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Protesters Oppose Expanding Drone Use

When President Barack Obama made his closing remarks on the NATO summit in Chicago, he pointed out the alliance’s plan of acquiring “a fleet of remotely piloted aircraft, drones, to strengthen intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”

Activist Medea Benjamin speaks about drone warfare at the Heartland Cafe

A drone is any aircraft that is piloted remotely. A drone can be the size of a toy, or as large as a conventional single-pilot craft.

The drones the president spoke of are not utilized only for reconnaissance, but also for military applications in surgical strikes. There are a number of persons adamantly opposed to the use of the remote-controlled aircraft as a means of military action.

Medea Benjamin, a longtime political activist, spoke at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood Ave, May 14, about her opposition to the drones. Benjamin says she believes drone warfare became a popular tactic in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan because the American people are weary of waging war and the loss of life that comes with it.

“The combination of Americans being killed, tremendous resources being wasted and not seeing a ‘win’ started to really chip away at the support for [the wars,]” Benjamin said. “When you bring drones into the equation you say ‘this is a way to get the troops out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq. No more boots on the ground. We can wage war by another means.’”

During the NATO summit, Leah Bolger, a peace activist with Veterans For Peace, said visitors to the summit had been commenting on the helicopters and seemingly omnipresent police forces in Chicago. She said the paranoia that stems from ever-present authority isn’t far removed from what Afghans watched by drones experience.

“I was thinking to myself; ‘what if those [helicopters] were drones?’” Bolger said. “People have been very aware of the strong police presence in our streets. What if we were in Afghanistan and these were American military people in our streets, American military drones and helicopters flying overhead?”

She said the effect the heavy police presence had on Chicagoans isn’t any different from the military presence in Afghanistan. She said the use of drones has the same negative impacts as rows of officers in the streets.

“It imposes fear and makes people suspicious, defensive and afraid,” she said. “We’re vehemently opposed to drones.”

The prevalence of drone usage in the 21st century has increased dramatically, Benjamin said. She said in 2000 the Pentagon only possessed approximately 50 drones but today operate thousands.

The majority of drone strikes take place in Pakistan as an extension of the war in Afghanistan, Benjamin said. She added the drone strikes invariably cause anti-American sentiment among the communities that are targeted by the attacks.

Mike Reid, executive director of Veterans For Peace, agreed that drone attacks foster an anti-American sentiment. He said that collateral damage to innocents in drone strikes doesn’t help foreign impressions of the U.S.

“It makes us look like we’re cheating…like we’re not man or woman enough to face the enemy,” Reid said. “It also makes us look like murderers, because these drones are killing kids.”

Benjamin said the mainstream media entirely ignores the plight of drone victims. She asked the crowd of the Heartland if any of them had seen a drone victim on mainstream television. No hands were raised.

“Pathetic, isn’t it?” she said. “You will not see or hear these stories because the mainstream media just ignores it.”

Benjamin said beyond the impact on the victims there are drawbacks on American soil. The effects on waging long-distance warfare via computer can be severely detrimental to those operating the drones. It’s just not realistic to wage war by day, and then try to leave the office unaffected, she said.

“These pilots are supposed to be killers by day and when their shift is over go home to their families and integrate themselves into the community,” Benjamin said. “They’re supposed to be good fathers, coach the softball league and go to their church on the weekend. Our brains are not really geared for that. We can’t compartmentalize our lives so easily. You see a high level of PTSD among the pilots of these drones.”

She said the issues with drones are not only reserved for combat zones and countries well away from U.S. soil. In fact, she said, the drones are coming to U.S. airspace.

She said drones intended for reconnaissance and testing purposes were being permitted in the United States. She said the main reason that drones are not a common sight is due to safety concerns expressed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“These drones are not very safe; they crash all the time,” Benjamin said. “The technology has not been for the drones to be piloted in a way that is safe. Certainly not safe overseas and not safe for us in the United States.”

Benjamin noted the United States is not the only country manufacturing and using drones. She said Israel ranks second in production of drones, and claimed they have killed at least 800 people in the Gaza Strip.

She said China ranks third in drone production, and at least 50 other countries are producing the technology. The United States, however, remains at the top of the list for drone production and utilization. Benjamin said that isn’t a great precedent to establish.

“Imagine the example the U.S. is setting,” she said.

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