BY ASKIA MUHAMMAD
More than 1,000 anti-war activists turned out in full regalia April 13 to send President Barack Obama a message: Take the “drones out of Africa; drones out of the Middle East; drones out of everywhere.”
Organized by the International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, and supported by CODE PINK and other anti-war groups, the protestors vowed to stop the U.S. 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.”
“I think we’ve seen what the United States has set in motion,” Eugene Puryear, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition told The Final Call, “and this is certainly nothing new for them, a spiral of militarism. The United States switching to drone warfare has inspired other people to move forward.
“So once again, what we’re seeing is, the actions of the United States being the root of really this military, imperialistic system around the world,” Mr. Puryear said.
U.S. officials refuse to publicly discuss any details of the covert program and the official death toll from drone strikes remains a mystery. Protestors, however, insist that as many as 5,000 people have been killed in 12 years of U.S. drone attacks. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in Pakistan alone 366 strikes have killed up to 3,581 people, with 884 being innocent civilians.
Most drone victims everywhere have been civilians, the coalition insists. Many are children. The U.S. government insists that “drone strikes target terrorists,” but then labels all men between the ages of 18 and 40 in some areas as “enemy combatants.” By holding the pictures of the victims of drone warfare the coalition believed it could “break through the propaganda barrage and tell the truth.”
Demonstrators carried flag-draped cardboard coffins representing the victims of drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and other countries. The symbolic coffins were draped in the flags of the various countries where the United States is conducting the drone attacks.
The coffins were delivered to the doorstep of the White House and then taken to the offices of major corporations which profit from making and selling drones to the Pentagon and the CIA. One of those companies is General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator Drone—a favorite of the CIA and Pentagon.
Outside the company’s offices protestors conducted a “die-in” and they simulated a tactic that led to the death of dozens of children in Afghanistan recently, ANSWER Coalition leader Brian Becker told the crowd.
The protestors assembled, then dispersed, then reassembled and dispersed several times. This behavior was observed by a drone operator in this country watching via spy satellite, and the operator determined the behavior to be suspect, like that of “terrorists,” and then launched two drones which incinerated the group, which turned out to be children gathering firewood for their village.
“Drones are being used to make sure that the American people are not part of the political equation,” allowing wars to be carried out in total secrecy, said Mr. Becker. “All the bleeding (in this war) is done on one side,” he continued. “Drones are used to violate every nation’s sovereignty. The Obama administration flies them in whenever it wants and kills whoever it wants—that is not legal.”
“No one should sit passively and allow our government to wage a ‘quiet war’—an undeclared war but a real war in our name!” the Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, posted on the march website.
“It’s time we Americans join the rest of the world in condemning President Obama’s barbaric drone killing spree, a policy that benefits the war profiteers but makes us hated around the world,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK Women for Peace, said in a statement. Protesters reiterated the message of their frustration with drone strikes in countries worldwide.
Some participants voiced their anger over the recent move by the U.S. to expand its military involvement onto the African continent. “As an advocate against the re-colonization of Ivory Coast, I believe that drones will be used as war machines to re-colonize Africa. These war toys will surely target freedom fighters and activists opposing Western stooges in power in Africa,” said Leo Gnawa, coordinator for CRI-Pan African, according to RT News.
North and West Africa are rapidly becoming yet another frontier. The U.S. has set up a drone base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and flies unarmed Reaper drones from Ethiopia. The U.S. has also carried out surveillance flights over East Africa from the island nation of the Seychelles.
Drone strikes were first used after the 9/11 attacks from bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan in combat missions inside Afghanistan. More than a decade later, having killed almost 5,000 people, the U.S. has expanded the use of the remotely controlled aircraft into Yemen, Somalia and practically all of Pakistan.
The protest was part of a series of public marches and rallies, dubbed “April Days of Action,” which organizers said has spread nationwide and will target military bases, universities and companies which support the government’s overseas drone program.
Buses, vans and car caravans converged from New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for the Washington rally, according to march organizers.
On the same day, the Southern Illinois Peace Coalition took to the streets of Carbondale, Ill., as part of the national anti-drone movement, according to a published report. “I’m here to protest against the killing of innocents overseas,” said Nicholas Neal, president of the Southern Illinois University organization called Students Against Unjust War. He believes there needs to be more transparency in U.S. drone policy. “Certainly drones are less dangerous for our side, yeah. I mean, our soldiers aren’t being killed, but again, that doesn’t justify killing other civilians overseas,” he said.