As part of a nationwide month of activities opposing the rapidly expanding use of drones for murder and extremely intrusive surveillance, hundreds gathered in front of the White House on April 13 to voice their disapproval and unwillingness to accept the Obama administration’s secretive killing program with the use of drones to murder thousands of people worldwide. That day was branded the ‘National Day of Action’, that called for “Drones Out of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Everywhere.” Participants spoke out against the administration turning the US into a monstrous killing country. 

In coordination with the Washington, DC protest, similar protests took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Chicago and other cities, organized by the Answer Coalition. The coalition called on the administration to stop the use of drones on foreign soil. Organizers also spoke out against the threats of new US wars and interventions in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. The coalition urged its members to stop the US government as it “functions as a death squad government, permitting the president and military leaders to create secret ‘kill lists’ of people who have been selected for assassination.” 

The US government is expanding its drone campaign on to the continent of Africa with drone presence in Djibouti, and flying unarmed drones from Ethiopia. Surveillance flights have been conducted over East Africa from Seychelles. 

Predator drones, which are designed to carry missiles, have been introduced into Niger that borders Mali. The administration believes Al Qaeda and such groups have established themselves in West Africa. Washington says the predator drones are unarmed, only gathering intel and conducting surveillance over Mali and Niger. Arming the drones has not been ruled out. 

Drone strikes were first used after the 9/11 attacks from bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, in combat missions inside Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border under the Bush administration and have continued with this administration. More than a decade later, having killed almost 5,000 people, mostly civilians including women and children, Washington has expanded the use of the remotely controlled aircraft into Yemen, Somalia and most of all in Pakistan. 

The 2011 Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley proudly proclaimed: “We’ve moved from using [drones] primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.” 

In February of this year, President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, a bill that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) described as containing requirements for integrating drones into the national airspace starting immediately. The FAA anticipates as many as 30,000 drones to be in the skies over America by the end of the decade; they are likely to begin flying by 2015. 

A Back Room Bargain to Kill 

An article in the New York Times, adapted from an excerpt of the Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti’s new book on the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan,“The Way of the Knife”, provides details on how the killing campaign started. With one targeted killing and at least three other simultaneous kills, including two boys, aged 10 and 16.

Selection from the Times: 

The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani, allegedly an ally of the Taliban, who led a tribal rebellion that fought and humbled Pakistan’s army in the country’s western mountains, and was marked by then president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf’s government as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the CIA had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies. 

That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the CIA’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the CIA to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization. 

The deal with Pakistan, struck in 2004, limited CIA drones to the tribal regions, along the Afghan borders, away from its own terror training camps. Since then, the CIA has conducted at least 366 strikes, killing at least 2,537 people, including 168 children. The CIA has conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people. The Obama Administration’s proposed rules for the use of drones, brought up only after his entire first term had passed, exempts the CIA’s operations in Pakistan. 

Secrecy is Not An Option 

The April protests across the country and the consensus of Congress against the most secretive program of this administration is sending an unclouded message to the White House — secrecy is not an option for this government to invoke when placing American citizens on kill lists, or the use of drones in the assassination of anyone off the battlefield without due process of the law. It is incongruous that the government would write clandestine laws justifying murder of its citizens and to justify trespassing on the sovereignty of a country to spy on and assassinate its citizens. 

Major milestones have been reached for the release of information on the Obama secretive killing program and the CIA’s knowledge of drones used by the government in targeted killings. The American people are holding the administration accountable to its word for transparency of government and for the protection of rules of law. 

In March Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky with a bipartisan backing took a posture to protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; along with the outrage of the American people, Congress has exercised its authority to provide checks and balances for the executive office and its most secretive killing program. As a result, the demand emerged for the White House to turn over to Congress and the American public its legal opinions justifying Obama’s vast killing program. 

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU for release of information on the secretive killing program was directed at the CIA, the administration’s partner in secrecy about the government’s use of drones in killing people away from the battlefield. The CIA’s typical response to inquiries about its knowledge of the government’s involvement in the use of drones as part of the secretive killing program – “cannot confirm or deny”. This ruling made two things very clear, the CIA is not exempt in its drone operations and the public has the right to understand and evaluate the government’s defense of the drone program with information that goes beyond what has been selectively leaked and disclosed. The CIA will have to change its vernacular and disposition when responding to requests for information about drones; refusal to explain its knowledge with “ cannot confirm or deny” on the issue of drones is not an option. 

The First State Laws on Drones 

Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed into law the first bill in the nation protecting individuals from unfettered surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles. 

Virginia enacted the very first drones bill nationwide on April 3. Their bill imposes a two-year moratorium on law enforcement drone use, except in emergencies, in order to give the VA legislature time to put in place legal protections for domestic drone use. 

Idaho’s new law, which, like Virginia’s moratorium, will go into effect on July 1, prohibits law enforcement from using drones to conduct investigations absent a probable cause warrant, ensuring that the police can only use drones to watch Idahoans who are suspected of wrongdoing and can’t keep an eye on everyone in the Gem State just in case they do something wrong. 

–This article was prepared with information fromDemocracyNow, ACLU, Reason, Russia Today, October 2011, Answer Coalition 

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In Washington, protesters demonstrate ‘die-in’ demanding end to drone use