Drones talk in NYC inspires inquiry, actionMonday, February 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm by Nabill Idrisi
On January 26, Nermeen Shaikh of Democracy Now! moderated an illuminating discussion with Medea Benjamin (CODEPINK, Global Exchange) and Sarah Knuckey (Stanford/NYU Law report “Living Under Drones”). Co-sponsored by BORDC, the event was held at the Culture Project in New York City, a theater space in Soho that brings together theater and social justice to inspire action. Before the conversation started, Shana Solomon’s Things We Make artfully portrayed a scene in Pakistan affected by drone attacks. We rarely see these images in the mainstream media, so her theatrical work conveying how drones are affecting real people was especially poignant for the packed theater’s audience.
After Shaikh opened up the conversation, Benjamin made a powerful comparison between Obama’s response to the death of Abdul Anwar al-Awlaki versus that of Trayvon Martin. After a month of protests erupted calling for justice surrounding Martin’s killing, Obama declared a public statement of support for Martin. In stark contrast, he has yet to publicly comment about Awlaki, the Denver boy who was killed by a drone attack in Yemen while eating at a barbecue with friends. Moreover, Obama even claimed that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.” Well Mr. President, Benjamin added, your son could have very well looked like Abdul al-Awlaki.
Both panelists also delved into the domestic effects of the US drone program. The expansion of the drone program has been catalyzed by the “unmanned aerial vehicles” caucus in Congress. The weapons manufacturers who fear shrinking markets from US wars being drawn down in Afghanistan and Iraq are finding new opportunity in our own domestic police forces. Many domestic police forces, aided by grants from Homeland Security, will be rolling out their own weapons and trainings programs. Indeed, we are seeing an increased militarization amongst our own domestic police forces.
Benjamin, moreover, raised her qualm with John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. She offered a humorous anecdote of her tracking down his home address, and showing up at his doorstep in Herndon, Virginia. After the initial shock of discovering that this was the home of the real John Brennan, she asked him some questions, to which he responded that there was “virtually no collateral damage” from the drone strikes. Brennan, we learned, was actually the “mastermind” of the drones program, and although in 2008 there was substantial public discomfort with his role supporting torture, somehow his nomination is uncontroversial now, suggesting misplaced priorities in the Administration and media.
However, there are some hopeful moments mentioned by the panelists. For example, Benjamin noted that General McChrystal publicly condemned drone use abroad, emphasizing the souring sentiment towards the US. Knuckey announced that in the week prior a UN investigation into drone warfare and extrajudicial killing has been launched. This investigation led by UN special rapporteur on counterrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, provides a clear mandate for examining the legal frameworks in the countries where drones are being operated. He will determine if war crimes apply, and will report to the UN General Assembly later this year.