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DRONE WATCH: Protecting Privacy From Drones

Unpiloted drone aircraft are already being used for some purposes in the United States, and plans are being made for greatly expanded use. Alongside these plans, efforts to control and regulate this use are also growing, bringing together libertarians and civil liberties organizations.

One of the most conservative state legislators in Virginia, Delegate Todd Gilbert,  and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are working together to pass legislation that would regulate the use of drones. The Associated Press reported:

"The increasing use of drones as a surveillance tool by police and government agencies has prompted privacy concerns nationwide. A trade group for drone manufacturers recently unveiled its first code of conduct to reassure a public leery of the possibility of drones monitoring them in their homes.

However, Gilbert said he and the ACLU believe drones should be strictly regulated to protect Virginians’ privacy and civil rights. …

Gilbert said his bill would require police to get a warrant before using drones. It also would impose public monitoring and accountability standards and require the destruction of any pictures acquired by drones unless they are part of an authorized investigation."

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DRONE WATCH: Medals for Drone Pilots?

The Washington Post reports:

The Pentagon is considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield.”

If the medals are approved, that makes killing people from a computer in the U.S., thousands of miles from a combat zone, “distinguished warfare.”  Will hazardous duty pay come next?

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Olympic Security: Londoners Lose Battle to Keep Missile Systems Off Their Roof

With the Olympics just a few weeks away, Time reports on the fight that has broken out over security for the Games:

"Policing the world’s biggest peacetime logistics operation is a herculean task, and Britain’s intelligence and military officials are preparing for every eventuality — even if it means festooning a few apartment buildings with Rapier missiles.

Back in May, after residents learned about the plans through leaflets from the MoD, they launched the Stop the Olympic Missiles campaign. Residents staged a protest march on June 30 against government plans, which were approved by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Defence Secretary. In one of the most reproduced images of the protest, an elderly woman holds a sign that says “No missiles on homes! No snipers on schools! No guns on streets!” Other signs simply read, “No missiles in our community” and “This is not a war zone.”
 
But on July 10 a high-court judge rejected those claims, giving the government the all-clear to proceed. While delivering his verdict, Justice Charles Haddon-Cave suggested that the residents were not at risk and instead were “under something of a misapprehension” about the equipment. He also said the government was acting within the law. A day later lawyers representing the residents said they have decided to drop their case: the tenants simply cannot afford to appeal the court’s decision."
 
Read more here
 
 

 

 

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Attacks Not Okayed By Pakistan

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reports that in an interview with CNN, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman said her government has not approved continuing drone strikes.

“There’s no question of it. We also consider it, the drone program, we consider it counterproductive to all our goals in the sense that it radicalizes for the, it radicalizes foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region. And what we see, really, is that increasingly Pakistan is feared as a predatory footprint. The concerns over drones can’t just be brushed aside.”

She said that the government considered the strikes to be a violation of international law, and that the damage done by the strikes outweighed the claimed benefits.

“It is something that is not only radicalizing large swaths of the population and it is also seen as predatory. It’s seen as against the law. And it continues to challenge a relationship that can actually accomplish a lot more on the ground than we are doing today in eliminating terrorism.”

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State Department: Release Pastor Nadarkhani

The State Deparment yesterday released a statement on the imprisonment of Iranian Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been imprisoned for over 1000 days on charges of apostasy.

Organizations and countries has been calling for his release since he was imprisoned, but Iranian authorities has yet to agree to release him. A new date for Pastor Nadarkhani's trial has also been set recently.

Read the statement in full below:

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              July 9, 2012

2012/1118

 

STATEMENT BY VICTORIA NULAND, SPOKESPERSON

Continued Imprisonment of Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and
Repression of Minorities in Iran

We note that July 8 marked 1,000 days Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has spent in an Iranian prison.  Pastor Nadarkhani still faces the threat of execution for simply following his faith, and we repeat our call for Iranian authorities to release him immediately.

Unfortunately, Pastor Nadarkhani is not alone in his suffering.  The Iranian regime continues to deny and abuse the human rights of its citizens, in particular those of its many ethnic and religious minorities.  We are troubled by reports of the execution of four members of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab community, whose sentences were carried out with little due process.  In March 2012, Iranian state media broadcast the forced confession of one of those executed.

We are also concerned by credible reports that prominent author Mohammad Soleimani Nia is missing following his release in May after five months in prison on unspecified charges.

We call upon Iranian authorities to respect and protect the freedoms and dignity of all its citizens, and to uphold its own laws and international obligations which guarantee such rights to all Iranians, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.

# # #

 

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How Should U.S. Respond to Syrian Crisis?

The Atlantic's national correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg, on the Syrian crisis and how the US should respond:

"Secretary of State Clinton has again stated that it is only a matter of time before the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad collapses. Speaking in Tokyo to reporters, she said: "The sand is running out of the hourglass," and went on to say, "There is no doubt that the opposition is getting more effective in their defense of themselves and in going on the offense against the Syrian military and the Syrian government's militias. So the future, to me, should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime: the days are numbered."

But what is the number? And could the Administration be doing more to move that number down? When it comes to Syria, this administration has a very elastic sense of time.  "

Learn more here

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DRONE WATCH: Just the Facts, Ma’am.

The first news stories Friday afternoon (from AP and AFP) wrote of 4 suspected militants killed by two missiles fired from a drone in northwest Pakistan. It was soon updated to 9 dead, which is what we reported at the end of the day.

This morning, I checked my Reader and found 30-some new stories overnight (many just repeats of updated wire stories.) But the stories and death totals were all over the map. Some still echoed the earlier AP story; there were also reports of 12 deaths, or 15, or 21, and a few 24.  The most comprehensive stories told of three drones. According to the Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

"The initial strike on a house killed 13 militants, five more were killed in a second attack when they drove to the site to recover dead bodies, and a third drone killed six more five minutes later, a senior security official in Peshawar said."

Other stories also recounted the 3 drone strikes, but gave varying numbers of deaths in each of the three.

Here is a more detailed version from DAWN, another Pakistani newspaper, which tells of multiple drones and 20 deaths:

"According to sources, six missiles hit the fortress-like residence of tribesman Muhammad in Zoi Nari locality of tehsil Dattakhel at around 8:45pm.

Local people rushed to the site of the attack and started rescue work while drones continued to hover over the area. They retrieved 17 bodies and two injured persons from the rubble of the house.

At about 10:30pm, the drones fired another two missiles on the compound, some 35km from the agency’s headquarters of Miramshah, when tribesmen were still carrying out rescue work. Three people died and two others were injured in the attack.

Local tribesmen feared the number of the people killed or injured might go up because they had to stop work due to the hovering drones. They said most of the bodies retrieved were mutilated beyond recognition."

These details raise two questions:

First, will we ever know how many deaths there were on Friday? And if they were militants, civilians, or both?

Second, even if  one accepts the U.S. rationale for targeting militants (which I don’t), if it is true that after the initial strike, a second strike was launched some time later against rescue and recovery efforts, experts consider that a violation of international law – a war crime.

Perhaps in another day or so we will get the complete story, with timeline and casualty totals.  But what is already clear is that these attacks must stop.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Strike Kills 9 in Pakistan

The Associated Press and Agence France Press  (via The Nation in Lahore, Pakistan) are reporting this afternoon that a drone strike killed at least nine suspected militants in a small village near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal district. At least three others were injured.

AP reports “The militants were believed to be fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a militant commander whose forces frequently target U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. A similar drone attack on Sunday killed eight of Bahadur's fighters.”

As always, the necessary disclaimer is that we may never know whether all or only some of these “suspected militants” were in fact militants. Remember that the U.S. definition is that anyone in a strike area is assumed a militant unless there is clear evidence after the fact. And after a direct hit from a Hellfire missile, there may not be any evidence left to examine. 

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DRONE WATCH: Who Selects the Targets?

Talks between the U.S. and Pakistan that concluded with a U.S. apology for a mistaken airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers resulted in the reopening of supply routes into Afghanistan. Talks on the expanded U.S. use of drones to attack militants inside Pakistan are continuing. While the public line of the Pakistani government is to demand a halt to the strikes, The Express Tribune reports a different picture behind the scenes.

"Pakistani authorities are not pushing the US to halt drone strikes inside its tribal regions and are instead seeking control of human intelligence on the ground for target specification of their choice.

“This is the maximum they have been seeking. Nothing more,” said an official privy to talks held this week between civilian and military leaders from Pakistan and the US that culminated in breaking a seven-month deadlock on the resumption of Nato supplies.…

Control on human intelligence, or Humint as it is technically called, would give Pakistani secret outfits a chance to select targets of their choice to be hit by drones."

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DRONE WATCH: The Drone Zone

Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent, writes in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about the training of drone operators at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

"Stationing pilots in the United States has saved the Air Force money, and pilots at Holloman who have flown drone combat missions speak glowingly about a lifestyle that allows them to fight a war without going to war. Craig, an Air Force captain who is a trainer at the base, volunteered to fly Predators while in flight school. He calls his job “the perfect balance of mission and family.”

And yet this balance comes at a cost. Pilots have flown missions over Afghanistan in the morning, stopped for lunch, fought the Iraq war in the afternoon and then driven home in time for dinner. Lt. Col Matt Martin, formerly a trainer at Holloman, wrote about the disorienting experience of toggling among different war zones in a memoir, “Predator,” calling the experience 'enough to make a Predator pilot schizophrenic.'"

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Archbishop Tutu: End Sudanese Suffering Now

Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes for CNN on his hopes for peace in Sudan and South Sudan:

"My fellow Elders Martti Ahtisaari, Mary Robinson and I are going there to try to ensure that the terrible lessons of war are not forgotten - and to share our hope that these two beautiful countries can find a path to peace. We will relay the world's fears of another deadly conflict that would shatter the hopes of both nations and the broader region. And we will tell the leaders that, while it will take time and patience, we believe - as a result of our own experience - that peace can be achieved.

One of our main reasons for going to Sudan and South Sudan now is the humanitarian situation, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency. We are already witnessing an unbearable catastrophe with the fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan in Sudan, and the ensuing outpouring of refugees into South Sudan and Ethiopia."

Read the full article here

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DRONE WATCH: Expanding Drone Surveillance in Afghanistan

Bloomberg reports:

"The Pentagon is seeking congressional approval to shift as much as $641 million in funding for intelligence and surveillance to priorities such as expanding Afghanistan operations of a Boeing Co. (BA) drone for Navy commandos.

The request for the 'reprogramming' of previously approved military intelligence funds was submitted [Monday] to the four congressional defense committees in a 20-page document."

 

Specific funding requests include:

“The $94.2 million sought for the ScanEagle drones made by Chicago-based Boeing would provide more ground stations. Six sites operated by contractors in Iraq would be moved to Afghanistan and ground stations operated by Navy SEALs would be doubled to eight from four.”  Also requested is “"$2.6 million to purchase hardware and software for an intelligence-gathering and dissemination system the U.S. Africa Command can use to share data with partner nations."

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DRONE WATCH: Methodist Church in Britain Opposes Use of Drones

The Methodist Church in Britain has agreed to ask that the U.K. government urge the U.S. to stop using drones in killing suspected terrorists. One concern expressed by church leaders was that increased reliance on unmanned weapons could make military interventions easier. On other concerns,

"A working group of policy experts submitted a report to the Methodist Conference highlighting moral concerns surrounding the use of drones, recognising that armed unmanned aircraft has the potential to transform the use of air power in conflict and counter-insurgency. 

Steve Hucklesby, a Methodist policy adviser and member of the working group, said: "If there is a legitimate use for this technology we need a much clearer idea of the boundaries for its use.  Terrorists function outside the law. It is vitally important that the UK and its allies do not do so as well. The targeted killings carried out by the CIA in northern Pakistan demonstrate only too clearly the ethical challenges that will face us as this technology proliferates more widely."

Following the Methodist action, The United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain voiced their support for the Conference's decision.

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DRONE WATCH: Strike in Yemen

The Associated Press reports a drone strike in Yemen earlier today: 

"A Yemeni official says a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed two al-Qaida militants in a car in Yemen's south. Tribal officials there said four militants were killed."

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DRONE WATCH: It’s All About the Money

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down and the Pentagon budget cuts likely, U.S. weapons manufacturers are looking for ways to keep their profits up. The Los Angeles Times reports that exporting drones might be the next step.

"Despite concerns about U.S.-made drones ending up in enemy hands, American military contractors are lobbying the government to loosen export restrictions and open up foreign markets to the unmanned aircraft that have reshaped modern warfare.

Companies such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and other arms makers are eager to tap a growing foreign appetite for high-tech — and relatively cheap — drones, already being sold on the world market by countries such as Israel and China."

If changes are made in export regulations, expect to see drones becoming common weapons in areas of conflict around the world. It’s a dangerous possibility, but … it’s all about the money.

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