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Drone deployment UK

On Friday, I attended a talk given by American peace activist, pacifist and co-ordinator with Voices for Creative Non Violence, Brian Terrell, at The Roomz in St Leonards-on-Sea, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick. He spoke about the increasing use of drones by the American and British military forces and the repercussions and consequences of their deployment.

Drones, aka UAV’s, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are remotely piloted planes, originally designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance, intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance. Some are also capable of carrying 500lb laser-guided bombs, Hellfire missiles, air-to-ground missiles and, in development, air-to-air missiles; they are used for assassination missions. They can fly day and night for a period of up to 42 hours and can carry surveillance cameras capable of streaming full video with enough resolution to discern facial expressions.

Brian Terrell

Brian Terrell (photo by permission of Drones Wars UK).

“The pro drone evidence can be very compelling”, Terrell said. “That they’re better than saturation bombing, clean, surgical, only ‘the bad people’ are killed, little or no damage to infrastructure and they keep our boys safe.” However, some, including Terrell himself, would vehemently dispute this.

In April 2012, Terrell and two friends paid a visit to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri with the intention of delivering a letter to the base commander calling for an end to drone warfare. Their hypothesis is that ‘killing innocent people would not lead to peace or improve security, rather it would inspire people to be violent in return’.

In this way, a state of warfare is perpetuated and considering the colossal amounts of money involved in drone technology and the arms trade, it is possible to imagine that this is exactly what those involved in the industry would desire, although I doubt they would want this technology used against them or those they care about.

Terrell and friends charged all those involved along the chain of command – from President Obama through to the base commander and the crews – with the following crimes: extrajudicial killings, violation of due process, wars of aggression, violation of national sovereignty and the killing of innocent civilians – in violation of US and international human rights laws and the Nuremberg Principles, which state that every citizen of the world has a positive legal obligation and duty when their government is committing crimes against humanity.

Terrell was arrested, tried and sentenced in a federal court and in November 2012 was imprisoned for six months.

Peaceful protest in the UK

The Waddington 6

The Waddington 6 (photo by permission of Drone Wars UK).

On 7 October 2013 at Lincoln Magistrate’s Court, six people – known as the Waddington Six – went on trial for entering RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, to protest against their involvement in the use of UAV warfare. For a number of years, pilots from the UK airbase have been flying drones from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and earlier this year, were also remotely operating drones based at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan from RAF Waddington itself.

The six people allegedly cut a hole in the perimeter fence, planted a symbolic peace garden, unfurled banners, pinned up photos of drone attack child victims to mark International Child Victims of War Day and leafleted staff. They were there for about an hour before local police arrested them. The original very serious charges of conspiracy and aggravated trespass were later dropped and replaced with a single charge of criminal damage to the perimeter fence.

The trial result? District Judge Stobart ruled the six were guilty. “I therefore, with a heavy heart”, he said, “find all the defendents guilty”, adding that he would welcome an appeal.

The Peace Garden

The Peace Garden Photo with permission from Drone Wars UK

This trial raises public awareness of the UK’s involvement in drone deployment and draws attention to the fact that Freedom of Information requests and questions asked by MPs in the House of Commons remain mainly unanswered on grounds of security or claims that any revelations would endanger our relationship with another state. Questions concern the number of weapons fired, number of people – those labeled as ‘civilians’ or ‘enemies’ – killed or injured, the date and location of flights.

The international arms trade

According to Transparency International, a leading global organization monitoring corruption, the international arms trade is considered to be one of the three most corrupt businesses in the world. Weapons sales, it would appear, contribute substantially to our own and other countries’ economies. The five permanent UN Security Council members – USA, France, UK, Russia and China – dominate the world trade in arms. From 1998 – 2001, the USA, UK and France earned more money from arms sales to so-called ‘developing countries’ than they gave in aid.

Writing about his experience in prison, Terrell talks about the weapons industry, referring to President Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961, where he warned of the emergence of a self-perpetuating ‘military industrial complex’ producing weapons and provoking conflict for the sake of ensuring a market for more weapons.

Drone operators

Drone firing missile

Drone firing missile (photo by permission of Drone Wars UK).

Terrell spoke of Spiegel Online and NBC News interviews with former US drone operator Brandon Bryant, a 27-year-old drone pilot from Missoula, Montana, who said that his role had “changed him into a heartless sociopath”. He described watching a remote-controlled death via a thermal camera – and how the blood was hot and then faded to the ambient temperature on the ground. He says he is haunted by the deaths he has been responsible for.

Some operators talk of the incredible boredom of long hours of surveillance, the long-distance relationship they develop with those they watch – including observing their most intimate moments, their isolation from mainstream society, how they have to maintain their trained military detachment in order to carry out their jobs – and the irony of dropping the kids off at school and going to work to commit legalized military murder in the form of assassinations (although some, including Kat Craig, human rights lawyer at Reprieve, call the CIA’s drone campaign illegal). Others glorify their involvement in the fight against terrorism and to some, it is simply a job and a way to pay the bills.

“There are strict guidelines for the use of drones in assassinations”, said Terrell. “If there is an imminent threat, it is permissible to use aggression. But what does ‘imminent threat mean?”, he asked. This is down to human interpretation; immense  care and thoughtful judgement are needed in any deployment of missiles with  reliance on the wisdom of the individual pilot.

Alternative uses of drones

The UAV technology exists and unless there is some self-produced or natural worldwide calamity, research into their development will continue. And their use is not restricted to military missions of assassination, intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. Drones are currently used for other non military operations, such as border enforcement, catching drug smugglers and illegal immigrants, searching for survivors of disasters, using marine search radar for maritime operations, catching illegal fishermen, locating shoals of fish, weather tracking, farming, hurricane tracking, scientific studies, shooting difficult film shots In Hollywood – and fast food delivery, although this last one might be an Internet hoax. However, maybe it’s an indication of how they might become mainstream? Terrell spoke of drones the size of humming birds, used to see if someone is in a burning building or for intelligence and surveillance purposes and of a drone-pigeon design with batteries recharged through power lines.

The UK and USA are not the only countries interested in the development, purchase and use of UAVs. According to a July 2012 report by the US Government Accountability Office, 76 countries have drones of some kind.

The future

CCTV Image from Freepik

CCTV image (Freepik).

Clearly drone technology has a wide spectrum of uses, some which could be perceived as positive for mankind and other species and some as detrimental and destructive. Throughout the world, drone manufacturers are currently looking far beyond the military for potential markets and uses – and finding them.

Who knows who might be the current and future purchasers of UAVs and how they might be employed now or in the future?

In terms of their use for intelligence gathering and assassination, we certainly seem to be becoming trustingly accustomed to a world of incredibly high-tech surveillance and also accepting of and de-sensitised to violence. Personally, I find this trend very disturbing.


Thinking in terms of the military use of drones for remote assassinations: if we use this violent technology against others under the guise of creating peace, others, logically, may well do the same to us. One man’s terrorist is another’s hero; it all depends on who’s doing the labeling. To me, it feels terrifying – and I feel helpless. I am officially British (although I see myself as a citizen of the planet) and it is not with my blessing that these death and destruction missions are being launched on the citizens of other countries. However, I have no say in the matter – and somewhere out there, it is happening right now.

The continuing obsession by some of humanity with war-mongering may well lead to our species’ destruction. Yes, I know that war leads to huge advances in progress and leaps in knowledge, but how is it attained – and at what cost?

It seems a pretty insane world to me, using the miracle that is our brain to develop cleverer and more sophisticated ways to kill others of our own species, even though I know it’s a familiar pattern throughout our history.

I heard this song this morning. The words seemed pertinent and worth sharing:

If we have the power to make war

We have the power to make peace.

It’s in our hands.

It’s up to us.

Vereesh and the Humaniversity Sound : It’s Up To Us

 * * * * * * *

Drone Wars website here.

Voices of Creative Non-Violence here. Voices for Creative Non Violence UK here.

Online article about the international arms trade here.

Book recommended by Hastings Against War: Drone Warfare, Killing by Remote Control by Medea Benjamin.

Hastings Against War here.

Brian Terrell’s prison experience described here.

President Eisenhower’s farewell speech here.

The Guardian report on Waddington 6 trial here.


Posted 20:35 Tuesday, Oct 8, 2013 In: Campaigns

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