Drones: SPC's Letters to Base Commander

Unmanned reaper drone aircraft, which have been piloted from Syracuse's NY Air National Guard Base since fall, 2010, are flying missions in Afghanistan. In response, SPC organized a regional anti-drones demonstration last November. At its conclusion, we delivered a letter to the base expressing our opposition to the drones. The base commander never responded to us directly, but was later quoted in the Post Standard about his concerns about protests. In March we sent a follow up letter by certified mail.

Both letters are reprinted here in the hope that they will stimulate you to add your voice. Please write to:

Col. Kevin W. Bradley, 174th Flight Wing Commander
An enlarged version of the letter to Col. Bradley, signed by scores of people, was delivered to the base on November 15. Photo: Kimberley McCoy

New York Air National Guard Base
Hancock International Airport
Syracuse, New York

November 15, 2009

Dear Col. Bradley

As concerned New Yorkers we converge today at the entrance of the NY Air National Guard base on the outskirts of Syracuse. We are protesting the presence of unmanned Reaper drone aircraft here - and in our midst.

As someone who no doubt has spent his career believing he is dutifully serving the security and best interests of the United States, you may not understand why we assemble at your doorstep. Let us explain.

Based on reports in the Syracuse Post-Standard over the past year, we understand that this Air National Guard base will be training Reaper "pilots." We further understand that in time these pilots, sitting here before computer screens, will control Reaper drones in the skies over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. From those skies the Reaper, using Hellfire missiles, will assassinate those whom informers claim are resisting the US invasion and occupation of the region.

For reasons of both security and morality, the Syracuse Peace Council opposes such invasion and occupation. We also oppose such rogue assassination - i.e. execution with no judicial due process. Further, we oppose the piloting of the Reaper from a base in our "backyard" (see "Drones and Dishonor in Central New York," October '09 Peace Newsletter.

The Reaper assassinations and bombings - with their high rate of civilian "collateral damage" - generate enormous resentment in the highly volatile Afghanistan/Pakistan region, a region hosting nuclear weapons facilities. We believe that that resentment - in both the short and long run - will outweigh any tactical advantage derived from assassinating presumed Taliban or Al Qaeda militants. Indeed, it's a resentment that spikes recruitment and may spawn decades of retaliation.

Like you, we do not wish US military pilots to face needless risk. But their protection lies not in using mindless, amoral new technologies to do their deadly work. Their safety lies in ending the US war on this region.

Neither do we want Central New York to face needless risk - the risk of retaliation. We do not want Central New York to become part of the global battlefield. We do not want Central New York tainted with complicity in murder - indeed in some cases, mass murder.

Thanks to the Reaper assassination campaign hundreds of civilians have been killed. How is such killing to be distinguished from the terrorism the US claims to be fighting? After all, doesn't our own State Department define "terrorism" as the killing of civilians for political purposes?

We believe that problems between nations and other political entities must be solved peaceably. Respectfully enlisting the support of other powers interested in regional stability, our peace-seeking must be marked by due process, negotiation diplomacy and cooperation. Violence only spawns more violence.

Col. Bradley, we come to your doorstep to urge you to reflect on your own role - and that of those both above and below you in the chain of command - in facilitating Reaper drone violence.

We ask that you examine your conscience. We ask that you not - drone-like - obey orders regardless of the havoc they wreak. Further, we ask you not to play an avenging God with the innocent lives of others.

We ask that you do something remarkably courageous: that you do your utmost to influence your "superiors" to remove the Reaper from our midst, from the US arsenal entirely, and to stop using the Reaper to kill more of our fellow human beings.


March 15, 2010

Dear Col. Bradley:

On November 15, the Syracuse Peace Council delivered a letter for you at the main gate of Hancock Air Base. That letter was signed by many of the scores of civilians from across New York State who peaceably assembled there that afternoon to protest the hunter/killer Reaper drone in our midst.
Ellen Grady joins scores of others who signed the enlarged version of the letter to Col. Bradley, which was delivered to the base on November 15, 2009. Photo: Kimberley McCoy

Our hope that day was that you might meet with us personally. Instead of our being able to give you our letter personally, a uniformed security officer outside the main gate took it. We do not know whether she relayed our letter to you. But "just in case," we then also sent you a copy via US mail.

Colonel Bradley, we have yet to receive your reply. Your apparent unwillingness to communicate suggests that the opinions and security of civilians - whether "over there" or here - may not be of much interest to you. In light of the exceedingly high rate of civilian drone victims in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this concerns us. We find ourselves wondering if you have lost touch with what - in our view - is the military's overarching responsibility and justification: to defend.

We find ourselves wondering if you see yourself as part of the community that surrounds Hancock and that provides Hancock with many of its personnel...and that may one day be subject to reprisal. Our concern has been compounded by remarks and actions attributed to you in a December 18, 2009, page 1 lead story by Syracuse Post-Standard staff writer, Dave Tobin.

Tobin refers to "what the unit commander says are worries of threats and harassment of Syracuse-area members of the 174th and their families here" (italics added). Tobin then quotes you as saying, "With the increase in the amount of protests at the front gate as well as around the country, the spike in violence against people in uniform, that's cause for concern."

Your language, sir, leads us to wonder if you are familiar with the First Amendment of the US Constitution. That document which presumably you took an oath to defend explicitly sets forth "…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances."

We further wonder if you have any familiarity with peace and justice activists in general and with the Syracuse Peace Council in particular. SPC has been a voice for peace and social justice since 1936. As far as we know the Peace Council is the oldest, independent local grassroots peace and justice organization in the United States. It is - and always has been - committed to nonviolence. Our Statement of Purpose can be found at www.peacecouncil.net.

Let us be very clear: the Peace Council in its 75 years in our community - and its allied group, Peace Action of Central New York - have an unblemished record for nonviolence. Our peace community is no threat to you or to your personnel. We "educate, agitate and organize" - we do not harass. Your own domestic security sources can confirm this for you.

Given what may be misconceptions - on both sides - between us, we encourage you to get to know us better. One way to begin doing that would be to respond to our correspondence and to share some of your perspectives. We offer you the opportunity to help us better understand how things look from where you stand. We believe this could be illuminating to everyone concerned.