I remember well where I was on October 1, 201. I was handcuffed tighter than I had ever been, wiggling my fingers to keep my hands from going numb. I had been stuffed prostrate between the front and rear seat of an Onondaga Sheriff’s Department car in Syracuse, NY.
DeWitt Town Court Judge Robert Jokl had just sent me on my way to the nearby Jamesville Correctional Facility to begin a three-month sentence for my participation in a die-in at the main gate of the NY Air National Guard 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field killer drone base. https://binghamtonbridge.org/jack-gilroy-to-be-sentenced/
Lying on the floor, squeezed between the seats, I asked the two deputies to give me room to sit. The deputy in the passenger seat called out: “You’ll be at the jail in just 15 minutes or so, live with it.”
I lived with it, serving 60 days of my 90-day sentence, with time reduced for “good behavior”.
But I’m still mad as hell that my U.S. government continues to assassinate “suspected terrorists”.
It’s time to promote a treaty to ban weaponized and surveillance drones world-wide.
In April of 2009, 14 peace and justice activists entered Creech Air Force base in Indian Springs, Nevada. They wanted to engage in dialogue with Air Force operatives who used weaponized Predator and Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was an attempt to awaken Americans to our new method of war killing—targeting suspects identified as terrorists. All the justice activists were arrested, and some media attention did result.
Two years later, 37 protesters to Predator and Reaper weaponized drones, including friends of mine, were arrested at the Hancock Field drone base, at the eastern side of the commercial Hancock Airport, over the Syracuse city limits in the small town of DeWitt.
I had written plays about war protesters (from WWI & WWII), but now war was being waged in my own back yard and few seemed to know about it. The resisters at Hancock were, of course, trying to educate the public. Sadly, even when some Americans did learn of assassinations operating out of United States drone bases, the acts of drone terror seemed of little importance to them. After all, the terrorists were in foreign lands and we needed to “take them out” and—-not to worry about Hellfire missiles and bombs since they were in the Middle East, not in Syracuse. Hancock’s 174th Attack Wing just did the electronic firing of weapons hovering over suspects thousands of miles away, seen of course by Attack Wing pilots with high tech drone cameras via satellite.
I researched Predator and Reaper drones, spoke to folks who had been arrested for trespass at Hancock (and was arrested a couple of times myself).
At the time, I was chair of the St. James Peace and Justice Committee, as a member of a Catholic parish about 75 miles south of the drone base and the nearby the offices of the Syracuse Catholic Diocese and Bishop Robert Cunningham. I had tried for over two years of letters and phone calls to speak to Bishop Cunningham. My intent was to ask him his views on being so close to an institution that orchestrates assassinations, the 174th Attack Wing of the New York National Guard, just up the road a bit from his residence.
Eventually, Bishop Cunningham ran out of reasons for not meeting. His main reason for refusal was that he didn’t know anything about the base, and I believe it may oddly be true. So reams of information on Hancock’s 174th Attack Wing and their mission were sent to him. When we met, he was very gracious. Our team for the meeting was comprised of peace and justice activists Ed Kinane, Jim Clune, Dick Keough, Paul Welch, Rose Giammichele and myself.
I asked Bishop Cunningham what he thought of the morality of the Hancock weaponized drone base? Bishop Cunningham said: “It’s one way to keep our boys’ boots off foreign soil. We don’t need to be sending our young men off to war”. Then, a bit later, he noted: “You do know that a lot of Catholics work at Hancock, don’t you?”
We had assumed that to be so since we knew Bishop Cunningham had assigned one of his priests to administer to drone pilots and others experiencing deep concerns about what they were doing.
Realizing that the Bishop’s office was a dead end, I began to form a play in my mind of a young woman whose mother was a drone pilot at Creech. I decided to go with the title, The Predator, for obvious reasons.
In November 2013, the first staging of The Predator was done at Georgetown University with students from Syracuse University and the University of Scranton as actors. The event was the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In. Thankfully, I had a professional to assist, Aetna Thompson, a former member and singer with the satirical group in Washington called “The Capitol Steps”.
I had a terrific prop set up on campus, a facsimile of a Reaper drone designed and made by Nick Mottern, of Hastings on the Hudson, NY and coordinator of https://www.knowdrones.com/ Nick drove the disassembled mock drone from his home to Rt 81 in Scranton, Pa. where he showed me how to assemble it and then covered the mock Hellfire missiles with blankets—“just in case a State Trooper wonders about these rockets,” said Nick. The Reaper was my traveling mate in my old Volvo, the fuselage resting on my dashboard and the tail bumping my rear window.
I drove south for our first gig at Georgetown University and then on to Ft. Benning, GA, where I stationed the Reaper mock-up at the entrance way to Columbus, GA convention center with a large sign tacked onto it announcing, “THE PREDATOR”.
I had just one day to scramble to find readers of The Predator. Luck won out. Retired U.S. diplomat and U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright said that she would love to take a role. Col. Wright had fun playing the role of Major Golden, the mother of a college sophomore who refused to follow in her mother’s military footsteps. And it was so good having Ann field hardball questions with her humor and intelligence.
The play is still available to download (and tweak to bring it up to date) for any group to use. Download it at https://upstatedroneaction.org/documents/Resources/PREDATOR-GILROY.pdf
Did the reflection, the thinking of the outlandish immorality and cowardly killing of people with high tech American terrorism lead me to write the play? Quite likely, it was a factor.
My sense of justice had led me to jail and federal prison for other nonviolent action in resistance to United States militarism. Yet, learning about our new form of warfare, assassination by drones, only added to my belief that there is no just war.
If I did believe in the Just War Theory, which I did not (taught to me in a Jesuit University—and which I rejected totally as a veteran) I would rank drone killings with sniper killings. As a young infantryman none of my friends nor I wanted to train to be a sniper–the cowardly infantry role.
The more I thought of drone pilots and crew studying unknowing people on camera and getting the approval to kill them–and quite likely anyone nearby—I decided I had to do more than speak and write about the immoral, illegal, unethical acts performed in our name as Americans. I had to nonviolently use my body to oppose murderous acts of my country. This led to my Hancock arrest in April 2013 and aforementioned imprisonment in 2014.
Drones are part of our 21st century culture. Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs. UAVs have much that are praiseworthy. UAVs are useful for weather forecasting, agricultural studies, mapping, sports and recreation. They are here to stay.
Weaponized drones have nothing that is praiseworthy. Weaponized drones are unmanned weapons carriers used to assassinate people in foreign (for now) lands. The use of weaponized drones is immoral, illegal, racist, (used mainly to kill people of color) and pragmatically stupid. No other nation does what the United States does frequently—assassinate with weaponized drones in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya. The United States is still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and killer drones have become our deadly calling card.
As a nation that claims great moral principles such as freedom, justice, equality—few acts contradict this assumption more than killing people who have not been arrested, have not been charged, have not had legal representation, have not been on trial. Yet the U.S. government kills them outside of any judicial proceedings—killings known as “extra-judicial” and condemned by leading United States constitutional and international lawyers.
Bill Quigley, a Loyola University professor of constitutional law has defended protestors arrested for nonviolent actions. At the same time, his is raising awareness of our immoral and illegal acts of killing suspected “terrorists” by weaponized drones — the dead and wounded almost always including innocent civilians.
American drone pilots and crew are known to even fire at those who come to aid the wounded. The jargon for killing good Samaritans and emergency workers in some far off land is ”double tap”. The jargon for those they kill is “bug splat”.
In 2013, The Intercept obtained secret documents testifying to the fact that thousands of people have been killed—90 % of them civilians. The Intercept, knowing no U.S. government official ever admitted to this truth, released the documents to the public. The nervous criminal element in the U.S. government immediately went to work to indict the truth teller who leaked the truth to the investigative journal. The alleged whistle blower, Daniel Evette Hale, was indicated on May 9, 2020 for releasing the documents to The Intercept. His trial is set for March of 2021 and he faces 50 years in prison.
Meanwhile, no United States government worker involved or directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people has been indicted.
It’s time for the United States Department of Justice to end the shell game covering United States criminal acts. It’s time to expose the criminality of our drone policy and end it all—-no mothballing Predators and Reapers nor Hellfire Missiles nor BGU -12 bombs. These weapons of death need to be recycled into items that assist people to live. We have the skills, the will and people of compassion to do that.
An update (2020) by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that they have tracked over 14,000 drone strikes and up to 16,000 people killed by U.S. drones. Most drone victims remain nameless even to congressional oversight committees studying weaponized drones.
Emranin Feroz, writing for Foreign Policy magazine, December 17, 2020, tells of meeting a tall Afghan man, Aluzi, who reminded him of the actor Sean Connery. Aluzi told of how his brother, Kameen, on his way to town (Kabul) to get watermelons to sell, was killed by a U.S. drone.
“Nothing was left of him. Even most of his bones were gone,” recalled Aluzi. Aluzi introduced the author, Feroz, to village children who told how they could recognize the sound of helicopters and fighter jets and would not come outside if drones were whirling overhead. “We are all traumatized” he said.
Take a few seconds, as I have, to imagine that you are a farmer in Afghanistan and you’ve been hearing the sound of UAVs overhead all day and all night long. You are a man with a wife and four children. It’s September, time in Afghanistan to harvest pine nuts. You join a group of men hired to pick the nuts that are many miles away in Nagsganhar. The long drive standing in the back of a pickup truck is not a problem for you since the pay is good and you’ll be back home in a few weeks with money for survival in the coming long winter.
The first week is cloudy and rainy but not a problem. The workers are all family men and happy to be working and telling family stories. You talk each night around the fire and speak of the overhead sound of drones. All of you know it’s an American killer drone. You joke about why you simple farmers would be a target. One of the men says cloudy days are best since drone cameras can’t see people on the ground.
A young worker tells you of a poem by a Pakistani child, Zur and his sister, Nabella, who were victims of a drone attack. They survived with serious wounds. Other family and friends died. The man recites Zur’s words: “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray. When the sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear.”
The following day you awake to a blue sky and can see the drone overhead. But you do not worry for you were just pine nut pickers. But that evening as you sit around a campfire, a missile hits your camp. More than 30 are killed. Your wounds were slight but other men were taken away to hospitals. The Americans must have believed you were terrorists. You feel intense anger and vow revenge on the Americans.
My imagination of the Afghan man is not difficult to suppose. A drone strike on pine pickers in Afghanistan on September 19, 2019 did take place and more than 30 people died. It was little reported in western journals with no rage from the anesthetized American public.
We’ve been taught by parents, schoolteachers, ministers, priests, rabbis, bishops, and cardinals that our government cares for us and wants to make us secure. Many Americans pray for the troops to do their job—-and hope someday all killing of foreign people will not require American boys (and girls) to sacrifice themselves on foreign soil. Unfortunately, what most Americans do not realize is killer drones have not ever, and are not now, making the world more secure. They make bitter enemies around the world and create insecurity as they sow hate and vengeance.
It’s important to note that President Biden ended his inauguration speech with “May God bless America and God protect our troops.” That is where we are at: praising America and beseeching God to protect our troops. The arms industry and the religious arm of the military-industrial complex must be smiling.
The United States signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Ironically, we break that treaty each time we kill a suspected terrorist—and of course those not suspected but happen to be in the proximity of those targeted killings by Untied States drones. We justify this contradiction through the passage of the Authorization to Use Military Force Act (AUMF). It was passed by Congress and signed by President George W Bush on September 18th, 2001. The AMUF has given, the President of the United States the authority to kill people anywhere in the world if they are suspects, according to the U.S. The AUMF is the piece of legislation that gave “authority’ to do “Shock and Awe”,to tear Iraq and Afghanistan to pieces and wreak havoc all over the Middle East—and even as war is supposedly reduced in scale, to use weaponized drones to continue the horror.
Americans have been living with their nation’s drone assassination program since the passage of the AUMF days after 9/11. The AUMF is a disastrous Congressional act–perhaps the worst piece of legislation ever—passed without debate. The AUMF has been the keystone Congressional act that has allowed and promoted our never-ending wars for over 20 years. The Pentagon loves it. The military-industrial complex loves it. Preparing for war and actual war is what they do. It’s time to bring debate to the House and Senate floors. The AUMF needs to be rescinded.
It’s time to work to create an International Treaty to ban weaponized drones and to rescind AUMF.
I encourage my readers to join the movement to establish an international ban on weaponized and surveillance drones at www.knowdrones.org In addition, we should encourage the new President of the United States to end weaponized drones and surveillance drones.
President Joe Biden must be pressed to end the legacy of drone killings by the administrations of Bush, Obama and Trump. He needs to take the initiative. Biden can do that by signing the United States to an International Treaty to Ban Weaponized Drones and Drone Surveillance and to call on Congress to rescind the Authorization to Use Military Force.
Call Joe Biden and leave a comment about the need to end killer drones and drone surveillance, rescind the AUMF and use diplomacy, not death threats and death-dealing missiles and bombs.
Call President Biden at: (202) 456-1111
Or email him by going to https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
Or send him a postcard. They are read and recorded. (letters are suspect—-what’s in the envelope?). A one- or two-liner to end killer drones and drone surveillance and end the AUMF will work.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500
Jack Gilroy is a retired high school teacher, a founding father of bensalmon.org, author of two coming of age conscientious objection novels and a prisoner of conscience—incarcerated in Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. bcpeaceaction.org