By Celine Klosterman
DAVENPORT — U.S. and British drone strikes in the Middle East are killing civilians and inciting terrorism, four peace activists told about 50 people at the Congregation of the Humility of Mary motherhouse June 9.
A Catholic Worker, a Sister, a British pacifist and a co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence spoke in advance of a 195-mile protest march, “Covering Ground to Ground the Drones.” The walk began June 10 at the Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, Ill., and will end in Des Moines. There a command center for drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles — is slated to be built at the Iowa Air National Guard Facility at Des Moines Airport.
The activists also spoke June 8 in Clinton at The Canticle, home of the Sisters of St. Francis.
In Davenport, Sister Pat Chaffee, a Racine, Wis., Dominican, shared stories she heard while in Pakistan in October. One man said hellfire missiles from a drone killed his teenage son and brother, a teacher who’d told students that education was more powerful than weapons. Another man said drone strikes motivated his cousin, who was training to be a civil engineer, to instead become a suicide bomber. “Drone attacks are recruiting wholesale for Al-Qaeda and Taliban efforts,” Sr. Chaffee said.
“Our country we love seems to be taking for granted now that assassination is the way to get rid of your enemies.” Yet some Pakistanis have argued that some militants the United States killed could easily have been captured, she said.
Brian Terrell, a founder of the Strangers and Guests Catholic Worker farm in Maloy, Iowa, noted that Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, called for an end to U.S. drone strikes. Yet a drone attack took place near the Afghan border two days after the leader was sworn in last week.
Terrell read from a Los Angeles Times article describing how a 2010 U.S. drone strike on an Afghan convoy killed at least 15 or 16 non-insurgent men and wounded 12 people including a woman and children. NBC News later reported that between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, the CIA didn’t know the identity of about 25 percent of those killed by drones in Pakistan.
Terrell recently spent six months in federal prison after being convicted of trespassing while protesting the drone command center at the Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo. He noted that the New York Times reported May 22 that U.S. air strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have decreased annually since peaking at 121 in 2010. “The debate going on so far has been saving lives,” Terrell said.
On May 23, President Barack Obama said the United States would restrict deadly drone strikes.
Peace movements are gaining steam in the United Kingdom, said Maya Evans of Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK. In April, for the first time, the country carried out a strike in Afghanistan by pilots operating a drone from Britain.
One argument used to justify drone strikes is protection against terrorism. But actually, they’re breeding hatred, fear and terrorist attacks, Evans said.
In interviews with 42 Taliban fighters in 2007, The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada found that almost a third of the men had lost a relative in aerial bombings. Many of the fighters described themselves as defending Afghan villagers from air strikes by foreign troops.
“We’re bankrolling this madness,” said Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. “We’ve been conned into thinking this is a humanitarian war.”
Following the speakers’ remarks, audience members raised their hands in blessing for a dozen people in the room from around the United States who planned to join the protest march. “Your witness speaks very loudly to us,” said Sister Johanna Rickl, president of the Sisters of Humility. “I think that’s something we always need to be for each other — a witness to justice, to peace and to loving community.”
Des Moines bishop calls for moral response to terrorism
From the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
The United States should publicly discuss and scrutinize its policy of targeted killings by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, in order to formulate “a more comprehensive, moral and effective policy to resist terrorism,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace in a letter to National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon.
“An effective counterterrorism policy should employ non-military assets to build peace through respect for human rights and addressing underlying injustices that terrorists unscrupulously exploit,” wrote Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, in the May 17 letter.
Bishop Pates acknowledged the right of a country to use force in self-defense and noted that counterterrorism, even against an organization as dangerous as Al Qaeda, is primarily a law enforcement activity when it takes place outside of a war zone. He noted that targeted killings by drones raise “serious moral questions,” including concerns related to discrimination, imminence of threat, proportionality and probability of success.
To read the full letter, visit www.usccb.org/news/2013/13-099.cfm.