August 22, 2010


This is a copy of the talk by Ed Kinane,, at the National Kateri Tekakwitha Schrine for the 12th Annual Interfaith Peace Conference in Fonda, New York on August 21, 2010.

I’d like to start us off with a one-sentence quote from a poem by Thomas Merton. The poem is in the voice of a Nazi death camp commandant. It’s called, “Chant to be used in processions around a site with furnaces.”

Here’s how the poem concludes,

do not think yourself better because you burn up friends and enemies with long-range missiles without ever seeing what you have done.

[cited by Jim Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, p. xiii]

And here’s one more quote.

This one is two sentences:

“If war becomes unreal to the citizens of modern democracies, will they care enough to restrain and control the violence exercised in their name? Will they do so, if they and their sons and daughters are spared the hazards of combat?”

[Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War (2000)]

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle.

A drone is a robot.

These robots are widely used over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan

-- and elsewhere -- for surveillance and killing.

A drone has no pilot or crew on board.

It is “piloted” via electronic satellite signal by technicians

operating joy sticks at computer consoles on the ground.

The so-called “pilot” may be thousands of miles away from any battlefield,

thousands of miles away from any risk.

Drones come in all shapes and sizes, and can have a variety of functions.

The Pentagon sees drone robots as the wave of the future.So much so that the Pentagon now trains more drone “pilots” than pilots for manned aircraft.

This morning I’m interested in one particular drone, the very high-tech Reaper drone. Because of its duel function, the Pentagon calls the Reaper a “hunter/killer.” It both hunts and kills, and does so with deadly effect. The Reaper is used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and among other places, by the CIA in Pakistan.

This past week, on August 16, the Eurasia Review published a table of the annual number of US drone attacks in Pakistan. Now remember, the US isn’t even at war with Pakistan – a country that is supposedly our ally. Each year since 2007 those attacks in Pakistan have increased; the number of casualties has also increased.

In 2007, there was only one drone attack, but it killed 20 human beings.

In 2008 there were 19 attacks that killed 156 human beings.

In 2009 there were 46 attacks that killed 536 human beings.

So far in 2010 there have been 41 attacks in Pakistan

that have killed 366 human beings.

In other words, each year there are more attacks and more victims. The “pilots” in these attacks are often no older than a college kid. For better or worse, few have battlefield experience. Few have knowledge of his or her victims

or their motivation or circumstances or culture. Few have adequate grounding in the legal implications of his or her actions….

Despite this vast ignorance these youngsters get to play god – making life and death decisions.

And all of this is happening under the Obama administration –

All of this has been accelerating under the Obama administration.

Some things to bear in mind:

-These ongoing attacks occur outside of combat…

in a country with whom the US is not at war.

-The large majority of victims are civilians.

-The victims are not engaged in fighting our soldiers… nor, obviously, were they a threat to our shores.

-These children, women and men, not being combatants, had no means of self defense.

-None of the attacks display a warrior’s courage.

-The Reaper’s hellfire missiles or 500 pound bombs come like a bolt out of the blue. Their victims “never knew what hit them.”

-Surely these victims are survived by relatives, friends and neighbors who may well bear enduring hostility toward the US.

-The attacks are assassinations or extrajudicial executions. In some instances, where the death toll is high enough, these attacks can be considered massacres.

-The attacks violate international law.

-They are war crimeswar crimes committed by our nation with our tax money. Some might say, therefore with our complicity.

Now, understand that Pakistan is no ordinary country:

-Like over a fifth of the human species, Pakistan is Islamic.

-Thanks to the drone attacks, Pakistan has hundreds of thousands of displaced people fleeing the death pouring down out of the skies.

-Even before the current floods in that country, Pakistan was extremely volatile.

-Pakistan has a powerful military and a notoriously corrupt and shaky government.

-It has nuclear weapons.

These realities mean that the drones attacks are likely to lead to unmanageable, unpredictable consequences. The Reaper drone attacks on Pakistan are clandestine CIA operations with little or no accountability. The CIA’s drones are “piloted” from airfields in Virginia and launched at secret airstrips in Pakistan by so-called civilian contractors – that is, mercenaries, men outside of any chain of command.

A little later in my talk I’ll discuss “blowback” – unintended negative consequences of ill-considered military actions.

For a compelling survey of what’s known about the CIA Pakistan operation, read Jane Mayer’s excellent article in the

October 2009 New Yorker Magazine.

By contrast to the CIA operation in Pakistan, the Reaper drones now operating over Iraq and Afghanistan, are mostly “piloted” by the US military from an air base in Nevada called Creech air base.

This morning, however, I want to focus on the Reaper drone that’s much closer to home: Just outside Syracuse, New York, about 120 miles due west of us here, lies Hancock Air Base, the home of the 174th New York State Air National Guard. Hancock, formerly an F-16 fighter jet base, is now the national maintenance center for the Reaper drone.

Hancock has facilities for “piloting” the Reaper drone. In other words, like it or not, upstate New York is part of the war zone. Few upstate New Yorkers – except our congressional representatives – were consulted about our becoming part of the war zone. There was no poll or plebiscite or public hearings to check whether we wanted the Reaper drone in our very midst.

[[see Ed Kinane, “Drones and Dishonor in Central New York,” Oct. 2009 Peace Newsletter,]]

The hunter/killer Reaper drone, maintained at Hancock, is built by General Atomics, a private corporation in San Diego. General Atomics is one of a number of corporations profiting from the various US wars overseas. Few besides such war-profiteering corporations -- and some who have made a career in the military – gain anything from war. And let’s not forget the oil companies – after all, controlling the Mid-east oil reserves is what our incessant wars over there are mostly about.

But it’s these few corporate players who subsidize the politicians and fraternize with the generals. It is these few players who corrupt our Congress, which in turn finances the Pentagon’s voracious appetite for enemies.

The Pentagon lovingly calls the Reaper a “hunter/killer.”

We know what “killer” means.

“Hunter” means that the Reaper has extraordinary surveillance capabilities. It can hover unseen and unheard miles above particular targets, whether these be particular apartment buildings, or homes. The Reaper can track the movements of particular vehicles or individuals. The drone’s heat-detecting instrumentation reportedly can tell whether an automatic weapon has recently been fired. With its infra-red technology the Reaper can see in the dark; it can see through clouds.

The Reaper’s cameras send back to its “pilots” an incessant stream of real-time images. These allow their “pilots” to make their life and death decisions about whom to spare…and whom to incinerate.

The hunter/killer Reaper drone is the Pentagon’s favorite new toy. And for good reason. Unlike the very costly F-16 fighter jet which it tends to be replacing, the Reaper drone can be quickly manufactured.

And it’s pretty cheap – only ten or 12 million dollars a pop. So cheap in fact that it’s expendable; It can be used for more risky missions. he Reaper is portable; it can be disassembled and transported over sea, air or land

and then reassembled at airstrips close to the action.

Unlike a jet, the Reaper can hover over a target for hours and hover so high that it can’t be heard or seen from the ground.

Thanks to its laser-guided high-tech ordnance – Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs – the Reaper’s so-called “kill radius” is very narrow. That means its targeting can be remarkably precise. In other words, if a drone targeted the folks in the back row here, we in the front might well go unscathed.

Because the Reaper is a robot, it has no pilot or other crew on board. There’s no crew to get hungry, or chilled, or exhausted. Or to misinterpret or disobey orders. There’s no crew to be shot down and captured or killed. This means no body bags coming back to the US. Which means no one back home is getting upset that “our boys” are dying “over there.” The hype around the drones is that they “save lives” – Admittedly a strong selling point…unless of course you think the lives of Pakistani civilians, for example, have some value. In Pakistan the CIA uses the Reaper especially to assassinate enemy leaders… or, rather: those – on pretty sketchy grounds -- it believes are enemy leaders.

Does it really believe the 366 souls it’s killed in Pakistan since the beginning of this year are all Al Qaeda leaders? For those of you with a research bent and who want to know more, I encourage you to read P.W. Singer’s book,

Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, published last year by Penguin Press.

In Syracuse there are a number of us working to make upstate New Yorkers aware of the Reaper in our midst. We have twice held large demonstrations – last November and last April – at the entrance to Hancock air base. Activists came from Albany and Buffalo and everywhere in between. And for the past year or so we have held regular but more modest demonstrations at Hancock twice a month. We gather there for an hour at the entrance every second and fourth Tuesday afternoons at rush hour. If you’re ever over our way, we would very much welcome your joining us.

We begin with the premise that war and killing are wrong. That they are immoral. The Reaper is an instrument of death par excellence.

Under the Nuremburg laws if we know such a major evil exists

  • and if we know our money is helping to pay for it –
  • we have a responsibility to try to expose and counteract it.

Estimates vary, but for every enemy leader the Reaper kills, many civilians are killed. The Reaper causes a “disproportionate” number of civilian casualties. I don’t know what a “disproportionate number” is, I don’t know why any civilian should be murdered. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether killing enemy leaders is moral,

it is obviously immoral to kill non-combatants or civilians. Do we really think our oil-guzzling, globe-warming militarized civilization is worth all the killing?

The Reaper has become a tool of state terrorism; it is an instrument of terror. By terrorism I mean the use of force to harm or intimidate civilians for political purposes. After World War II, after the Nurnburg trials, the US and its allies hanged war criminals. It hanged those death camp commandants. But even those criminals were afforded due process.

In targeting suspected enemy leaders, the Reaper is perpetrating extrajudicial executions. That means murder occurs with no due process. Two or three guys in a trailer somewhere on a US base play investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner: they play god.

Another problem is that the drone technology makes it oh-so-easy to violate the sovereignty of other nations. As we have seen, Pakistan is a prime example of such violation. Letting a bunch of gung-ho militarists violate another nation’s sovereignty can get us into a heap of trouble. Already Reapers are being used over other nations -- such as Somalia and Yemen – with whom the US Congress has yet to declare war. Clearly the Reaper makes mission creep more likely.

(Funny how this “Christian” nation of ours is so inclined to attack Islamic nations. We need to challenge the Islamophobia we’ve become so infected with. Is it just because they’ve got the oil? Or does it go deeper than that?)

Yet another problem with the burgeoning use of the Reaper is that these days they tend to be used in remote mountain or desert areas where they can operate with a high degree of clandestinity. The civilian death rates in those regions are difficult to monitor.

A further concern about this wave of war technology is that it distances both those of us who pay for war and those who plan and implement war from the consequences of our actions. It makes war into a computer game, something that seems sanitary and merely simulated. Let me just ask again the questions Michael Ignatieff poses:

“if war becomes unreal to the citizens of modern democracies, will they care enough to restrain control and violence exercised in their name? Will they do so, if they and their sons and daughters are and spared the hazards of combat?” Virtual War (2000)

There’s still another aspect of the Reaper revolution and that is blowbackthe unintended negative consequences of ill-considered military actions.

Two recent examples:

~ Faisal Shahzad, the handsome young man who this past May almost detonated a bomb in Times Square. This US citizen, who had visited his family’s homeland of Pakistan, said he did what he did because he was so appalled by what the Reaper had done to so many people in Pakistan. Now, we may find vengeance a pretty sorry motivation, but it certainly seems to be a powerful one. After all, the US probably wouldn’t have gotten bogged down in Afghanistan for these past eight years, if a certain George W. Bush and his Neo-Con pals weren’t able to ratchet up this country’s thirst for vengeance after 9/11.

~ Another example of blowback:

the physician-turned-suicide bomber who inveigled his way into a Reaper-launching base in Pakistan killing a large handful of men whose job it was to launch Reapers. We’ll never know how many other individuals, appalled by US state terrorism, have become – and will become –

resisters and terrorists targeting those they hold responsible for the mayhem wreaked on their countrymen and -women. We can only pray that more of the Reaper’s chickens don’t come home to roost.

I hate to add to the load of concerns every person of conscience – or at least every person of conscience

paying taxes in the imperial homeland – must bear. But I must mention yet another variant of blowback:

drone proliferation. Some in this audience, I’m sure, have worked to stem nuclear proliferation. We’ve seen how since 1945 the atomic genii has burst its bottle, multiplying the threat to us all. Hiroshima and Nagasaki ushered in a new era, a new moment in the menace that surrounds us.

It may well be that what Peter Singer calls the Robotics Revolution is ushering in a somewhat parallel new era, another new moment in the surrounding menace. Over 40 countries are now importing or building their own drones. The US and Israel -- both on the cutting edge of drone technology -- are developing thriving drone export industries. Israel, a pioneer of drone development, sells its drones to Turkey, India, Russia, Brazil and numerous other nations.

[[Ed Kinane, “Drones and Death: the Israeli Connection,” Feb. 2010 Peace Newsletter, ]]

Do such exports make the world any safer?

One thing our government might do to reduce the growing proliferation danger is to tell Israel:stop exporting drones or we’ll stop providing you $3 billion every year in military aid.

In closing my remarks this morning, I want to point out just one more aspect of the robotic revolution now upon us. Already drones are used by military and border police to monitor the US/Mexican and US/Canadian borders. This in itself raises issues about immigration policy too tangled for us to get into here.

But we have to at least consider the question: if high-flying, high-tech surveillance aircraft

are being used on our borders, where else domestically are such aircraft being used? Who defines how narrow – or how broad -- those border regions can be? And what’s to keep them from expanding out to cover all of upstate New York…or all of Pennsylvania…or all of – well, you get the picture. In other words, what is to keep drone surveillance technology from coming home to roost? The prospect of such drone mission creep is truly creepy. And doesn’t such technology tip the scales even further in favor of the militarists who have already gotten us into such a mess internationally?

I am well aware as I draw to a close that what I have provided this morning is not a dose of inspiration. I’m also aware that these kinds of presentations conventionally end with at least a rhetorical flourish about “hope.” Over the years of my activism dealing with such issues as the Reaper drone, I’ve come to believe in the value of intellectual honesty -- even if it means acknowledging that things aren’t rosy. I’ve come to believe that we have a responsibility to raise our own consciousness… and then work to raise the consciousness of others… letting certain chips fall where they may.

I began my remarks with quotations; I’d like to end with a poem,

It’s by Carolyn Forche. It’s called “Poem for People Concerned”

Monsignor Romero told me

not to need hope.

He said if you need to feel hope

you’re courting despair

you’ll stop working.

So try to wean yourself

from this need to have hope.

Try to have faith instead, to do what you can, and stop worrying

about whether or not you’re effective

or important.

Worry about what is possible

for you to do,

which is always much greater

than you can imagine.

I like the Hindu idea

that we are all

caught in a humming interconnected web.

Anything anyone does

sends a hum through the web

that might be barely discernible

but always affects

every part of the web.

Everything you do

for good in the world

affects the web,


of whether you can trace the effects

or not.

It is not ours to measure

our effectiveness

or the results of our actions.

-thanks to Ed Kinane and Vicky Ross

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