I wasn’t in a classroom. I wasn’t laboring over a paper, strategizing in a small group, poring over a textbook or hustling across campus. I was sitting as a spectator in the front row of Judge Jansen’s courtroom in Clark County, Nevada.
Fourteen peace activists were on trial for trying to hand-deliver a letter to the base commander at Creech Air Force Base in April of 2009. Their letter laid out concerns about usage of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, for surveillance and combat purposes in Afghanistan. The Creech 14 believe that the usage of remote aerial vehicles to hunt down and kill people in other lands amounts to targeted assassination and is prohibited by international and U.S. law. Soldiers carrying M16s stopped them after they had walked past the guardhouse at the base entrance and a few hours later Nevada state troopers handcuffed the Creech 14 and took them into custody.
The next day, they were charged with trespass to a military facility and released. The charges were later dropped, then reinstated. Defendants, upon learning of a September 14, 2010 court date, had ten months to plan for their trial. They decided to represent themselves pro se and to call, as expert witnesses, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Colonel Ann Wright and Professor Bill Quigley, the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. What were the chances that a Las Vegas court that normally handles traffic violations and minor offenses would admit three expert witnesses to testify on behalf of defendants charged with a simple trespass? Slim to zero in the view of most observers.
In an opening statement, Kathy Kelly summarized what defendants would prove regarding their obligations under international law and their exercise of rights protected by the U.S. constitution. The judge told her, quite firmly, that any testimony unrelated to the charge of trespass would be disallowed.
In the early 1970’s, I spent two summers slinging pork loins in a Chicago meat-packing factory. Rose Packing Company paid a handful of college students $2.25 an hour to process pork. Donning combat boots, yellow rubber aprons, goggles, hairnets and floor length white smocks that didn’t stay white very long, we’d arrive on the factory floor. Surrounded by deafening machinery, we’d step over small pools of blood and waste, adjusting ourselves to the rancid odors, as we headed to our posts. I’d step onto a milk crate in front of a huge bin full of thawing pork loins. Then, swinging a big, steel T-hook, I’d stab a large pork loin, pull it out of the pile, and plop it on a conveyor belt carrying meat into the pickle juice machine. Sometimes a roar from a foreman would indicate a switch to processing Canadian pork butts, which involved swiftly shoving metal chips behind rectangular cuts of meat. On occasion, I’d be assigned to a machine that squirted meat waste meat into a plastic tubing, part of the process for making hot dogs. I soon became a vegetarian.
But, up until some months ago, if anyone had ever said to me, “Kathy Kelly, you slaughtered animals,” I’m sure I would have denied it, and maybe even felt a bit indignant. Recently, I realized that in fact I did participate in animal slaughter. It’s similar, isn’t it, to widely held perceptions here in the United States about our responsibility for killing people in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq and other areas where the U.S. routinely kills civilians.
Libby and Jerica are in the front seat of the Prius, and Mary and I are in back. We just left Oklahoma, we’re heading into Shamrock, Texas, and tomorrow we’ll be Indian Springs, Nevada, home of Creech Air Force Base. We’ve been discussing our legal defense.
The state of Nevada has charged Libby and me, along with twelve others, with criminal trespass onto the base. On April 9, 2009, after a ten-day vigil outside the air force base, we entered it with a letter we wanted to circulate among the base personnel, describing our opposition to a massive targeted assassination program. Our trial date is set for September 14.
Creech is one of several homes of the U.S. military’s aerial drone program. U.S. Air Force personnel there pilot surveillance and combat drones, unmanned aerial vehicles with which they are instructed to carry out extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan and Iraq. The different kinds of drone include the “Predator” and the “Reaper.” The Obama administration favors a combination of drone attacks and Joint Special Operations raids to pursue its stated goal of eliminating whatever Al Qaeda presence exists in these countries. As the U.S. accelerates this campaign, we hear from UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, who suggests that U.S. citizens may be asleep at the wheel, oblivious to clear violations of international law which we have real obligations to prevent (or at the very least discuss). Many citizens are now focused on the anniversary of September 11th and the controversy over whether an Islamic Center should be built near Ground Zero. Corporate media does little to help ordinary U.S. people understand that the drones which hover over potential targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen create small “ground zeroes” in multiple locales on an everyday basis.
I spent Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday in Washington, D.C. as part of the Witness Against Torture fast, which campaigns to end all forms of torture and has worked steadily for an end to indefinite detention of people imprisoned in Guantanamo, Bagram, and other secret sites where the U.S. has held and tortured prisoners. We’re on day 9 of a twelve day fast to shut down Guantanamo, end torture, and build justice.
The community gathered for the fast has grown over the past week. This means, however, that as more people sleep on the floor of St. Stephen’s church, there is a rising cacophony of snoring. Our good friend, Fr. Bill Pickard, suggested trying to hear the snores as an orchestra, when I told him I’d slept fitfully last night.
There is a young boy in Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, in Pakistan, who also lies awake at night, unable to sleep. Israr Khan Dawar is 17 years old. He told an AP reporter, on January 14th, that he and his family and friends had gotten used to the drones. But now, at night, the sound grows louder and the drones are flying closer, so he and his family realize they could be a target. He braces himself in fear of an attack.