Testimony in the Case of Hancock Protesters from October 25, 2012
by Judith Bello, Presented January 24, 2014
Where I’m Coming From
I’m 63 years old. I lived in a space of physical safety all of my life. But when I was a little girl, until about 1962, we had air raid drills in school on a regular basis. When the alarm sounded, we were crowded into a space behind the walls in the basement at the back of the cafeteria to await the bell that said it was a drill and not an atomic bomb that brought us there. I still remember my last air raid ‘drill’. I was in the 8th grade. There was a weird tension, and some teachers were silently crying as we crowded against the canisters of water stacked along the walls. I was certain we were all going to die, so I found my sister and left for home. We didn’t wait for a bus, thought there might not be one under the circumstances. When I arrived, my mother was sitting in front of the television, crying. But when I learned that only the President had been killed, I was relieved. A huge weight lifted. Maybe it seems calloused, but I had thought we were all going to die. But it was only one man. After that day, there were no more air raids. Until that day, every one of us lived in fear of a distant and invisible enemy.
Today, in Afghanistan, as in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, children live in fear every day of an enemy they can hear and sometimes see. It’s never a drill for them. The Predators and Reapers circle like vultures day and night, and strike without warning. Most Afghans don’t even know why they are targeted. Many Afghans don’t differentiate the Taliban specifically from the other warlords, the ones the United States is allied with. A recent study showed that most Afghans have never heard of 9/1l. They just live in a world of Predators, Reapers and other enemies, a world of war.
Why Drones? Why Now?
I came out to Hancock Base to stop the Drones less than a week after returning from two weeks in Pakistan, and the day after giving a presentation of my experiences there to a group of 60 or 70 people. I had shown a series of slides, mostly images of the people I met in Pakistan, mostly people who had experienced personal losses, loss of their homes; loss of their loved ones; loss of their dignity and peace of mind to US Military activities over the last decade, mostly to Drone strikes. When I came to the base I was also thinking of some young friends of mine in Afghanistan who belong to a group called Afghan (Youth) Peace Volunteers, who spend one day a month talking to people around the world on Skype, talking about peace and understanding.
I understand that Hancock Pilots of the 174th Attack Wing fly Reaper Drones over Afghanistan. I’m told they are proud of their work, protecting the soldiers on the ground, and I understand this desire to protect ones own. But I know for a fact that Drones flying over Afghanistan also target groups of people who somehow have been identified as as ‘militants’ wherever they may find them. As a Computer Engineer who has worked with video, and a person with both an education and an personal propensity for careful research I can tall you without a doubt that Drones and Drone operators thousands of miles from the battlefield are not capable of the level of discrimination necessary to pick out targets on the ground without on the ground support.
Bad intelligence, incorrect assumptions based in a misapprehension of local cultural patterns and just plain paranoia lead to indiscriminate attacks on civilians on a regular basis. Furthermore, the apparent ease of use of Drones, combined with the inability of the pilots to relate as humans to targeted individuals (not even on the battlefield) encourages killing of a sort that would be far more rare if on site individuals were tasked with the job.
I ask you to to hear and see the testimony of one individual who has come forward to tell his story, a story that moved me very deeply. In Afghanistan, where the US military is ubiquitous, where Americans are in control, this was a very brave act. His name is Mohammad, and he is a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Afghan Youth for Peace all grown up now. The Afghan Peace Volunteers are a multi-ethnic group of young people, who have a mission to make a better life for themselves and their countrymen through good will and open hearted efforts towards reconciliation inside their country and with the world. They have a website called ‘Our Journey to Smile‘, where these young people who have never known peace and prosperity coined slogans like ‘We want to live without war‘ and ‘Why not Love?’.
I had also spoken with my young friend Mohammad in Afghanistan, whose brother-in-law was killed in a drone strike while drinking tea with his friends in the garden. My friend is a pleasant and good hearted young man who belongs to a group of peace activists in Afghanistan who call themselves ‘Afghan Peace Volunteers. In fact, they began as Afghan Youth Volunteers for Peace, but they’ve grown up. They call their website ‘Our Journey to Smile’, and they tell us ‘We wish to live without war.” These young people have never known anything but war. They were born into war and it has continued to this day.
Mohammad is a Pakhtun from the town of Maidan Shahr in Wardak Province which is less than 50 miles SW of Kabul. His brother-in-law, a student, was killed by a drone attack while drinking tea with some of his friends in the garden. I would like you to view to this interview with Kathy Kelly where he tells about this incident. [Exhibit 1 – .
After I was arrested on October 25 of 2012 at Hancock Base, and given my Restraining Order, I asked my friend if he would like to request an Order of Protection like the one Col Evans has to restrain me from bothering him at the base. I explained that Orders of Protection are usually given to women and children at risk of abuse from criminals or violent family members. He thought about it for some time before agreeing to sign a public complaint. But eventually, he wrote and signed the request I am presenting as evidence . Let me read it to you.
I want to give a little context to this story to make it clear why drones are such a truly awful method of warfare. As I said before, my friend’s family home is in Maidan Shahr Wardak Province, which, like Waziristan in Pakistan, is a primary target of the US in their ‘War’ on Terror. Indeed some Taliban do live in the region because they are an indigenous Pakhtun group. They live there with lots of other people who are not involved in war or politics on any level, farmers, goatherds, carpenters and blacksmiths, shopkeepers, teachers and students. It’s a small city.
You may have heard of Maidan Shahr. There was a big scandal there starting about a year ago when Afghan President Karzai complained about a brutal group of US trainers, a JSOC Team who were based outside of Maidan Shahr who were so brutal that their presence was intolerable to the people. He demanded their removal, and after some investigation, even though this unit, the A Team, had only been stationed there for six months, they were removed. Last summer there were headlines saying that 10 bodies were found in shallow graves around an abandoned US Base in Wardak Province. I didn’t make the connection until Rolling Stone broke the full story in October. [Exhibit 4- Rolling Stone Article]
The A Team was killing people in cold blood while stationed in Wardak Province. They had abducted people for interrogation who then never returned, whose bodies were found 6 months later in shallow graves around the base. But the Drones are still there.
We don’t hear much about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but I know there are Reapers over Afghanistan so I did a quick Google search to check on the latest. The first 2 hits were: Oct 28, 2013: “US airstrike kills at least 3 people in Afghanistan’s Maidan Wardak Province”, and Nov 13, 2013: “6 Afghans Killed in US airstrike in [Maidan Shahr] Wardak.” Both incidents were identified as Drone strikes. According to Press TV, the US carried out over 500 drone attacks in Afghanistan last year, more than the combined total for Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over the last decade. And as you can see, they killed nearly as many people in one month in Maidan Shahr as the Special Ops group was removed for killing in 6. Of course the victims were identified as militants . . . but so was Mohammad’s innocent brother-in-law.
Drones make war easy. Whether or not we get an agreement to protect Americans in Afghanistan, when the soldiers leave, the Drones will stay. They will stay and they will continue to kill. But will it be lawful? Is the war going on now in Afghanistan lawful? Are any of the Drone wars lawful? There has been a sort of tacit agreement in the parts of the international community that drones can’t be contained by international boundaries and laws. It is certainly the case that the populations under attack have neither the power to protect themselves nor to retaliate.
The United States government has taken the initiative in the international space by controlling information and attempting to redefine the basic terms of war, such as ‘self defense’, ‘combatant’ or ‘militant’, ‘necessity’ and ‘imminence’. This has caused confusion in legal discussions reliant on Customary Laws of War and Peace, which has limited the ability of victim states to mount a legal defense and redirected legal challenges into debates over the linguistic infrastructure of a system of law that has been developed over centuries.
I feel, as an American, that I need to engage this process. I need to engage it because it is wrong. I won’t say that law should not evolve. Clearly it does. Our system of law is based on precedents and judgments accumulated over time. But this is a case of might makes right. Even as our military, larger and better armed than the rest of the countries of the world combined, pursues a might makes right agenda on the ground, our government engages in manipulating the laws of war and peace to legitimate their wars.
The conclusions drawn in recent reports from Amnesty International (‘Will I be Next?’) and Human Rights Watch (‘Between a Drone and Al Qaeda‘) are examples of the confusion caused by this strategy. Multiple atrocities are investigated on the ground and documented in great detail. Instead of then holding the perpetrators accountable before the law, their conclusions are that the US government should do more investigation on it’s own, and should publicize the results. Alkarama, a European NGO published an investigation called ‘License to Kill‘ that overlapped in many cases with the one from Human Rights Watch. Their conclusion was that the United States is violating international law and undermining it. [Make sure they have links to these reports. ].
Most of the discussion around the Drones centers around Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Afghanistan is not discussed because we are ‘at war’ with Afghanistan. But, according to Customary International Law, to ‘Be at War’ requires that you have an enemy who is an imminent threat to your country. You cannot make that claim with regard to Afghanistan unless you are willing to redefine the words ‘imminent’ and ‘threat’. The fighters in Afghanistan don’t have Drones. They don’t have F16s, Hellfire Missiles and 500 lb. Bombs. They don’t have helicopters, or even tanks. These are guys riding around in the back of pickup trucks with AK 47s and an occasional shoulder held rocket launcher. They had nothing to do with attack on 9/ll, 2001, which was perpetrated by Saudi and Yemeni nationals. What kind of an imminent threat can the possibly present to the American continent?
The Taliban are engaged in winning their power back in the country they governed when a foreign entity, the United States, drove them out of power in 2001. In 2010 Leon Panetta, then Director of the CIA, said that there were no more than 50-100 Al Qaeda ‘militants’ left along the Afghan border with Pakistan. We had 94,000 Troops stationed in Afghanistan at the time, with all kinds of high tech weapons and Drones. Today we have 50,000 Troops stationed there AND Drones. Who are they fighting and why?
Under Customary Humanitarian Law, only combatants may be targeted and attacked. What is a ‘militant’? It sounds like a synonym for ‘combatant’. But . . . You know how to identify a combatant. He is aiming a weapon at you. But how do you know a militant? Well, according to Drone rules, a militant is any man between the ages of 16 and 60 in a region where ‘combatants’ are known to gather. So any person who, according to some calculus, might ever engage in combat is a ‘militant’. What is a threat? Well, whenever ‘militants’ get together in a group, they become a ‘threat’.
Cameron Munter, the American Ambassador in Pakistan resigned over Drone attacks there shortly before I visited there. In an interview shortly after he returned to the US, he was asked the definition of someone who can be targeted. He said: “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.” The Ambassador doesn’t bother to use the term militant. He’s confused about the words like most everyone else. But he does make the point. By definition, the word ‘combatant’ refers to a person actively engaged in combat, not, like the working definition of ‘militant’, a person who might on some other day have engaged in combat, or someone who might in the future engage in combat, but someone currently engaged in combat. So, ‘militant’ is not a synonym for ‘combatant’ in the legal defense of war.