Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Drones and 'What Makes Us Different'

by Joseph Nevins  Published on  Monday, January 25, 2016 by Common Dreams
The documentary Drone makes painfully clear that it is the U.S. government’s ability to kill at a distance—with impunity and with widespread support, or at least resignation, of the citizenry—that "makes us different" from other nations. (Still image: Drone, The Documentary)
Seven years ago this month and three days after Barack Obama assumed the presidency on January 20, 2009, the first drone strike of his administration took place--in a small village in the region of Pakistan known as North Waziristan. It targeted the family compound of Faheem Qureshi, fracturing the young teen’s skull and destroying one of his eyes, while killing, among others, two of his uncles and a 21-year-old cousin. The White House’s intended target, it was later revealed, was not, nor had he ever been, present at the site. About ten months later, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced its decision to award Obama the annual Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

In his speech at the Oslo City Hall upon accepting the prize on December 10, 2009, Obama insisted that “the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war,” suggesting that U.S. war-waging is somehow superior, more ethical, than those of the country’s adversaries. “That is what makes us different from those whom we fight,” he proclaimed. “That is a source of our strength.”

No doubt there are many things that distinguish the United States—not least the enormity of its military budget, and its global network of military bases. But as the documentary Drone (which premiered in the United States and Canada in late November and which includes footage from Obama’s speech) makes painfully clear, it is the U.S. government’s ability to kill at a distance—with impunity and with widespread support, or at least resignation, of the citizenry—that also “makes us different.”

Remotely piloted aircraft, what are popularly known as drones, allow the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence apparatus to track and monitor individuals from afar with little risk. According to Brandon Bryant, a former drone operator interviewed in the film states, “We’re the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate peeping toms. No one is going to catch us.”

It also allows the Pentagon to engage in what is effectively a global assassination program with little domestic cost. “It’s never been easier for an American president to carry out a killing operation at the ends of the earth at any time in American history,” explains Mark Mazzetti, a reporter with The New York Times. “And when you define the world as a battlefield, that’s a very broad range of operations you can carry out.”

An explosive series of articles published in October by The Intercept shows just how far-reaching—and, perhaps most damningly, indiscriminate—these operations are. Based on classified documents leaked to the online magazine by an unnamed whistleblower within the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the series exposes the falsehoods underlying official Washington’s spin on drone strikes. While Obama administration officials claim that civilian casualties are not common in drone strikes, the documents make clear that the Pentagon typically does not know who it has killed.
U.S. airstrikes carried out in northeastern Afghanistan between January 2012 and February 2013 (as part of Operation Haymaker), for example, killed more than 200 people, only 35 of whom were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.

That the U.S. government can and does kill in this way, and often in countries with which the United States is not even at war, with little protest at home, demonstrates one of the ways imperialism functions: the deaths of “others,” particularly those associated, even if only by virtue of where they happen to reside, with people and places constructed as threats, are not only undeserving of sympathy, they’re also barely noticed.

Writing soon after the November release of the video of the horrific police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald—shot 16 times as he was moving away from Chicago police officers—New York Times columnist Charles Blow argues that the “only reason that these killings keep happening is because most of American society tacitly approves or willfully tolerates it. There is no other explanation. If America wanted this to end, it would end.”

Blow goes on to say that the “exceeding sad and dreadfully profound truth is that America — the majority of America, and that generally means much of white America — has turned away, averted its gaze and refused to take a strong moral stance in opposition. That’s the same as granting silent approval.”

These observations could just as easily apply to the Obama administration’s brutality toward Faheem Qureshi and the killing of his loved ones—and of so many others around the world. Just as white America must be made to overcome what Blow calls an “endemic anti-black bias” to help bring an end to the grossly disproportionate killing of African Americans by police, so, too, must the United States as a whole be made to “see the issue [in this case drones] as an intolerable human cruelty” to stop the Pentagon’s killing ways abroad.

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based human rights organization Reprieve, offers a similar analysis while speaking to a crowd of Pakistanis during the film Drone: “Until America sees your children as they see my children, we will never get justice in the world.”

Realizing the radically egalitarian vision implied by these words is obviously no easy task. This makes it all the more important that those of us who see all children, and adults, as being inherently of equal worth back the efforts of those opposing killer drones—from those of courageous U.S. air force veterans publicly denouncing the drone program to peace groups such as CODEPINK.

Supporting such efforts would be one small way to acknowledge what the United States has done to Faheem Qureshi and his family, something the Obama administration has thus far refused to do, and constitute a step in the long journey to a more just world. As Brandon Bryant, one of the air force whistleblowers has asserted, “At the end of our pledge of allegiance, we say ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ I believe that should be applied to not only American citizens, but everyone that we interact with as well, to put them on an equal level and to treat them with respect.”

In other words, we need to act in a fundamentally different way than one which involves the nationalist proclamation of “what makes us different” (and supposedly better).

Joseph Nevins is an associate professor of geography at Vassar College. His latest book is Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books).

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reflections – By Nick Mottern of Know Drones

January 2, 2016


I have been thinking over the last month about what might be worth saying at this time when our work to stop drone killing and surveillance has been met with the announcement that the United States government intends to expand its drone program.   And almost certainly the level of drone killing – assassination - is soaring as drones are integrated into an air war strategy that appears to be limitless in its intensity, geography and willingness to pummel defenseless, poor people into fleshy pulp and terror, with those left living attempting to scratch out survival amidst rubble and unsustainable communities.  (See this link, starting at 0:32

On Meet the Press, October 15, 2015 Chuck Todd asked Bernie Sanders: “…you’re comfortable with using drones if you think you’ve isolated an important terrorist?”  Sanders said “Yes” as part of a longer exchange in which he endorsed the Obama war practices and said that, if elected president, he would do this and more, with the qualification that the blood being spilled should be largely Arab.  (This exchange begins at 13:37 in the interview


But in this interview there is also a note of real hope with respect to drone war because, for whatever reason, Todd chose to be very specific in asking Sanders about whether drone war is OK.   And, earlier this week I was listening to the Midday Briefing on the POTUS satellite radio channel, and anchorman Tim Farley said the question of drone “assassination” is one that needs to be addressed although there was not time to do it during that particular program.

The point is that the legality and morality of drone war is by no means a settled issue in the mind of the U.S. press and possibly a significant number of the American people.  Drone war is seen as war by assassination, killing without due process based on relentless stalking of thousands of people.  There is a moral stench to this that no amount of official talk can blow away. 

To this point, in a remarkable presentation a year ago at a drone conference at Princeton Theological Seminary, former Congressman Rush Holt spoke of drone war as assassination, and he sketched out the ethos that supports it and some of its inescapable moral implications. (See this link, starting at 1:13:05, which includes an introduction of Holt by the Rev. Robert More, Executive Director of the Peace Action Education Fund.


The moral stench of drone assassination is of broad significance, of course, because drone assassination is so central to the Obama “targeted killing” war strategy that involves the use of special operations forces as well as drones.  Niall Ferguson, an historian and geopolitical analyst of some renown, who advocates increasing US military strength, surprisingly said the following about Obama’s war strategy in an interview in Barron’s newspaper, published December 28, 2015:

“The resources that go into producing radicalism aren’t about to disappear.  Networks are difficult to decapitate.

“The president (Obama) has failed to understand this because his model is decapitation.  You think, let’s take out the boss.  Then your are amazed to find the network (still) grows.”

Kelly and Tolstoy

Kathy Kelly told me earlier this week that she is finding compelling reading in Leo Tolstoy’s “The Slavery in Our Time”, a profound work that examines the dependency of governments on violence, completed in 1900.
The whole thing is very worth reading; here is a quote, among others, that seems appropriate to our involvement in drone war and war.

“I have one life, and why should I act contrary to the voice of my conscience in this brief life and become a participant in your abominable deeds?  I will not do so.

“What will come of that?  I do not know.  But I think that nothing bad can happen from my acting as my conscience commands me to act.”

So it is encouraging to me to be reminded that conscience is what caused an unnamed whistleblower to release “The Drone Papers”, published in October 2015 and what brought the four drone whistleblowers forward in November.

It may be that we will find it liberating, and more effective, to have to argue to stop drone war, and war, solely on the basis of conscience now that fear among the public has undermined the value of arguing about the cost or effectiveness of systematic, methodical governmental killing. 

In short, I find comfort and encouragement in this time in what appears to be the indomitable power of conscience.



Plans are moving forward for the “Real State of the Union” protest on Jan. 12 in Washington, DC and at Beale AFB outside Sacramento, CA and Creech AFB outside Las Vegas.  An explanation of this protest appeared in last month’s drone organizers bulletin.

The protest in Washington is planned to start at 1:30 pm on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.  More details will be published here next week in a special drone organizers bulletin.

The protests at Beale and Creech are scheduled to run from 6 am8 am.  For more details contact Mauro Oliveira:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Create a Quilt Square on Saturday January 16

Decorate a quilt square to memorialize the death of a victim of a drone strike. It will be sewn together with other squares into a quilt by an experienced quilter. Thread, floss, fabric, fabric markers will be available but feel free to bring your own too.

Sit in front of our fireplace with members of the Ground All Drones Committee of Women Against Military Madness, old and new friends to discuss drones and sew, write, color, or paint a quilt square together.

WAMM Office
4200 Cedar Ave S
Minneapolis, MN

Saturday January 16, 2016
1:00-4:00 pm 

Images taken from Drones Quilt Project

initiated by Leah Bolger former president of Veterans for Peace.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Exclusive: 2 Air Force Vets Speak Out for First Time on Why They Want the Drone War to Stop

Story from Democracy Now!

In an unprecedented open letter to President Obama, four U.S. Air Force servicemembers who took part in the drone war say targeted killings and remote-control bombings fuel the very terrorism the government says it’s trying to destroy. Two of the signatories, former sensor operator Stephen Lewis and former Air Force technician Cian Westmoreland, tell us why they are speaking out for the first time about what they did. "Anybody in the Air Force knows that an air strike has collateral damage a significant amount of the time," Westmoreland says. "I’m saying it wasn’t all enemies. It was civilians, as well."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Stephen Lewis, I wanted to ask you—you made one kill, and then you immediately appealed to your superiors about—about what you were doing. Could you talk about your experience, who you killed?
STEPHEN LEWIS: It was late 2009, and I was tasked to go support a troop in contact. And that’s whenever our troops are taking fire.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this was in which country?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Oh, this is in Afghanistan. And during this troops in contact, we were told to go to this specific location. It was four guys walking down a mountain path. And I didn’t see any weapons. I didn’t see anything. About five minutes goes by, and two Hellfires come in, and they kill three people. And there was one wounded guy left. I was given clearance to—we were given clearance to fire the missile. And that guy just—he just wasn’t there anymore.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is—you were given clearance to fire at the wounded guy on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do next?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Seriously re-evaluated my life. Shortly after that, I ended up writing a very, very convincing letter to my leadership and told them that I didn’t belong there, I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I wanted out.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was their response?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Six months later, I was out of the Air Force.
AMY GOODMAN: How are you chosen as a drone operator?
STEPHEN LEWIS: I was chosen basically at random. I went to imagery analysis school, which I—I wanted to look at satellite photos. That’s what I wanted to do. And about halfway through it, they come up and they say, "You’re going to Las Vegas. You’re going to go to sensor operator school, and you’re going to do this." There’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Did they say why?
STEPHEN LEWIS: They don’t have to. There is no argument there. It’s "Yes, sir, yes, ma’am, I’ll do whatever you tell me to."
AMY GOODMAN: And now that you’re out of the Air Force, how has what you did in the Air Force, being a drone operator, engaging in that kill, affected you?
STEPHEN LEWIS: It makes any kind of relationship difficult. I can’t—I can’t communicate properly with my friends. I have to preface it with "I’m sorry, guys. I can’t hang out with you tonight. There’s too much going on right now." It’s, in effect, killed every single relationship that I’ve had afterwards. I can’t—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this issue that you raise in your letter, how the drone program is actually helping to fuel or create more terrorism?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Well, it’s been noted in the film, Drone, that kids are afraid to go outside and play, or go to school during the day, whenever the sun is out, whenever the sun is shining, because they’re afraid that they’re going to get struck by a drone.

Continue on Democracy Now!  

Part of three segments found on Democracy Now! From November 20, 2015 See video and interview there. 

From Console to Trigger: How Pentagon "Exploits" Video Game Culture to Wire Youth for War

November 20, 2015
Among the issues tackled in the new documentary film "Drone" is the connection between video games and military recruitment. We air a clip from the film and speak to its director, Tonje Hessen Schei, as well as drone war whistleblower Brandon Bryant. "I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using [video games] to manipulate and recruit," Bryant says. "We’re more interconnected now than at any time in human history — and that’s being exploited to help people kill one another."

TRANSCRIPT This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to a clip from the film Drone about the connection between video games and military recruitment. This clip features Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Callahan and former U.S. Navy pilot Missy Cummings. But first, P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War.
P.W. SINGER: There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment. And I call this phenomenon "militainment," where the military world is actually now pulling tools from the world of entertainment to do its job better. The military has invested in creating video games that they’re using as recruiting tools.
LT. COL. BRYAN CALLAHAN: How do we find our 18X pilots? There’s been a lot of different theories. If you can answer that question or I can answer that question, you can make a lot of money for the Air Force right now, because we don’t know. We’re trying to get our arms around what really does make the best candidate for unmanned airplanes and how do we identify these people early.

TO read whole article and watch on Democracy Now! 

Two other related articles also from Democracy Now from the same day.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Drone Papers

Breaking News from The Intercept

The Intercept has obtained a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The documents provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama's drone wars.  See for yourself now. 

Or listen to Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now! 

Drone War Exposed: Jeremy Scahill on U.S. Kill Program's Secrets & the Whistleblower Who Leaked Them.  from October 16, 2015 on Democracy Now

One of the most secretive military campaigns in U.S. history is under the microscope like never before. In a major exposé based on leaked government documents, The Intercept has published the most in-depth look at the U.S. drone assassination program to date. "The Drone Papers" exposes the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, revealing a number of flaws and far more casualties than the intended targets. The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed U.S. intelligence source who says he wanted to alert Americans to wrongdoing. Hear The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill, lead author of the exposé, "The Drone Papers."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

One Day Soon, That Drone Overhead May Be Pointing a Taser at You

by Marjorie Cohn found on CommonDreams 
Published on Wednesday, September 02, 2015 by TruthDig
North Dakota has just become the first state to legalize police use of drones equipped with “less than lethal” weapons, including rubber bullets, Tasers, tear gas, pepper spray and sound cannons. Now, police will be able to remotely fire on people in North Dakota from drones, much as the CIA fires on people in other countries.

Although drones in North Dakota will be limited to “less than lethal” weapons, some of these devices can cause injury or even death, according to Christof Heyns, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He reported that rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas have resulted in injury and death. “The danger is that law enforcement officials may argue that the weapons that they use are labeled ‘less lethal’ and then fail to assess whether the level of force is not beyond that required,” Heyns wrote. The Guardian reports that at least 39 people have been killed by Tasers as far in 2015.

Heyns warned the U.N. General Assembly that the use of armed drones by law enforcement could threaten human rights. “An armed drone, controlled by a human from a distance, can hardly do what police officers are supposed to do—use the minimum force required by the circumstances,” he said.
Drone manufacturers in North Dakota lobbied hard to stymie efforts that would have required police to obtain warrants before using drones. Al Frazier, a sheriff’s deputy who pilots drones, revealed their motivation. He told The Daily Beast, “I think when you’re trying to stimulate an industry in your state, you don’t want things that would potentially have a chilling effect on [drone] manufacturers.”

When North Dakota police suspected Rodney Brossart of cattle rustling, they asked Homeland Security to use a Predator drone to fly over his land. Predator drones are also used by the CIA to conduct surveillance and drop bombs in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. The police, who didn’t get a warrant to fly over Brossart’s land, used evidence gathered from the drone surveillance to prosecute him. Brossart was convicted of terrorizing, preventing arrest and failing to comply with the law for stray animals.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether police must obtain a warrant before using drones. In California v. Ciraolo, the court upheld the warrantless use of a fixed-wing aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet to peer into a private, fenced backyard and identify marijuana plants because “any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed.” The court noted that no warrant is needed for what is “visible to the naked eye.” The justices reached the same result in Florida v. Riley, in which officers saw marijuana plants in a greenhouse from a helicopter 400 feet above.

But in Kyllo v. United States, the court held that the police need a warrant to use a thermal imaging device that measures the temperature of the roof of a house to detect the growing of marijuana inside. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that if the government could freely collect any information “emanating from a house,” we would be “at the mercy of advancing technology—including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home.” The majority thought it significant that the technology used in Kyllo was “a device that is not in general public use.”

It is unclear how the court will apply these cases to the use of drones, which could be used to conduct long-term surveillance of private property with imaging systems that pick up much more detail than the naked eye.

Fourteen states have enacted legislation that limits how the police can use drones. But, “in the states that don’t require warrants, it’s pretty much a Wild West,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the National Journal.

Drones are increasingly used for surveillance in the United States.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which patrols almost half the Mexican border with drones, has loaned its drones to local agencies and other national agencies, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Drones were used 700 times for domestic surveillance between 2010 and 2012.

Stanley cautions against government use of drones for mass surveillance. In my book “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues,” he writes:
Police and government agencies, meanwhile, are likely to seek to use this technology for pervasive, suspicionless mass surveillance. To begin with, there is a long history of government agencies seeking to engage in mass surveillance, from the Cold War spying abuses to today’s deployment of license plate scanners and surveillance cameras in our public places, to the sweeping NSA programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden.
Stanley warns about discriminatory targeting of people of color, citing the experience in Britain where black people were 1½ to 2½ times more likely to be the subject of surveillance than the percentage of their numbers in the general population would indicate.

Stanley cites the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s revelation of CBP documents that suggest the CBP will use “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOIs [targets of interest].” But, he thinks, “there is good reason to think that, once current controversies subside and the spotlight of public attention shifts elsewhere, we will see a push for drones armed with lethal weapons.”
The private use of drones can also be quite threatening.

Augustine Lehecka was enjoying a San Diego County beach with friends when a drone flew a few feet above them, its four blades whirring, its camera rotating from side to side. Lehecka said, “We had like a peeping Tom. I felt threatened.”

So Lehecka threw his T-shirt at the drone, it hit the propeller and the drone fell to the ground. He was arrested for felony vandalism, and after spending the night in jail and posting $10,000 bail, Lechecka was released without charge. The incident caused a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist to write an article titled “We should pin a medal on that drone downer’s shirt.”

In response to Lehecka’s arrest, the Encinitas City Council is considering local regulation of drones. John Herron, who urged the council to take action, told a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter that his 3½-year-old son had been terrified by a low-flying drone, saying, “Once my son saw the drone, he became visibly scared . . . he told me he wanted to leave the park.”

Children in Yemen and Pakistan are also terrorized by U.S. drones, which hover above their communities for hours at a time, according to the study “Living Under Drones,” published by Stanford and New York University law schools. The constant buzzing of the drone is terrifying. Medea Benjamin spoke to people in Waziristan, Pakistan, many of whom “live in a state of constant fear.” She wrote in “Drones and Targeted Killing,” “Residents I met with said they had a hard time sleeping, that many people suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that there is widespread use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.” She added, “They also reported a spate of suicides, something they said never existed before.”

William Merideth downed a drone with a shotgun, claiming it was flying over his property near Louisville, Ky. He said, “I had no way of knowing [if] it was a predator looking at my children.” Charged with first-degree endangerment and criminal mischief, Merideth was released on $2,500 bond and is due to return to court in September. The operator of the drone was not charged with any offense.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued proposed regulations on drone use earlier this year. Drones would not be allowed to fly over people unless they are directly involved with the flight. The rules would apply to drones that weigh 55 pounds or less. Drone flights could take place only during the daytime. They would be limited to an altitude of 500 feet and speeds of 100 mph. And they could not fly near airports or restricted airspace. The operator would have to maintain eye contact with the drone at all times.

It could take years for these regulations to be implemented. Meanwhile, the FAA has reported 700 near misses between airplanes and drones in U.S. airspace so far this year. Some of the drones have been flying at high altitudes—10,000 feet or more.

Twenty-six states have passed laws regulating the use of drones, and six more states have adopted resolutions. Issues addressed in these laws include defining what a drone is, the manner in which they can be used by law enforcement and other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, and how they can be used to hunt game.

In February, the White House began requiring government agencies to inform the public where federal agencies fly drones, how frequently, and what information they secure from drone use.

Two federal bills are pending: in the Senate, The Protecting Individuals From Mass Surveillance Act, and in the House, Preserving American Privacy Act. The Senate bill would require a warrant before federal law enforcement officers could use drones and manned aircraft, but it carves out an exemption within 25 miles of the border, and it wouldn’t bind state or municipal agencies. The House bill would require warrants to conduct state or federal drone surveillance with some exceptions. Evidence obtained in violation of both these bills would be inadmissible in court.

Given the significant invasion of privacy occasioned by the use of drones by law enforcement, warrants should be mandatory before using them for surveillance. And weaponized drones of any sort should be outlawed.

To read the article on Common Dreams and view comments. 
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her latest book is, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Previous books include: Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd); and an anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse.