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2011-11-04

Drones on Trial: 38 Protesters Face Charges for Disrupting Syracuse Base Used in Overseas Attacks

Guests

Col. Ann Wright (Ret.), one of the "Hancock 38 Drone Resisters" who protested the use of MQ-9 Reaper drones at the Air National Guard base at Hancock Field in Syracuse, New York, last April. Wright is a retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. diplomat who spent 29 years in the military and later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the State Department. In 2001, she helped oversee the reopening of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. In 2003, she resigned her State Department post to protest the war in Iraq.

Ed Kinane, one of the "Hancock 38 Drone Resisters" who protested the use of MQ-9 Reaper drones at the Air National Guard base at Hancock Field in Syracuse, New York, last April. He is a member of the Syracuse Peace Council.

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The Wall Street Journal is reporting the CIA has made a series of secret concessions in its drone campaign after military and diplomatic officials complained large strikes were damaging the fragile U.S. relationship with Pakistan. Meanwhile, a trial is underway in Syracuse, New York, of 38 protesters arrested in April at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field. The defendants were protesting the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the Guard has remotely flown over Afghanistan from Syracuse since late 2009. "Citizens have a responsibility to take action when they see crimes being committed," said retired Col. Ann Wright, one of the 38 on trial. "And this goes back to World War II, when German government officials knew what other parts of the German government were doing in executing six million Jews in Germany and other places, and that they took no action. And yet—and they were held responsible later, through the Nuremberg trials. And that is the theory on which we are acting, that we see that our government is committing crimes by the use of these drones, and that we, as citizens, have the responsibility to act." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road. It’s Syracuse, New York. I was speaking last night at Syracuse University. Well, the Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the Central Intelligence Agency has made a series of secret concessions in its drone campaign after military and diplomatic officials complained large strikes were damaging the fragile U.S. relationship with Pakistan. According to the Journal, the State Department will have greater sway in strike decisions, Pakistani leaders will get more advance notice about future operations, and the CIA has agreed to suspend operations when Pakistani officials visit the U.S.

Well, a trial is underway here in Syracuse, New York, of 38 protesters arrested on Earth Day, April 22nd, at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field. The defendants trespassed onto the base to protest the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the Guard has remotely flown over Afghanistan from Syracuse since late 2009. The protesters draped themselves in white clothes splattered with blood-red pigment and then staged a "die-in" at the main entrance to the base. They said their act of nonviolent civil disobedience aimed to visualize the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan by drones. They said the drones are operated by personnel sitting in front of computers thousands of miles
away from battlefields, so killing has become more abstract. The group calls themselves the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters. They’re being charged with obstruction of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, as well as disorderly conduct.

Among the protesters’ supporters is former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. We went to a very interesting trial last night, where scores of people gathered at the local courthouse, and the former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark, testified for over four hours, just—ending just
after 11:00 p.m. He was speaking to a judge, who is presiding over this non-jury trial of the protesters. Ramsey Clark told Syracuse’s Post-Standard newspaper, quote, "Drones inherently violate the laws of the United States and international law. They are associated with the concept of assassination and murder," he said.

Well, for more, we’re joined by two of the defendants here in Syracuse. Ann Wright is one of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters. As we reported earlier, she also was on The Audacity of Hope, the U.S. ship in the earlier Gaza flotilla. She is a retired Army colonel, former U.S. diplomat, spent 29 years in the military, later served as a high-ranking diplomat in the State Department. In 2001, she helped oversee the reopening of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. In 2003, she resigned her State Department post to protest the war in Iraq. We are also joined by Ed Kinane. He is a member of the Syracuse Peace Council, another one of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters.

Ann and Ed, welcome to Democracy Now! And it’s wonderful to be broadcasting right here at the PBS and NPR station WCNY.

Ed, talk about this protest that took place that you both got arrested for on April 22nd. You’re going back to court tonight and then tomorrow morning. That’s right, Saturday morning. You guys are working hard, as is the judge.

ED KINANE: Right, Amy. This last protest was actually a culmination of several protests out at Hancock Air Base, beginning, oh, a couple of years ago, when we learned about the drone here in our midst. The military calls it a hunter-killer drone, which suggests their mindset. It’s actually a robotic killer that perpetrates illegal assassinations, extrajudicial executions, and leads to an enormous number of civilian casualties. The Reaper drone at Hancock Air Base, we understand, flies over Afghanistan while it’s piloted here in Syracuse, New York.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is piloting it exactly at Hancock?

ED KINANE: Probably young men who were raised on computer games, you know, in the U.S. military. They may live in the area, certainly, commute back and forth from their families every day, and then they are in the battlefield, electronically, via satellite, which makes central New York itself part of the battlefield. And this is a concern to us, although we’re much more concerned about the civilians being killed in Afghanistan and other countries by the [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: Ed, how many bases are there like this in the United States?

ED KINANE: Well, the most prominent, or the best-known one, is Creech Air Base out in Nevada. But I understand there are several other such bases scattered around the United States, which are only part of a global network of global bases. Just last week we heard there’s a base in Ethiopia that’s a drone hub, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you learn that this was happening at Hancock?

ED KINANE: We have, in Syracuse, three retired electrical engineering professors who began writing letters to the local paper about their concerns about drones being used in our local airspace. And then we began seeing front-page articles in the Syracuse Post-Standard about the drone—somewhat boosterish. And that alerted us to the drone in our midst. So we began going out to Hancock Air Base. For the last year or two, we’ve been going out to the air base twice a month, demonstrating out in front of the main gate. And that’s where we were arrested on April 22nd.

AMY GOODMAN: Ann Wright, Colonel Ann Wright, why did you decide to join these protesters?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, I was in Afghanistan, as you mentioned, in 2001, helping reopen the U.S. embassy. Then, after I resigned from the government, I started challenging a lot of the government policies. I’ve been to Afghanistan twice since I resigned, in 2009 and 2010. And I, as Ed—Ed’s been to Afghanistan very recently. And we both talked to families of victims of these killer drones, these execution vehicles. You know, it’s the United States civilian authorities in the National Security Council that now are targeting specific individuals with these—they’re targeting for execution, to include American citizens, two of whom have been executed extrajudicially—not going before a court, presenting evidence of what they’ve done, getting a decision of the court, and then administering a penalty.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about al-Awlaki in Yemen, as well as his 16-year-old son.

ANN WRIGHT: That’s right, yes. And here we have our own government criminally killing American citizens, executing them without a court trial. And the thousands of Afghans who have been affected by this, by people being killed—the U.S. government says they’re militants they’re going after. Well, when you get a wedding party of 38 people that are dead, when you have villages that are blown up by these things, it’s an indiscriminate weapon. It’s not a precise, surgical weapon, as the military tries to indicate that it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your trip, Ed Kinane, a longtime peace activist here in Syracuse, your most recent trip to Afghanistan and who you did talk to.

ED KINANE: Well, I went with a small delegation from Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the human rights group out of Chicago that Kathy Kelly has begun. We were there for 30 days. That’s what the visa allows. And we met with dozens of groups, primarily in Kabul. We were pretty much restricted to Kabul because of the security situation there. In fact, the day we arrived in mid-July, we were told the Red Cross had declared that the security situation in the country and in Kabul was the worst in the last 30 years. We met with principals of various NGOs, non-government organizations, Afghans, Afghan Americans, and women’s groups. We met with publishers, writers, filmmakers. We visited women’s co-ops.

One of the surprises to me was visiting something called Skateistan, which was a skateboard arena in which a Syracuse University alum was a volunteer there. It was just interesting to see this sort of unexpected cultural event happening there. It was an arena which tried to reach the youngsters, who, you know, had to take courses in environment and in art in order to have access to the skateboard arena.

AMY GOODMAN: And both of you talking with drone victims. Have you spoken with some of the people at Hancock who are pushing the buttons for the drones, Ed?

ED KINANE: Well, we have tried. We have made real efforts to communicate with Colonel Kevin Bradley, the commander of the base there. In two of our larger demonstrations over the last year or two, we’ve brought letters for the commander explaining our concerns and seeking a dialogue with him. They did not—he did not respond. We have not heard from the base. This past April 22nd, we escalated to bringing an indictment to the base. That was the purpose of our going up to the entrance to the base. We had an indictment. Unfortunately, it was torn out of the hands of our people carrying the indictment, and we—arrested as we responded by dying in on the pavement in front of the gate. So, we have tried to communicate with the base, but they have not reciprocated our efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: It was a most unusual scene last night. This was a small, local courtroom.

ED KINANE: DeWitt Town Court.

AMY GOODMAN: What usually gets heard in this courthouse?

ED KINANE: Shoplifting, traffic violations, you know, that sort of thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So you had the 38 of you, supporters. You had the former U.S. attorney general of the United States, Ramsey Clark, on the witness stand. The judge was deciding for three hours whether to accept that he was an expert witness when it comes to international law.

ED KINANE: It was surrealistic, the former attorney general of the United States being questioned, in extense—at length, about whether he was qualified to speak about international law.

AMY GOODMAN: But, ultimately, the judge did decide he was.

ED KINANE: Yes, Judge David Gideon.

AMY GOODMAN: And Judge Gideon not only had a lot of you questioning Ramsey Clark yourselves, being pro se, because you’re representing yourselves in many cases, also working with a lawyer, but he himself had a long back-and-forth with Ramsey Clark, asking him about making your own laws, what are the rules about that, the idea of responding to a higher law.

ED KINANE: Well, I think—it was a brilliant conversation, I thought, to see a judge having a high-level conversation with a former attorney general of the United States. I was very impressed by the judge, incidentally, who thus far has been a model of fairness and humaneness.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s also running for reelection on Tuesday, is that right?

ED KINANE: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Unopposed on the Republican line.

ED KINANE: And the main theme in Ramsey’s testimony and in the discussion between the judge and Ramsey was the Nuremberg protocols. And so, at length, the Nuremberg protocols were discussed in court yesterday in DeWitt. And very impressive, that this could happen.

AMY GOODMAN: And the main point was discussing how they relate to law here in the United States.

ED KINANE: Yes. So, there’s—I believe there are seven proto—seven—

ANN WRIGHT: Principles.

ED KINANE: —basic principles of the Nuremberg—

AMY GOODMAN: Ann, if you’d like to—Colonel Ann Wright, just very briefly talk about the Nuremberg principles.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, the main one for us is that citizens have a responsibility to take action when they see crimes being committed. And this goes back to World War II, when German government officials knew what other parts of the German government were doing in executing, you know, six million Jews in Germany and other places, and that they took no action. And yet—and they were held responsible later, through the Nuremberg trials. And that is the theory on which we are acting, that we see that our government is committing crimes by the use of these drones, and that we, as citizens, have the responsibility to act.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, the prosecuting attorney objected over and over, and Judge Gideon rejected almost all of his objections, saying, "No, they are representing themselves. They have a right to speak." And he was very interested in what Attorney General Ramsey Clark had to say about Nuremberg principles and how they apply in the United States today.

ED KINANE: And he was very open to the pro se defendants questioning Ramsey Clark. And so, it was a—I’ve been in court a number of times. I’ve never seen a scene like this before, where so many different pro se defendants came up and questioned a witness.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will certainly follow this case. It’s continuing tonight in the Syracuse courtroom at DeWitt and going on tomorrow morning, as well, on Saturday. These are two of the defendants in this case: Colonel Ann Wright, one of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters, retired Army, former U.S. diplomat, and Ed Kinane, one of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters, a member of the Syracuse Peace Council.

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