Drones of death arrests

IssueMay 2009
Feature by Milan Rai , Emily Johns

On 9 April, 14 peace and social justice activists were arrested at Creech US Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, in what is believed to be the first act of mass nonviolent civil disobedience against the military use of pilotless drones. “Predator” and “Reaper” drones have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan (see Gabriel Carlyle’s analysis on p2 for more details).

The Creech 14, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly, were arrested after entering the open main gates of USAF Creech seeking a dialogue with those inside who operate Predator and Reaper drones thousands of miles away in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Told to leave the base, the 14 sat down, repeating their request for dialogue. Offered a deal by the police (if they left voluntarily, they would be issued citations and released immediately), the 14 refused, were arrested for trespass, and were then taken to Clark County Detention Facility. All but one of the protesters were released the following morning, with a 9 June court date (priest Steve Kelly refused to sign the citation, and was held).

Ground the drones
The arrests occurred after the annual Sacred Peace Walk (organized by Nevada Desert Experience), en route to the Nevada nuclear test site, reached USAF Creech, to join a 10-day “Ground the Drones” vigil organised by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, based in Chicago.

Those taking part in the vigil wrote an open letter to US president Barack Obama, explaining: “We are protesting the development and use of drone hunter-killer aircraft in particular, and, in general, the use of military force in Afghanistan and Pakistan…. We believe that drone aircraft are immoral, dehumanising, will result in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and will generate such hatred for the US that our security will be substantially diminished, rather than increased.” The protesters argued that: “creating weapons that kill at long range, placing their users almost entirely out of immediate harm’s way, will have the effect of so angering those we attack that we will risk the most desperate, devastating, and merciless retaliation.”

“Wonderful reaction”
Father Louis Vitale, who was part of the vigil, and then one of the 14 arrested, later told the radical online radio show Democracy Now!, “We had been there for 10 days, and actually, we had a wonderful reaction from the guys, even though we had signs that were challenging them. I also mostly held up one that says, ‘Support the troops. End the war.’ And they waved. Sometimes they’d stop and talk. Only once in the whole week did we get a negative sign.” There was, he said, one counter-protest led by a 17-year-old boy whose father was in Afghanistan, servicing military aircraft.

Conscientious objector
On the same edition of Democracy Now!, Jeff Paterson, of the war resisters’ group Courage to Resist, revealed that a drone sensor operator based near Sacramento, California, is seeking to be discharged as a conscientious objector.

The operator had been “watching his missiles zoom into the target and realizing at the very last second that he made a mistake but not having enough time to do anything about it; he has seen many, many civilians killed. Now, from a few hundred feet, they look like a military target, and they were pretty certain of that, but at the last second they realize they’re wrong. So this is a young man that’s refused to do that any more.”

On 13 April, a “crossing the line” protest against militarism and nuclearism at the Nevada test site led to 21 arrests, including most of the Creech 14.