The big guns

Published on Voices for creative nonviolence, by JASON WHITED, July 16, 2010.

An upcoming trial for activists who illegally entered Creech Air Force Base to protest the government’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles has caught the attention of United Nations officials and could have serious implications for the future of remote-controlled warfare.

In April 2009, 14 activists who had gathered here from across the country illegally entered the base’s gates and refused to leave in protest of Creech’s role as the little-known headquarters for U.S. military operations involving unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, over Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. 

Held at gunpoint by Air Force security police until officers from Metro and the Nevada Highway Patrol handcuffed them and took them to the Clark County Detention Center, the activists now face a September trial on misdemeanor trespassing charges … //

… Another problem with the way Roger’s office handled the case, activists said, is they almost didn’t find out about their upcoming trial at all. They never received a letter or a phone call from anyone at the DA’s office alerting them that they were, in fact, being charged.

This problem of gaps in defendant notification has long been reported by defense attorneys across Southern Nevada. It’s a problem Roger said has now been corrected.

“We have suffered cutbacks; right now, we have lost about 60 positions, and some of those positions were in our case assessment unit (the office that notifies defendants of pending charges) … we mail them to defendants at their last known address, but if they’ve moved, our only alternative is to seek a bench warrant,” he said.

Trial or no trial, demonstrators said, neither prosecutors nor drones will dissuade them from staging future protests at Creech.

“People who perform arrest actions or risk prosecution are counseled or coached to be ready for the worst-case scenario,” said Jim Haber, coordinator for the Nevada Desert Experience. “But prosecutions like this do reduce the number of people willing to risk it.”

And that’s a shame, according to scholars like Falk and others. He said protesters like the Creech 14 can have an impact on U.S. foreign policies, particularly in legally and morally nebulous situations like the American drone fleet and the rising number of innocent civilian deaths that result from its use.

“I’ve analogized [the use of drones] to torture, where the victims have no retaliatory capability. It’s why people view torture with a certain moral abhorrence. And while [potential war crimes by the U.S. military] isn’t new, as one moves further and further into this domain of one-sided warfare, it’s really better understood by the terminology of massacre.” (full text).

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