Victoria Ross

Victoria Ross

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Killer drones and associated surveillance are a crime – immoral, illegal, and foolhardy. They must be banned for the good of all.

When I attended the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, from which I received a MALD in 1985, my study of international law didn’t address drone usage and its extreme dangers and toll on communities. International law still doesn’t address it specifically – and legislation is much needed to Ban Killer Drones.

Drone killings are illegal because assassination is illegal. It is an act of aggression – and acts of aggression are illegal since the Nuremberg trials. Also unless there is clear evidence that the person killed by the drone was about to kill someone else, it is a human rights violation. Justification of the use of force must include imminent threat to life.

The presence of weaponized drones furthermore, terrorizes the community members who are themselves now under imminent threat of death by the drone’s presence – the loaded and aimed weapon looming. We know from our friends and relations in other parts of the world, including especially the Afghan Peace Volunteers (youth) that they suffer mightily under drones, as do the peoples of Yemen, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, and more. This invasion of sovereign air space is another issue.

I was privileged to be one of the Hancock 38 protesting killer drones at the home of the 174th Attack Wing outside Syracuse NY. At that time, drones weren’t part of the national conversation – the Creech 14 and Hancock 38 seemed to have helped draw attention to the issue.

And now drones are commonplace – in military aggression overseas, in police operations, even in amateur photography – in the US and elsewhere. In North Dakota, the state approved the placement of “non-lethal weapons” – such as tasers, tear gas, and rubber bullets – on drones. As we know, these can be lethal as well. Police taser use, for example, has killed 500 people since 2010.

Moreover, operators using them for long hours and with a great deal of misinformation, extreme ease of pushing the button, and lack of cultural understanding, many wrongful deaths occur. In signature strikes (based on little but very circumstantial and truly irrelevant information), many mistakes made (see You Only Die Once, a report by Resist that say people are reported to have been killed up to 7 times, so when someone has been killed it was based on misidentification). Also an average of 9 bystanders are killed because they are near the one person aimed at.

Moreover, as surveillance tools, drones are invasive and powerful – a drone very far away can zoom in very closely. This is another problem exacerbated by drones, as well as other surveillance, e.g., cellphone providers, and other cameras, communications, technology, etc. This increases anxiety, fear, and even distrust in the community.

Lastly, the blowback associated with weaponized drones is clearly dangerous and likely to exacerbate and inflame any existing issues. Drones are relatively inexpensive to make and operate, and people and groups are well able to do so.

Weaponized drones must be banned, and surveillance deeply curtailed. Together we can make it happen! Onward!!

Victoria Ross, QCSW, LMSW, MSW, MALD, DHL, is the Human Rights & Peace Education Chair for the WNY Peace Center; and a Consultant for the Interfaith Peace Network of WNY.

The Interfaith Peace Network of WNY

The Interfaith Peace Network of WNY

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The Interfaith Peace Network of WNY is proud and honored to endorse the vitally important Ban Killer Drones Campaign. Weaponized surveillance drones terrorize whole communities by their very presence, and couldn’t be more antithetical to the Culture of Peace and Justice that the Interfaith Peace Network strives to help establish. The assassinations that take place, and the lies and faulty assumptions used to justify hem and the 9 to 1 “collateral damage” – killing of innocent people, including children, near a presumed target – geometrically increase violence through the “blow-back” or the reactions of family, friends, and communities of the innocent victims. These executions by drone must be stopped, and we must use the Tools of Peace – communication and cooperation – to establish peace in the world. The world must come together to work on the common good for People and the Planet, as our very survival is in jeopardy. Let’s Ban Killer Drones and work for a Culture of Justice and Peace.

Victoria Ross
Consultant, Interfaith Peace Network
Human Rights & Peace Education Chair, WNY Peace Center
Pronouns: She/her/hers


I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director – Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director – Fellowship of Reconciliation

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Since 1915, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has stood as a community of believers from all faiths and traditions in opposition to war and violence in all of its manifestations. FOR-USA was established as a branch of an emerging global movement that would soon become called the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), founded in Cologne, Germany the year before as two men – one English and the other German – shook hands with the promise that even if their countries engaged in belligerence, that they would resist war and dedicate their lives to the pursuit of reconciliation.

Each generation of conflict – anywhere on the globe, but especially here in the United States as we are the world’s largest purveyor of violence  – has implicated its seemingly innocent citizens in the tragedies of death and destruction. Endless and serial war inculcates in the American public writ large both cognitive dissonance and moral injury as our country continues to destroy communities, civil societies, and indigenous cultures at home and abroad. As religious, social, economic and political beings in our own homes and communities, we are complicit as taxpayers, as designers and manufacturers of the instruments of war, and as human fodder for the military and prison industrial complexes.

As people of faith and conscience whose government increasingly engages in mass murder by remote control and extrajudicial killings of fellow global citizens as well as our own, we are challenged to our very core to stop war in all of its aspects and manifestations. This includes drone warfare, which is perhaps the most malignant as it is most surreptitious.  A young person hired fresh out of college can simply launch a drone from Hancock Air Force base in Upstate New York killing dozens, and then nonchalantly walk their dog in a peaceful suburb an hour later.

The United States has a 400-year history of waging war against people of non-European descent, and has no qualms continuing its opportunistic and exploitative reign of terror at home and abroad. Today, this is true more than ever before as people of color are insidiously ensnared into military service as a means to escape poverty, oppression, and the cradle-to-prison pipeline. What is different now is that our fiscal year 2021 Department of Defense budget has peaked at $733 billion, $7.3 billion of which is earmarked for unmanned weapons systems.  In addition, the name, location and religion of the enemy has changed as Americans have been inculcated by an ideology of the U.S. Empire, that equates Muslim with “terrorist” and Islam with “ideology of terrorism”. More often than not, today’s victims of drone warfare and surveillance are Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and other Muslim majority oil and resource rich countries.

For the reasons above, FOR supports an International Treaty to Ban Weaponized Drones and Drone Surveillance.  As members and representatives of faith-based communities, and as people of conscience, we are deeply concerned about the evil and immoral proliferation of weaponized drones. While the lives of US soldiers are not put at risk, we are culpable for the murder of tens of thousands of innocent civilians – and for acutely traumatizing a generation of children who do not want to go outside to play because of the relentless sinister hum of drones flying overhead. Moreover, the death and destruction instill in our victims a natural enmity for the United States, which will likely manifest in future internalized, horizontal, and externalized violence.

At the same time, as is the case with all weapons, lethal drones are bought, traded, and sold – often creating scenarios in which all parties to all sides of all conflicts possess them. This shift in culture away from nonviolence, multilateralism, and alternative means of conflict resolution and community-building must be reversed and undone. Unilateral knee-jerk death and destruction by remote control by state and non-state actors is why FOR endorses a total ban on the development, storage, sale and use of weaponized and surveillance drones.

There are additional aspects of drone warfare that FOR finds particularly disturbing include:

  • Perpetrators of drone attacks are never charged, tried or convicted in a court of law;
  • Drone strikes kill innocent people, including children;
  • Drone strikes violate other nation’s sovereignty;
  • Drones in the hands the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command keeps the program veiled in secrecy;
  • Drones make killing more abstract, impersonal, antiseptic, convenient and “easy”;
  • Our Administration insists that because drones do not risk American lives, Congress need not be consulted, leading to an abuse of executive power;
  • Drone strikes fuel anti-American sentiments, radicalize local populations and perpetuate an endless cycle of violence and the sale of weapons, which bolsters the war economy;
  • The accessibility of drones, and ease at which they can be weaponized or used for surveillance purposes, makes it easier for non-state actors such as paramilitaries, militias, and insurgent groups to acquire and use drones thereby perpetuating old conflicts and creating new ones;
  • Drone warfare is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous universally agreed upon covenants and conventions of international law.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation calls upon people of faith and conscience to discuss, within their communities, the ethical issues posed by the proliferation of drone warfare. We ask them to demand: 1) government transparency and accountability consistent with the values of a democratic society; 2) the banning of weaponized and surveillance drones; and 3) the regulation of drone use so as to promote a just, peaceful, and prosperous global community based on the rule of law, and with full dignity and freedom for every human being. Remembering the two men – one English and the other German – who shook hands in 1915 with the promise that they would resist war and remain friends, we call upon the government and people of the United States to use our moral imagination to envision and create a world without war – a place of Beloved Community.

The Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson is the Executive Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation USA, the US branch of the oldest international interfaith peace and justice organization employing the transformative power of nonviolence to resolve human conflict. She is the executive pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY and President of American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York.

Joy First

Joy First

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Joy First

I have been speaking out against killer drones since 2010 when I learned that they were going to be building an $8 million drone-training facility at Volk Field, a Wisconsin Air National Guard Base near Camp Douglas, WI.  This facility would have all the latest technology to provide training for operators of the RQ-7 Shadow 200 drone, which is not weaponized, but provides reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition for weaponized drones.

There are so many reasons to be against drone warfare.  First, it is immoral, and according to many legal scholars, drone warfare is illegal.  We should not be spending money on more ways to fight wars when people in Wisconsin are going to bed hungry, are homeless, do not have health care, and have so many other unmet needs.  And we certainly do not need to be developing new ways to continue U.S. imperialism and cause more death and destruction around the world.   Drone warfare is not effective because it creates more and more people who want revenge against the United States for loved ones lost to a drone strike.  For me, it is about being a grandmother and looking at what is happening to the children around the world.  As a grandmother, I feel like I want to spread my arms wide around all the children of the world and keep them safe.

A group of Wisconsin activists began holding monthly protests at the gates of Volk Field, and we have kept up with the monthly vigils since 2011, except for this past year during the pandemic.  We hold signs calling for an end to drone warfare and pictures of children who have been killed, as more than a hundred base personnel drive by each time. We have sent several letters to the base commander asking to meet with him to talk about our concerns and have never gotten a response.  Because we don’t get an answer, we decided to escalate, and we have engaged in several actions of nonviolent civil resistance, where we have peacefully walked onto the base to try to talk to the commander and have been arrested.

Because the CIA has also conducted lethal missions using weaponized drones, I have joined Washington, DC area activists to protest against drone warfare at their headquarters.  On June 29, 2013 we planned for an action of nonviolent civil resistance there.  There were about 50 of us at the CIA that day, and after being denied an opportunity to speak to someone with decision-making authority, we decided to proceed with our nonviolent direct action.

A member of the group pointed to the sky and loudly proclaimed that he could see a drone and that it was going to strike.  Everyone started screaming during the mock drone strike.  Six of us, who were risking arrest, walked through an opening in the police line, and lay down on the ground as if we had been hit. 

A friend laid large poster-size pictures of drone victims over our faces as we lay there to remember those who have being killed by the drones.  Many of the pictures were of children.  As I lay there on the ground, I started to cry as I thought about the horrors of what is happening to the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and other places around the world.  Thousands of people have been killed in drone strikes, including many children.  It is estimated that only 2% of the victims are high level targets, and hundreds are innocent children.

After about thirty minutes we got up and we walked towards the approximately 20 CIA police waiting for us.  Carrying our pictures of innocent children who had been killed by U.S. drones, I was overcome with emotion.  I attempted to connect with the stone-faced officers, but it felt like they were shut down and there was no connection between us as human beings.  They did not even look at our pictures.  I thought to myself, please understand that this is why we are here. Please, let yourself feel the pain of looking at these dead children.  We have to stop the killing.  Look at the suffering.  Think about if these were your children.  I started saying, “Look at this.  This is why we are here.  Look at the children.  Look at the children!” over and over, louder and louder.  I felt like I was pleading with them to make a connection.  “Look at the children!”  This is why we have to do this!  We have to stop the killing by our government!   I tried to make eye contact and for one brief moment, a young female officer looked at the picture and then looked at me, but she quickly looked away.  I felt overwhelmed by passion at this point and could not stop repeating the phrase, “Look at the children.”  After a few minutes we were arrested and charged with Trespass.

That is what keeps me going on in this work, wanting to make the world a better place for, not only my own grandchildren, but all the children of the world.  We have to continue this struggle and not give up.  I truly believe that together we can, and we will make a difference and make the world a better place.  Let’s keep working together.

Bruce Gagnon – Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

Bruce Gagnon – Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

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In the early days of the work of the Global Network we learned about drones (then called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Drones were an early signal that the Pentagon and the weapons industry was eagerly moving into autonomous warfare.  Today we often hear about navy drone ships and subs.  It is frightening to contemplate how war would become even more invisible to the American people with the growing use of drones.

Bruce Gagnon, Secretary/Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, was among 31 protesters arrested at Hancock Field drone control base April 28, 2013.

Even the military space plane (X-37) has shown that it is a super-drone and can stay in space, orbiting the planet, for more than a year at a time.  This plane is used for surveillance, targeting, and could itself be used to launch various offensive operations.

So it is with much hope and determination that the Global Network endorses this campaign to ban the funding, development, testing and deployment of drones for surveillance and killing operations.

In 2013 the Global Network helped organize the passage of a drone bill in the Maine state legislature that required police to obtain warrants before they can spy on the public using drones. The bill was ultimately vetoed by the governor.

We pledge our assistance in promoting and working to educate the public about the necessity for a treaty to ban weaponized drones and military and police drone surveillance.

Bruce Gagnon, Secretary/Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, was among 31 protesters arrested at Hancock Field drone control base April 28, 2013.

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin

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In the last 20 years, we have watched the growing human suffering being generated by the atrocity of drone attacks and drone surveillance, a scrouge of assassination, mayhem and lawlessness originating with the U.S. and Israel and now spreading to other nations and non-state actors that recognize the advantages of “killing made easy.”

There is great appeal for a nation’s elites to be able to kill to grab resources and power without risking political blowback from returning body bags, an appeal that seems over-powering. There is a great appeal for militia groups to attack their more powerful adversaries without losing their own lives. This attraction, mixed with the greed of weapons and high-tech manufacturers, is carrying us into a new realm of violence in which artificial intelligence will more and more guide the fatal decision-making of who lives and who dies.

And this is all being done on the backs of the vast numbers of poor people of color in the world’s drone kill zones.  Unnamed, uncounted, unrecognized as humans really, they are data points found by surveillance and killed by remote control.  It is a fate that is spreading and engulfing us all, either as victims or perpetrators. 

In 2012, I had the privilege of organizing a 34-member delegation to visit the Waziristan region in Pakistan, a place of intense drone attack by the Obama-Biden Administration. As I wrote in “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control”:

“Residents I met with said they had a hard time sleeping, that may people suffer from depression and PTSD, and that there is a widespread use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.  They also reported a spate of suicides, something they said never existed before.” 

A year later, a group of us traveled to Yemen, meeting with families whose loved ones were killed by U.S. drones. Communities that had positive feeling towards to the U.S.–oftentimes with relatives living there—turned into our enemies once we murdered their loved ones who posed no threat to the United States. 

Death, maiming, trauma and destruction of community, culture and trust. This is the reality of people in every place around the world who are living under armed drones and military or police drone surveillance.  

They find no comfort, only death and fear, in the much-vaunted, so-called “precision” of drone killings, a notion devised by the illusionists of global elites to placate the squeamish, suspicious of the rising flood of drone war criminality that we are witnessing.

It is well past time to say “no” to this barbarity of modern-day killing by remote control. Please join me in supporting the international grass-roots campaign for a treaty to ban weaponized drones and military and police drone surveillance.  We are humans.

Leah Bolger

Leah Bolger

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I am frequently asked some variation of the question:  “How did you turn from a warrior to a peacenik?”  The answer is that my transition from career U.S. Naval officer to antiwar activist was not the product of an epiphany or personal combat experience, as it is for many members of Veterans For Peace, but rather a gradual understanding of American history.   I am the product of the Missouri public education system, which never taught me the factual history of U.S. imperialism and militarism, and certainly didn’t challenge me to think critically about U.S. foreign policy.  I was taught that WWII was a “good” war, and that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved (American) lives because it brought the war to an end.

When I joined the Navy In 1980, I needed a job.  We were in the midst of the Cold War, so I didn’t have to consider whether or not I could be part of something that was killing people.  Even when the U.S. entered the first Iraq war in 1991, it still seemed like an abstract concept to me.  I wasn’t afraid for my life, and neither were my friends or family.  It never crossed my mind that there was even a possibility that bombs would be dropped on the U.S.; war was something that happened “over there,” and that was reinforced by the  dramatic “shock and awe” pictures we saw on our televisions.

One lesson that the Pentagon learned from the horrendous Viet Nam war, is that public support for war is directly related to the number of American fatalities.  As long as war is out of sight, it is also out of mind.  When drones started being used by George W. Bush in 2001, it seemed they had found the perfect weapon…No risk to Americans, inexpensive, impersonal, and remote with no accountability for civilian deaths.  Leon Panetta called them the “only game in town.”  Their use increased 10 times by the Obama administration, and 10 more times by Trump and will continue to be increasingly used by the Biden administration.

I have never been in favor of any war, but I didn’t actively oppose them until 2005 when I joined Veterans For Peace and formed the Corvallis chapter.  I was the chapter president for a few years until I was elected to the national VFP board, serving first as the vice-president, and in 2012, president (the first woman!) 

But I did have an experience that moved me to become an ardent activist, and that was the American Friends Service Committee’s exhibit “Eyes Wide Open.”  The exhibit consisted of pairs of army boots spaced out as if they were in formation, or as if they were headstones.  Each pair had the name of an American soldier who had been killed in the Iraq war and many also had dog tags, photos, and other personal items.  As the deaths grew, the exhibit got bigger and had to be divided up by states.  I went to see the exhibit when it was in Eugene, Oregon.  Surrounding the formation of boots, were civilian shoes…sandals, dress shoes, children’s shoes, sneakers, etc., which represented the Iraqi victims.  The exhibit had a visceral effect on me.  I was just sobbing and I felt like someone had physically punched me in the gut.  I think the exhibit had such a profound effect on me because the shoes and boots were such an intimate representation of a human.  I left the exhibit with a sense of responsibility to work as hard as I could to end the Iraq war.

Sadly, the lack of intellectual curiosity, or willful ignorance that I used to have is more the norm than the exception.  Americans don’t think about war because they are completely detached from it.  The Pentagon doesn’t use the word “war,” or “combat.”  They say, “Overseas Contingency Operations.”  Congress passes “Authorizations for the Use of Military Force,” they don’t declare war.  Many people don’t even think that the U.S. is at war now—drone strikes aren’t really war, are they? 

In 2012, I was part of a delegation to Pakistan, organized by Code Pink, ( to meet personally with victims of U.S. combat drones.  The delegation was formed shortly after the release of “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan,” a report by Stanford, and New York Universities.  The report brought light to the tragedy of the victims, the vast majority of whom were civilians.  It also revealed other violations of international law, like the use of “double tap” strikes wherein a second missile is launched after first responders have arrived to attend to the wounded.

In September of 2012, a Pew report said that 75% of the Pakistani people thought of the U.S. as an enemy even though the U.S. was not at war with Pakistan.  Our delegation was warned by the State department that it was unsafe to go, and after we arrived, we met with the acting ambassador, who tried to dissuade us from traveling to Waziristan.  Why did the Pakistani people hate the U.S. to the point that it was unsafe for Americans?  Answer:  The extrajudicial assassinations of Pakistani citizens by drone strikes.

Our delegation met with several men whose family members had been killed by drone strikes.  One man, Karim Khan,  lost his brother and son in the same attack, both of whom were teachers.  The next day the U.S. media said that two extremists were killed.  Karim said that it was excruciatingly painful to have two family members killed, but having them labeled as terrorists made it even worse.  The truth is that the U.S. doesn’t know who, or how many people they are killing with drone strikes.  An American vet from Afghanistan told me that the answer to the question “How can you tell if someone is a terrorist?” is “If he’s dead.”

Besides killing people, drones cause incredible damage in many other ways too.

Imagine having up to 6 drones circling overhead 24 hours a day, making an incessant, constant buzzing sound.  The sound the drones make creates a deep-seated psychological fear—a sort of emotional torture.

Most of the Pakistani victims are Pashtuns and are killed in North and South Waziristan, a very undeveloped area with few services.  This has a communal society, whose families of 60 to 70 people live in the same compound.  The women cook together, the families eat and sleep together.  Weddings and funerals are huge gatherings of friends and family—or at least they used to be.  Now, everything has changed.  Children aged 5 to 10 no longer go to school.  Men are afraid to gather in groups of more than 2 or 3.  Weddings, which used to be joyous affairs with music, dancing, and drumming, are now subdued events with only close family members present.  And most sadly, since funerals have been the target of drone attacks, they are now small gatherings as well.

Because of cultural norms, the deaths of women are not reported.  It is considered offensive to discuss the names, or take photographs of women, yet one stalwart journalist, Noor Behram, has risked his life repeatedly to try to document the deaths of women and especially children.  He believed that as of October 2012, 670 women have been killed by drone strikes, and has taken photos of more than 100 children.  Their bodies are often unrecognizable as human after the strikes.  He showed us one photo of a man holding torn pieces of a woman’s dress that he found in the trees, in an attempt to document his wife’s death.

The Waziris are now raising a generation of children with psychological and emotional scars without an education.  The use of Xanax is startling high, and suicide, which is a societal and religious taboo, is shocking.  As of October 2012, seventeen Waziris have killed themselves due to the emotional terror of the U.S. drone program.  This is something that is unheard of in this culture.  Families are becoming displaced and moving to more urban areas in an attempt to avoid popular “strike areas.”  The Pakistani Army has moved in and won’t allow them to cross into Afghanistan to visit their relatives there, though the entire region is Pashtun, and part of their cultural and historical heritage.

I was profoundly affected by my time in Pakistan, and I think that is because I was able to talk directly with victims.  Karim Khan told me the names of his son and brother and showed me their school identification cards.  I could hear anguish in his voice when he said that he believed that the U.S. didn’t think of his people as human beings.  I don’t think anyone could hear that and not be moved.

When I came home, I wanted to do something to educate the public about the truth of drone warfare, and I wanted to find a way to memorialize and recognize the human beings behind the death count.  As I noted before, the U.S. doesn’t know exactly who it is killing—they are considered either militants or collateral damage, but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism ( has been keeping track as part of their “Naming the Dead” project.

Reminiscent of the “AIDS quilts,” I decided to use quilt blocks to honor and recognize the victims.  I used the list of names from the Naming the Dead project and asked individuals to make one quilt block, each with the name of a victim and to add their name as well as another connection of humanity.  After the blocks were finished, they were mailed to me and I turned them into quilts.  At the beginning I sent the idea out to other members of the Pakistan delegation, and to activist groups like Veterans For Peace and Code Pink.  It wasn’t long before I started receiving individual blocks in the mail and began making quilts of 36 blocks each.  Just like the “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit, I intended for the quilts to become part of a traveling exhibit, and created several informational panels to be displayed along with the quilts, and also created some fact sheets, resources, and ideas to take action handouts that viewers could take with them.  Eventually 13 quilts were made, so the project was able to be displayed in more than one location at the same time.  I always urged hosts to have some sort of presentation or event in conjunction with the exhibit.

The first time the Drones Quilt Project was on exhibit, was the 2013 Veterans For Peace convention in Madison, Wisconsin, and it has been at every VFP convention since then until 2020 which was a virtual conference.  The project has been shown in dozens of locations across the U.S. and Germany, and have been used in protests, as backgrounds for musical performances, displayed in galleries, libraries, state courthouses, peace centers, churches, and even a bank.  They have been hung from stands, taped to walls and strung on clotheslines.

As Americans, it is very easy to live our lives without ever thinking about war, or its victims.  The Drones Quilt Project has been a great educating tool, but more than that, it seems to really touch people in the way that I hoped it would–as a reminder of our humanity.

Debra Sweet

Debra Sweet

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When the George W. Bush, then Commander in Chief of the year-old U.S. “war on terror,” authorized a Predator drone strike on a car in Yemen in November 2002, the act was shocking and the details hazy for years.  The CIA, which ran the operation, the first known targeted killing by Hellfire missile from an armed drone, says the six men killed were “suspected” al-Qaeda members.  

This attack demonstrated the illegitimacy, injustice and immorality of the U.S. program of weaponized drones and targeted killing.  As with “enhanced interrogation,” another aspect of the U.S. war of terror, the program is largely secret, with just enough information released to terrorize the globe the U.S. seeks to control.

In 2013, Obama finally acknowledged the U.S. military targeted killing program and said he would explain how people are chosen to be killed.  But it took an ACLU lawsuit to get the material made public.  As if it’s all a game, the Obama administration referred to the guidelines as a “playbook,” which include targeting men over a certain age as “combatants” and twisting international law to justify killing civilians, under the rubric of America being “the good guys” whose lives are more important than others’.

Three U.S. administrations have escalated the use of drones for targeted assassination. The Biden government will continue to use them as essential to the biggest military in the world and its mission of maintaining global control.  Norman Pollack, author of Capitalism, Hegemony and Violence in the Age of Drones, literally the textbook on drones, wrote, “I view the drone, although a small part of the American arsenal, for its geopolitical significance and symbolic value: a miniaturization of the nation’s foreign policy framework, flexible, intimidating, lethal, having strategic-psychological import in fulfilling US aspirations in the global economy and political order.”

The imperialist countries that deploy weaponized drones should be trusted as much as they are with massive stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, which is to say not at all.  These weapons pose an existential threat to humanity and the planet, and along with the death penalty, they must be abolished.

There must be a global ban on weaponized drones and drone surveillance.

Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany

Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany

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“Why We Persist” describes the grassroots campaign to ground the MQ9 Reaper drone operation at Hancock AFB, home of the New York National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing.

Ed Kinane and his partner Ann Tiffany were among the founders of the Upstate Drone Action Coalition (a.k.a. Ground the Drones and End the Wars) back in 2010. They and the Coalition strongly endorse an International Treaty to Ban Weaponized Drones and Drone Surveillance.

“Why We Persist” was first published on Truthout in 2019. It provides a quick history of the Hancock civil resistance campaign whose dogged tenacity might serve as a model for ongoing actions at other U.S. weaponized drone bases wherever they appear.

With three as yet unscheduled trials pending, on April 22 Upstate Drone Action will return to Hancock with its Earth Day-themed tableau blocking the main gate. For the campaign’s documents and colorful video footage and to learn more, check out or contact Ed and Ann at .

Why We Persist: Activists Have Protested US Drone Base for Over a Decade

“All human beings possess the basic right under international law to engage in non-violent civil resistance activities for the purpose of preventing, impeding, or terminating the ongoing commission of [international crime].”- International law expert Francis Boyle

Nonviolent civil resistance against international crime is about effectiveness and persistence. Or as Dorothy Day might say, faithfulness. We sow seeds — awakening the cogs in the machine of imperial crime and informing those who, with their federal taxes, help finance that crime.

But it’s about us — getting off our duffs and out of our comfort zones. Here in Syracuse, New York, we call it “street heat” — baby steps toward resistance, dipping our toes into the waters of risk and sacrifice. The “streets,” where Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky keep telling us that, if things on this planet are going to turn around, that’s where it has to happen.

In the fall of 2003 in a series of front-page stories, the Syracuse Post-Standard announced with satisfaction that our local Hancock Field Air National Guard Base was becoming the hub for the wondrous weaponized MQ9 Reaper drone. For several days over that Thanksgiving weekend, several of us protested and fasted in downtown Syracuse.

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft flies by during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base on November 17, 2015, in Indian Springs, Nevada. ISAAC BREKKEN / GETTY IMAGES

Since then, for the past decade, immediately outside Hancock, with over 170 more protests, activists from what soon became the Upstate Drone Action Coalition have sought to expose the ensuing Reaper drone terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Allies from the Syracuse Peace Council, Veterans For Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Catholic Worker have provided the campaign’s life blood.

The Campaign

For 45 minutes every first and third Tuesday of the month, a handful of us locals demonstrate across from Hancock’s main gate. Yes, these are brief demos, but some of us are differently abled and some are “octos” — activists over 80 years old. We face the vehicles going in and out of the base at afternoon shift change. This is also rush hour along East Molloy Road. Our signs and banners urge, “STOP THE KILLING” and “ABOLISH WEAPONIZED DRONES” and “DRONES FLY, CHILDREN DIE.”

A second, more dramatic element of the campaign is our episodic (roughly twice a year) “tableaux” and street theater blocking the driveway into that main gate. Both approaches — the first with little risk of arrest and the second with inevitable arrests — seek to poke the conscience of the 174th New York Air National Guard’s Attack Wing operating out of Hancock.

Here at our very doorstep, 174th personnel pilot remotely controlled Reaper robots laden with bombs and “precision” Hellfire missiles. Via rapid satellite relay, from within the riskless anonymity of Hancock’s fortified base, those warriors and their chain of command spew death and destruction.

Maybe our repeated poking will afflict their consciences. To the extent that they have eyes to see, the pilots get to witness firsthand on-screen the carnage they perpetrate — scattered and smoldering body parts. Such exposure just may induce “moral injury,” the psychic wound caused by betraying one’s core values. We hope that despite being offered hefty bonuses, these technicians will refuse to re-enlist. The fewer enlistments, the less death.

Their targets and their civilian victims are mostly uncounted, undefended, unidentified Muslims inhabiting oil-rich lands. Here is Islamophobia with a vengeance. Multitudes are terrorized. If they survive, many become internal or external refugees. And why wouldn’t some also become the imperium’s die-hard foes? As the Pentagon surely counts on, the inevitable blowback generates further mayhem. Such mutually reinforcing (but extremely asymmetrical) mayhems reliably produce the high-tech contracts Lockheed Martin and its ilk thrive on.

Their targets and their civilian victims are mostly uncounted, undefended, unidentified Muslims inhabiting oil-rich lands.

It’s usually mid-morning when two of our Upstate Drone Action members and a videographer approach Hancock’s main gate, unannounced, to hand-deliver a letter through the barbed wire fence to the armed gate-keepers. Addressed to the 174th Attack Wing, the letter urges personnel to uphold their oath to protect the U.S. Constitution. We cite Article Six of that Constitution, which mandates that international treaties and international law are the “Supreme Law of the Land.” Such law, including the legally binding UN Charter, supersedes federal, state and local law. It stipulates that such military aggression amounts to a war crime.

Simultaneously, down the base driveway, our flash mob sets up banners and dramatic propsThese, along with our bodies — vertical or horizontal, sometimes clad in hijab or draped in bloody shrouds — block any incoming traffic.

Within minutes, soldiers pop out from behind cement barriers to divert incoming vehicles to Hancock’s other entrances. An officer marches out to inform us — with profound understatement — that we aren’t wanted on base property. Working hand in glove with the military, the town, county and state constabularies arrive, red lights flashing. These, helpfully, draw the public’s gaze to our event. The cops schmooze with the soldiers, taking an hour or two to assemble their forces. Then, having dutifully warned us for the third time to leave, they handcuff us while soldiers confiscate our props. Our supporters across the road chant and sing. Surveillance cameras and police and military videographers record the scene.

At our tableaux and die-ins, up to 38 of us at a time have been arrested. We are driven to cells in area police stations. Despite these many forays onto federal property, military police never arrest us and we’re never charged with federal crimes. Invariably we keep getting two contradictory state charges: trespass (private property) and disorderly conduct (for public places). Both charges are “violations,” a minor matter. Violations for others generally lead to quick release with an appearance ticket. But we get special handling: strip searches along with the protracted tedium of being booked. After some hours, we are arraigned. In the late evening, we may be released with dates for the DeWitt Town night court. Often there’s bail, not because we are flight risks (we relish our days in court) but as a kind of pre-trial chastisement. Some of us refuse to post bail.

Sometimes, arbitrarily, misdemeanor charges are piled on: obstruction of government administration (OGA) or contempt of court for allegedly defying Orders of Protection (OOP) forbidding us to return to the base. Those stay-away orders “protect” the base commander who has alleged that we physically threaten him. This fiction parallels the perennial propaganda trope that migrants from afar – in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Afghanistan — threaten the U.S. The local judges impose OOPs on dozens of us. Bizarrely re-purposed, OOP wording is derived from child or spouse abuse boilerplate. 

Such OOPs have been enforced unevenly. Several years ago, Mary Anne Grady Flores, a grandmother from Ithaca, New York, got a yearlong sentence for allegedly violating her OOP. Her sole crime: photographing protesters (who subsequently were all acquitted) from Molloy Road’s shoulder. After a few months in Jamesville Penitentiary, Mary Anne won release pending appeal. If eventually her appeal fails, she’ll be re-incarcerated.

We’ve long lost track of the numbers, but well over 100 of our cases have been tried before either of the two elected part-time DeWitt Town justices, Robert Jokl Jr. or David Gideon. Those are mostly bench trials, in which a judge determines verdict and sentence; or, if involving misdemeanors, a six-person jury renders the verdict. In this court, not shy about doling out maximum sentences, juries are forbidden to hear what the max can be.

On the brink of a trial, the prosecutor may suddenly drop the misdemeanor charge, cleverly disrupting our defense prep. Jury trials in DeWitt are only occasional, since these burden the court calendar and the town budget, while providing us the opportunity to testify about drone atrocity. In an arrest-happy time and place, law enforcement and the court prop up the ambient militarism, particularly where a community embraces its military base as a “job-provider.” Conveniently for stoking public buy-in, multitudes of redundant military installations are spread widely over congressional districts across the land.

Central New York is one of the nation’s major drone technology incubators, housing a branch of Lockheed Martin and SRC Inc., a defense research company. This gravy train seems to mesmerize local mainstream media, the Chamber of Commerce, nearby citadels of higher learning, and those of all political stripes dependent on government jobs and grants: co-optation broad and deep. Even liberal activists compartmentalized in their domestic issues shrink from acknowledging Hancock’s war crimes.

When we point out to police that war crimes occur just yards from where we’re being arrested, we hear, “It’s not our jurisdiction.” The court dismisses out of hand our International Law and Necessity defenses. Nor, of course, does it acknowledge that Hancock, in violation of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, occupies Haudenosaunee Indigenous land. Note the historical continuity: most Reaper victims are themselves tribal or Indigenous people of color inhabiting formerly colonized but now nominally sovereign lands such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. All areas, it happens, the U.S. has yet to even officially declare war upon. Those Hellfire missiles — talk about trespass!

The disorderly conduct charge is bogus; as the base’s surveillance cameras attest, we treat everyone with respect and don’t resist arrest. (Before each demonstration, every participant signs a pledge of nonviolence.) Nor do our blockades discommode the publicThe OGA charge is likewise bogus: trial witnesses, citing “security,” refuse to reveal details of Hancock’s illegal and clandestine operations, which we call out and allegedly disrupt.

At trial, we defend ourselves pro se or with pro bono attorneysOur lead attorney travels well over 300 miles from Long Island at his own expense. On the witness stand, we speak to what drone strikes do to human flesh, psyches and souls, and thus why we risk prison opposing brutality. We note that we don’t do civil disobedience — we do civil resistance. We don’t disobey law; we seek to enforce law — both U.S. and international. We observe the Nuremberg injunction that those aware of war crimes must try to expose and impede them — or else we would be complicit ourselves.

For the DeWitt court, international law is an alien concept. In many of this rogue nation’s law schools, international law apparently isn’t taught. U.S. superpower exceptionalism prevails. The Constitution’s First Amendment — which validates our right to petition the government for redress of grievances — is also alien.

In the early days, seeking to deter continued civil resistance, we were each customarily fined the maximum amount of $375, and some of us were also sentenced to 15 days in jail. In a further attempt to deter, the DeWitt judges — in apparent cahoots with the base — eventually conjured up those aforementioned Orders of Protection. Fortunately, suburban juries can’t always be counted on to find scrupulously nonviolent defendants guilty. Sometimes they find us not guilty on one or more counts, or the court feels compelled to dismiss a lackadaisically prosecuted charge.

Nowadays, the DeWitt court seems to be kicking the judicial can down the road. As I write in December 2019, our July 2018, June 2019 and September 2019 arrests have yet to be assigned trial dates. In DeWitt, New York, the notion that “justice delayed is justice denied” is quaint. This past summer, one judge, without explanation or apology, simply didn’t show up for a motions hearing or to set a trial date. More recently, one evening’s judge told us, after we’d all traveled to a mandated court hearing, that our case wasn’t on that evening’s docket. Can it be that the validity of our cause is now dawning on the judges, making it hard to know what to do with us?

Reaper terror, first under Bush, increasingly under Obama, then far more under Trump, keeps escalating. We may never know if our efforts somehow slow the pace. But we do know that here in our backyard, if we don’t stand up and speak out against war crimes, it’s unlikely anyone else will. And we know that if no one speaks out, the Pentagon will keep operating as if it has a popular mandate to keep up the killing.

So we persist.

For video footage of Hancock actions, see For updates on our arrests and trials, see To glimpse the horror of weaponized drones, see the Stanford and NYU Law Schools’ joint 2012 report, “Living Under Drones.”

Ed Kinane is a cofounder of the Upstate Drone Action Coalition. With Voices in the Wilderness in Baghdad in 2003, Kinane survived “Shock and Awe.” He has been jailed numerous times for civil resistance at Hancock and elsewhere. Reach him at 

Chris Cole

Chris Cole

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Over the past decade armed British Reaper drones, remotely controlled by RAF pilots at RAF Waddington or Creech Air Force Base, have launched hundreds of air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and have supported and enabled hundreds more US strikes. The UK has moved from acquiring a handful of these systems for temporary use in Afghanistan to insisting they are a now an essential military capability with plans to field a fleet of 26 while investing hundreds of millions of pounds in developing much more lethal and autonomous drones.

And, of course, it is not just the UK. Over the past few years, we have seen the number of States using these armed drones rise from the initial three – US, Israel and the UK – to more than two dozen, with clear signs that many more countries will acquire them over the next few years. In short, the use of armed drones is fast becoming normalized and that’s why it’s vital that we work to ban them now.

In response to concerns about the public’s aversion to military casualties (often dubbed ‘war weariness’), as well as military fears about the impact of multiculturalism, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) set out in an internal 2012 study a plan for moving away from ‘boots on the ground’ operations towards the increasing use of drones, special forces and proxy armies as a means to dispel domestic opposition to military intervention overseas. After Iraq and Afghanistan, it was argued, to gain domestic support for military interventions they must be seen as being as risk-free as possible.

Linked to this idea of ‘risk-free war’ is a concerted effort to persuade the public that modern war is much less devastating that it was in the past – humane even. Weapons today are so precise, we are told, they virtually eliminate civilian casualties. The Rules of Engagement are so tight, it is insisted, weapons are only ever launched if there is an expectation of zero civilian casualties.  

Behind the veneer, the reality is that this new way of waging war is even more dangerous to civilians and to global peace and security. Despite claims of pinpoint accurate strikes, NGOs and casualty recorders continue to detail large numbers of civilian casualties from air war. These arise particularly in urban areas which would not perhaps previously have seen large-scale bombing but are now targeted as we have drones and precision weapons.

But perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the rise of remote drone warfare is the two-fold way that it is ushering in a state of permanent war. Firstly, with no (or very few) troops deployed on the ground, when drone operators can engage in warfare from their local base and commute home at the end of the day, there is little public pressure to bring interventions to an end.

We are perhaps seeing this reflected in the UK campaign to support Iraqi forces fighting ISIS. Both Iraq and Syria declared military victory over ISIS almost 2 years ago following the fall of Raqqa. The US and the UK, however, are continuing to launch strikes.

Secondly, the way that drones are lowering the threshold for the use of force and in the way that certain states are attempting to change international law norms in relation to pre-emptive strikes means that military intervention has become more likely, moving away from being the option of last resort. The US (and UK) use of armed drones to launch so-called targeted killings outside the context of an armed conflict has opened Pandora’s Box. Seemingly, slowly but surely, decades old international legal rules limiting military intervention are being eroded. This simply makes the world a much more dangerous place.

And finally, drones enable more secret and unaccountable warfare. The UK is now using its armed drones on operations that it will not publicly discuss or provide details in order for parliament to conduct its democratic oversight role. Without proper oversight and accountability, secret deployments such as this potentially draw us down the rabbit hole of unaccountable military action which could quickly spiral out of control.

Some argue that more than a decade-and-a-half after their introduction there is little now that can be done to prevent the growing use of armed drones. In contrast, we believe that as these systems spread, we have to redouble our efforts to prevent their harm to global peace and security.

Chris Cole is director of Drone Wars UK

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