lives.” The media focus on the drone’s gee-whiz technology and its magical ability to keep taking out the “bad guys” – a shuck since the Pentagon defines a “bad guy” as any male over 16 years of age spotted in one of its self-declared war zones.  

   Drone surveillance in combat zones can give the boots on the ground an edge over their ragtag, low-tech, but tough, adversaries. Further, no human crew is killed when the unmanned drones crash (as they often do) or are shot down or hacked.  So, yes, a few military lives are saved. But weaponized drones kill or maim or displace untold numbers of civilians and non-combatants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and elsewhere.  And terrorize hundreds of thousands – who never know when the drones continually buzzing overhead will strike.

   Drone technology is evolving and proliferating at an alarming pace – at an even faster pace than nuclear weaponry. Not only in Latin America but worldwide dozens of nations are now importing or developing the drone. Who knows when such drones will be used against US bases and US personnel and citizens, whether abroad or within Fortress America. Already here in upstate New York we’ve come to realize that, thanks to the killer robots we host, we too live in a war zone. The drone has not made our lives – or the lives of anyone on this planet – any safer.


Ed is an SPC and SOA Watch anti-militarism activist. He’s been arrested at both the SOA and Hancock several times. Reach him at edkinane@verizon.net. For more about the SOA, see www.soaw.org; for the Hancock campaign, see www.upstatedroneaction.org and www.peacecouncil.net/drones/index.htm.