Despite privacy issues and an increasing number of safety concerns, including crashes at overseas civilian airports where the U.S. has drones stationed, a judge in upstate New York has signed an order to effectively criminalize peaceful protest outside a Reaper drone base.Anti-drone activists have been conducting weekly protests for years outside the gates of the Hancock National Guard Base ever since F-16 aircraft were replaced with Reaper drones.
According to the Guardian:
In that time they have learned what to expect: holding banners at a site across the road is tolerated; close proximity or blocking gates risks arrest for trespass or disorderly conduct, a fine, or at the most, a few uncomfortable nights in a cell. (Source)
After Judge Donald M. Benack, Jr. agreed to issue a restraining order filed by a commander at the base, the protesters could be looking at up to 7 years in jail, rather than just a few uncomfortable nights. It is an escalation against activists that mirrors those taken against other non-violent forms of protest across the nation such as filming police officers.
In what can only be described as the height of irony, a non-violent group of protesters voicing their concern over illegal wars and illegal drone strikes that are dropping violence and death in multiple countries have themselves been declared a threat.
Base commander, Colonel Earl A. Evans, was granted Order of Protection #2012-000146 which states that protesters cannot visit his home, school, business or place of employment, nor contact him via any means of electronic communication without facing mandatory arrest and criminal prosecution. Furthermore, a laundry list of nearly every threat of violence Evans should be protected against is given, including assault, stalking and sexual abuse. (Source, PDF for defendant Elliott Adams)
One of the regular protesters, Elliott Adams, is himself a veteran, past president of Veterans for Peace and a former mayor. Although he and his group have a stated commitment to non-violence and obeying the local laws regarding protests, Adams describes a series of “frivolous charges” that have now escalated into a de facto ban on free speech and a right to peaceably assemble under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
‘We are committed to non-violence’ said Adams. ‘It’s absurd that this order is all about Evans’ personal well being. He’s the guy who has spent a lifetime training in delivering violence and killing people and I say that as a veteran myself. Those inside Hancock are the ones with the M16s and assault rifles, the MQ9 drones. We as individuals are obligated to stop our government committing war crimes – that’s part of what came out of Nuremberg. This is a misuse of the law.’ (Source)
Even more absurd was the judge’s guidance that protesters would be banned from previously permitted protest areas if the commander finds their activities “irritating.” Not a fraction so irritating as overseas civilians who are getting terrorized by drones on a routine basis, I might add.
Outrage is fortunately building against the de-humanizing technologies of machine warfare, with international human rights groups issuing a 50-page warning of the next-step evolution where drones gain autonomy and decide who to kill when. However, well before that happens, there are plenty of valid concerns about the current drone fleet outside and inside the United States.
And it is not only peace activists who are cautioning against drone misuse and proliferation, the Government Accountability Office itself released a detailed report in September which cited opinion polls taken where only 15% of the American public are in full support of drones inside U.S. airspace, while also documenting flight safety issues and the ease of hacking into drone systems.
Furthermore, despite a mandate by Congress through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act 2012 to integrate drones into American skies by September 2015,
the GAO found that no federal agency ‘has been statutorily designated with specific responsibility to regulate privacy matters relating to UAS for the entire federal government.’ The Federal Aviation Administration, which is tasked with safely integrating UASs into the national airspace, said privacy issues regarding UASs are outside its mission. (Source)
Now that the drone wars have officially begun, spurred on by U.S. investment and a compromised Congressional “drone caucus” reaping the profits, without the protections afforded by the Constitution for peaceful assembly and redress of grievances over clearly valid concerns, we are faced with an admission that the government of the United States has gone rogue and looks upon its citizens primarily as a threat, rather than an asset.