A follow up action to our Drone activity in late September will be, we hope, a meeting with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. We have written the letter below to him and hope that it will result in a meeting where we will press our case against weaponized and surveillance drones and present the petitions we collected during the last week of September [see “Grannies meet with United Nations officials”].
Your Excellency Ban Ki Moon, United Nations Secretary General,
The Granny Peace Brigade (GPB) is an anti-war group of older women, including several in their nineties. Since 2005, we have been working against the many facets of war.
We write to request a meeting with you at which we will present petitions against weaponized and surveillance drones. Some petitions were collected during a “street witness” and others are being collected on-line by Roots Action, another member of the No Drone Coalition. It is extremely urgent that the United Nations act to institute a worldwide ban against weaponized and surveillance drones.
Drones are the epitome of modern warfare, still horrific, but now cold and calculating, pretending all is clean while still blowing people to bits. As members of the No Drone Coalition, the GPB is aware of the rapid development and expanding application of drone technology. We are deeply concerned about the actual and potential global impact of these weapon and surveillance systems.
Over 650 people signed petitions during the first week of the General Assembly, September 23 – 28 when we held a “street witness.” Petition signers include many visitors from countries around the world. At each of the 16 witness sites, we distributed relevant information and engaged people in conversation concerning current and possible future applications of drone technology. To illustrate the fearsomeness of surveillance drones, a one-fifth scale MQ-9 Reaper drone replica was on display each day that week at three locations throughout Manhattan.
Considering the human rights violations inherent in the use of drones, we believe United Nations members, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should act to prohibit the use of both weaponized and surveillance drones worldwide. Drones that can kill violate International Law; result in inordinate civilian deaths and maiming; promote and enable assassination as an instrument of government policy; and provide an easy entrance into war. Surveillance drones, used for long term monitoring of individuals and groups, invade privacy, terrorize populations and are often followed up by murderous weaponized drones. Terror occurs because murder is expected, even when it doesn’t happen, and the threat results in violations of freedom of speech and of assembly.
Please take action(s) that will result in a worldwide Drone Ban Treaty that prohibits the use of weaponized and surveillance drones.
Granny Peace Brigade
cc: Angela Kane, Under-Secretary General, High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs
Stephan Tafrov, Chair, Third Committee, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria
– Edith Cresmer and the Drone Committee
for the Granny Peace Brigade
As the United Nations Conference on Climate Change meets in Warsaw, the Granny Peace Brigade (GPB) has joined an Amicus Brief (Friend of the Court) in support of five Youth Plaintiffs and their federal lawsuit of Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL).
Atmospheric Trust Litigation is grounded in Public Trust Doctrine in which governments have a legal responsibility to protect those resources essential for collective survival and prosperity. Public Trust Doctrine dates to Roman Emperor Justinian 1500 years ago.
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Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs Global Warming and an activist since the age of 12, first filed a suit on May 4, 2011 against six U. S. agency defendants demanding “Climate Recovery Plans” to protect our climate system. Alec, the lead plaintiff, was 16 years old and joining him were 4 Youths in a legal action in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.
In April 2012 the National Association of Manufacturers was granted defendant status in the case as “fossil fuel intervenors.” On May 12, 2012 District Court Judge Robert Wilkins dismissed the Youth’s suit on the grounds that it was a legislative matter and not one for courts to decide.
In the fall of 2012 several Grannies met with Julia Olson, attorney and Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization working with youth around the country, and filmmaker Kelly Matheson, coordinator of a Trust campaign. At that meeting the GPB was invited to join the case as a Friend of the Court, should an appeal be filed. And it was filed on October 22, 2013.
The Youth Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It charges that irreparable harm to resources and loss of a habitable climate system is a breach of the Trust relationship between Youth and Government. As such it is a breach of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Youth’s claims are based on fundamental obligations of the government which are incapable of being displaced by legislation.
The GPB has now joined the appeal as Amicus Curiae, a Friend of the Court, with the following statement:
We Grannies stand for Peace. The Granny Peace Brigade (“GPB”) formed in 2006 after 18 older women were found not guilty in a court of law of charges related to their actions opposing the Iraq War. We stand for human rights and justice. We oppose war and the violence of poverty and racism. We are committed to the struggle to make a safe and peaceful world for all children and grandchildren everywhere. From the perspective of our ages ranging between 67 and 98 years, we are witnesses to the drastic and dramatic climate changes taking place and feel it our responsibility to act on behalf of future generations. We join with the plaintiffs.
During the last week of September, the GPB, with other groups, participated in 16 street events over six days throughout NYC [three locations each day in a different neighborhood and one on Saturday]. Each event had a one-fifth scale model [11 feet wide and 8 feet long] of a Reaper Drone – complete with Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs, provided by Know Drones, to draw attention and to illustrate the horror of drones as deadly weapons and fearsome spies on communities.
We chose that week because the United Nations General Assembly was in session; literature given to the public urged them to contact the UN asking that the killing stop and 649 persons signed our petition addressed to the Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon calling for the banning of weaponized and surveillance drones worldwide. Over 60 volunteers gave out literature, got signatures and helped assemble and mount the drones with Nick Mottern and George Guerci of Know Drones. We had many interesting conversations with the public, including visitors from several countries.
To prepare for the events, the GPB sent letters outlining our position against weaponized/surveillance drones to approximately 80 UN personnel including Permanent Representatives of Member States, special committees and officials such as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, who responded and invited us to meet with her.
On October 25th, Phyllis Cunningham and Edith Cresmer of the GPB, together with Nick Mottern of Know Drones, met with her Senior Political Affairs Officer, Randy Rydell, PhD. The meeting lasted 2 hours. Dr. Rydell was joined by one of his staff, Katherine Prizeman.
The Office of Disarmament Affairs reports to the First Committee which deals with Disarmament and International Security. [If killer drones were illegal, they would be the responsibility of the First Committee, as Disarmament would be required.] Although the drone reports were not under the purview of the First Committee, Dr. Rydell was, nevertheless, keen to hear our ideas. He provided us lists of contacts in Member States offices and gave us two suggestions for how to bring our concern – that drones be outlawed, not just regulated – to the attention of the UN.
One idea was to get a group of Member States to request of the International Court of Justice a ruling on the legality of weaponized/surveillance drones.
The other suggestion was to have several States request of the Secretary General that a committee of Experts be empanelled to study and examine the issue.
Unfortunately, according to the above-noted UN reports, weaponized drones are not considered illegal; they are assumed to be legal provided rules are followed. The rules include necessity, proportionalty, avoiding civilian casualities, and transparancy. The reports also considered the question of how to deal with a conflict which is not between two States [nations], but between non-state actors which can be located anywhere [al Qaeda and its associates] and the United States of America.
Reports recently issued by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also declined to call killer drones illegal, although they did criticize States perpetrating drone killing for failing to report known details of civilian deaths. While States have acknowledged their drones caused deaths of civilians, they claim such killing was infrequent, unintended, an accident, collateral damage.
Dr. Rydell seemed receptive to our goals. He and Ms. Prizeman explained that the UN’s purpose is to maintain Peace and if conflict nevertheless occurs between states, to establish and monitor rules for the conduct of the conflict. They explained the difference between two kinds of laws: Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law. International Humanitarian Laws prescribe rules for conduct during war; they originated in the Seventeenth Century. These rules include protection of civilians, no torture of captured enemy and a duty to capture rather than kill, if possible. Human Rights Law is of more recent origin and deals with treatment of people worldwide in all circumstances [including war but not only war].
We learned after we met with Dr. Rydell that the legality of the drone as a weapon had been challenged during the meeting of the Third Committee of the General Assembly on the morning of October 25th by the Permanent Representative from Brazil. He expressed surprise that the reports said weaponized drones are legal if they follow the rules, saying that he believed that there had never been a determination as to their legality; furthermore he said the chain of command within the US precludes transparency because the CIA by definition does not evaluate and report on its actions.
Also, a report by a Swiss based agency known as Alkarama, concluded that recent use of weaponized drones in Yemen is illegal. A recent email from David Swanson of WarIsACrime.org, who has read this report, stated
this group finds the entire practice of murdering people with flying robots to be illegal.
Alkarama makes this finding, not out of ignorance of the endless intricacies deployed by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Rather, Alkarama adopts the same dialect and considers the same scenarios: Is it legal if it’s a war, if it’s not a war? Is it discriminate, necessary, proportionate? Et cetera. But the conclusion is that the practice is illegal no matter which way you slice it.
Alkarama and Brazil agree with our position. Dr. Rydell suggested other countries that may consider drone warfare illegal: Pakistan, Switzerland, Austria and Mexico.
We need to connect with all possible allies to press for ending all use of weaponized and surveillance drones. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on New York City, whose legislature, the City Council of the City of New York, we hope to persuade to outlaw drones over the city’s territory.
– Edith Cresmer
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photos: Bud Korotzer
The clip vividly describes a drone strike on October 24th, 2012 in North Waziristan, a strike that killed Momina Bibi, while she was picking okra for dinner with her granddaughter Nabila. Momina Bibi’s son and grandson, Rafiq ur Rehman and Zubair ur Rehman joined Greenwald on the stage. They described the strike and the death, the heartache, the injuries, and the fear and hatred the strike has produced. Zubair ur Rehman who was injured in the strike is always scared now and is afraid to go outside.
Next, panelists from Amnesty International (Mustafa Qadri), the UN (Christof Heyns, download his report “Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”), Human Rights Watch (Letta Taylor), and the American Civil Liberties Union (Hina Shamsi) told us how their organizations are either gathering information about drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, or discussing what might and might not be legal in the killing department. At the end of their speeches during the question period, Phyllis Cunningham of the Granny Peace Brigade posed this question for each panelist. “Based on the evidence we now have, do you think that the US should stop completely its drone attacks, right now, right now?” Panel moderator Steve Coll gave an embarrassed little laugh and said, “Well that question is clear.”
You can’t say that for the answers. Not one of the panelists said yes! They didn’t answer no either. Letta Taylor of Human Rights Watch did say this: 1. Public opinion is not in favor of ending drone strikes and, 2. Public tolerance in the U.S. for deaths by terrorist attacks is zero, and she added that we need to rethink this. Then she said people in other countries die in large numbers in terrorist attacks. She didn’t follow the logic of this thread any farther. Where might rethinking take us?
We can shed some light on public fear of death by terror attack by looking at how we assess risk. Sudden, rare, out of control events like terror attacks or nuclear power plant meltdowns capture our imaginations. We drastically over-estimate risks from these events while underestimating risks of frequent occurrences like car accidents, toxic emissions from coal plants, accidental ingestion of illegal drugs or falling down the stairs.
Ms. Taylor did call attention to an issue we need to address: hysteria in the U.S. about terrorism. Who profits from this hysteria? Who encourages it? In order to stop drone strikes we need to change public opinion. It looks like we won’t be getting much help from any of these panelists. So it’s up to us. Let’s get to work.
In peace always, – Eva-Lee Baird
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Being out on the streets, leafleting and providing information to passersby is never so pertinent and effective than on Parent Teacher Conference night. Once again, volunteers were outside NYC high schools ready to distribute student-focused informational flyers to parents. The focus of this action is to ensure that parents and students are aware of the questions to ask military recruiters and to review non-military options for students to reach their goals after graduation.
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Parents and students stopped for a moment to talk and consider the handouts. One flyer provides non-military options and opportunities for students after graduation including information about skill development programs, college websites, available financial and scholarship aid and educational outreach organizations. The second flyer provides answers to the promotional promises military recruiters make to youth in order to entice them to consider enlisting -what facts to know; what questions to ask. Parents engaged in brief conversations and expressed their appreciation for the information as well as our concern for their children’s welfare and future opportunities. “This is important and I’ll talk with my son about it. We need to start talking.”
The Options for Life after High School handout went like hotcakes – parents and students were requesting a copy, as well as a couple of teens who were considering the military and a JROTC cadet in uniform. Bottom line, it is clear that when a teen has an opportunity for job training, city college programs, resource guides, and financial aid for further education, the military choice is put into perspective.
Volunteers noted that more students wanted to talk to them, ask questions and get information. Some parents recognized volunteers from last fall. “Being at the schools, we are making an impression and more able to provide support and options to families. “
“Thank you for doing this. I didn’t know about the options.” Once a parent spoke with tears. The concern of families to be able to provide educational opportunities for their child was touching and honest. No to the military was loud and clear. The rare parent was open to a military alternative.
I was on a team with a new volunteer. Talking it over after all our flyers had been distributed, she was excited by the experience, the connection with parents, and the feeling of fulfillment. “When is the next action? Please call me again”.
Hoping you will join us and be part of this positive and rewarding experience. It’s a small effort to support families and students with a large personal reward.
Thanks to all the volunteers who made this action so successful.
– Barbara Harris – Counter Recruitment Committee
for the Granny Peace Brigade
*** Students Not Soldiers: Military recruiters engage students early – all the better for future enlistment potential. Counter recruitment activities are a foot in the door to present youth with crucial information that recruiters omit and to counter-balance the promises that recruiters make. It is imperative that we provide more non-military options and programs to assist teens after they graduate. It is also germane that counter recruiters address truth in recruitment and the militarization of youth inside and outside of schools.
Phyllis Bennis is Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. A writer, analyst and activist, she is a co-founder of the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation and co-chair of the UN-based International Coordinating Network on Palestine, as well as the author and co-editor of eight books on US foreign policy.
Nima Shirazi is a political analyst whose commentary appears on his blog Wide Asleep in America, on Muftah.org as a co-editor of the Iran pages and in numerous online publications including Foreign Policy Journal, Monthly Review, Mondoweiss and CASMII.
Sponsored by the Peace and Justice Task Force of All Souls Church in New York City, the speakers had the benefit of a full house and lively discussion following this successful event.
DARC – Lunchtime on the sidewalk: Attendees and staff step outside for a bit of fresh air. Nick Mottern of KnowDrones has a model drone. The GPB has flyers. Everybody has opinions. Many lively discussions ensue among demonstrators, conference attendees and staff. It’s times like these when I’m really sorry I have only one set of ears.* I keep hearing things like “Thank you for being here. You are raising issues that are important to us. We want these issues discussed.”
One attendee – let’s call him Joe – works on robotic safety, Trying to make sure the things do exactly what they are programmed to do with no nasty surprises. Okay, he knows perfectly well there’s more to safety than that, and he’s interested, but he has to go back to the conference. Another guy, a retired pilot – let’s call him John – works on pilot psychology. A drone pilot doesn’t have to be inside the thing to have psychology. Our pilot shrink is concerned about bringing soldiers home and back into society. These returning soldiers have been trained to kill to win. Many look for jobs with police forces and security agencies. John looks around at the nearby policemen and women. He says they are trained to defuse situations, not to kill.
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Police? What police? Well, of course. Yes, after asking us to leave (we don’t) the NYU security people call the police and another lively discussion ensues. There is a bit of confusion. DARC attendees have yellow and black badges. DARC staff wear yellow and black t-shirts. Grannies are wearing yellow and black tunics. It is kind of hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys and at least one officer gets mixed up. Oh, he says, “Those aren’t demonstrators?” pointing to a couple of DARC staffers.
The discussion gets livelier. Must the demonstrators go or can we stay? This isn’t going well. Joe – remember him, the robotic safety guy – Joe materializes and records the increasingly irate cop on his cellphone.
At the same time DARC staffers appear with bag lunches for the demonstrators. “This is a turkey sandwich. Are you a vegan?” asks the staffer handing me a lunch. The cops move the model drone away from the entrance. We stay. Later some of us will go to the conference. Yeah, they gave us passes.
Can we work with these people to ban all weaponized and surveillance drones?
I sure hope so. At least with some of them.
– Eva-Lee Baird
for the Granny Peace Brigade
*Need more ears? Get a drone. But be careful what you wish for. They just might change the vibe.
Response to questions about U.S. military use of drones is often — use of drones lessens the numbers of ground forces required and, therefore, our military casualties. Here in the U.S the battlefields of the Civil War are known but most military actions in the Middle East, South Central, South Asia, and Africa in which we have been and are engaged are carried on principally in towns and villages, whether or not there are drones in the sky. So, as I see it, our young still go off to war and continue to serve as ‘cannon fodder.’ It is they who carry out on the ground the military, often demeaning sometimes deadly, confrontations with townspeople-villagers — waking sleeping families, breaking into celebrations, disrupting ordinary gatherings — and they who reap the reaction of the invaded people. Yes, there may be a saving drone — but not always. David Swanson points out in “Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields” ‘The Battles of Fallujah were fought in the city of Fallujah, Iraq.'(1) We know the result — destruction of the City of Mosques; aftermath: continuing high rate of birth defects, scientists suspect tied to the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus in military assaults.(2)
Countering the claim that drones are more precise in targeting than manned aircraft, a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analysis found that missile strikes by drones ‘were 10 times more deadly to Afghan civilians’ than were strikes by fighter jets.(3) Officials who conducted a study for the Pentagon noted with regard to some drone pilots who suffered symptoms of PTSD — ‘Unlike traditional pilots flying manned aircraft in a war zone, the pilots operating remote drones often stare at the same piece of ground in Afghanistan or Iraq for days, sometimes months They watch someone’s pattern of life, see people with their families, and then they can be ordered to shoot. (4)
In an Afghan village the Predator drones are referred to as benghai, the ‘buzzing flies.’ Civilians are terrorized. A villager said ‘They are evil things that fly so high you don’t see them but all the time you hear them. Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts.'(5) Some abandon hometowns in fear. It is reported that in 2012 in Afghanistan 506 weapons were fired from unmanned aerial aircraft.(5)
Some drone strikes are carried out as killings of persons targeted by top U.S. officials for assassination abroad, this may include U.S. citizens. These are options for action not only in Afghanistan but also in countries with which the U.S. is not officially at war — Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. The circumstances of the targeted killing of Anwar Awlaki, American/Yemeni Imam, in Yemen, on September 30. 2011, as well as the circumstances leading up to it, is dealt with by Jeremy Scahill in has book “Dirty Wars – The World Is a Battlefield” and in the film “Dirty Wars.” (6) On October 14, 2011, after the assassination of Anwar Awlaki, his son Abdulrahman was kill by a drone while visiting relatives in the Yemeni village of Shabwah; relatives were also killed. Why? “Dirty Wars” provides information gleaned by the author from media and other sources.(6)
I was 8 years old when, on December 8, 1941, we were sent home from school after being told the United States was at war. Never since that morning have I been so terrified. But we in the U.S. were spared; others, sadly, have not been so spared. Modern warfare has not been experienced on U.S. soil. Do most of us know, do most of us care about the terror, and massive suffering, death, destruction our military and CIA operations in countries we have invaded (officially or not) has caused? These have been countries that have not attacked, nor planned to attack, the US. It seems that the 1997 “Statement of Principles of the Project for the New American Century” [e.g. its positive view of U.S. military intervention](7) weighs heavily in U.S. foreign policy. However, in this time of widespread international conflict and dissension, I believe the U.S. government should desire to act to seek just resolution through diplomacy rather than through expressions of military might. What is called for now is not military use of the drone nor design of more capable versatile versions of it but a worldwide ban on weaponized and surveillance drones, as well as enforcement of the ban on production and use of chemical weapons. It is hoped that toward this end many of us will direct our views to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the United States Government.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world…”* or maybe even New York City.
There we were with Ms. Gizmo at the “Power of Aging” Annual Health Festival.
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The day was brilliant, Thomas Jefferson Park was sparkling, and so was Joan’s Granny Peace Brigade button. City Council member and Manhattan Borough President candidate Jessica Lappin spotted Joan with her button in the busy park. “I am introducing the drone resolution,” she told Joan.
What drone resolution? The GPB as part of our “Keep New York City Drone-Free” campaign has sent a sample No-Drone Resolution to each member of City Council. Using our material for reference, Lappin asked the City Council legal staff to write drone-control legislation. Even when they are lawyers themselves, Council members may not write legislation. Staff lawyers do that, and have 30 days once a request is submitted. In October the drone-control legislation should be written and we can give it a big push (if we like what they write).
In peace always, – Eva-Lee Baird
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photo: Edith Cresmer
The following was sent to New York Senators Charles Schumer (Democrat) and Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat), and to Congressman Michael Grimm (Republican-Staten Island/Brooklyn)
September 4, 2013
I write to ask you please to vote NOT IN FAVOR of our attacking Syria. Here I give my reasons. (I mention here that I have lived and worked in the Middle East and in Africa.)
Anyone who does not realize that what is happening and has been happening in Syria is horrendous is heartless. This carnage and destruction begs for a solution. Plans for thrusts of power on the country have little to do with proposing a just solution. It is a civil war. A Syrian writer (Alia Malek) wrote “While sectarianism has become the vehicle of the Syrian conflict, it was never its impulse.”
It is my view that the we should tread lightly (I will not dwell on our seeming general application of the points of the “Project for the New American Century” — but it is applicable). We attacked Iraq — no weapons of mass destruction, no plans to attack us — dismantling its government, which led to sectarian rancor. A result of our invasion was violent reaction within the country (we call it terrorism). In a country where there was inter-marriage — a sectarian dividing wall was built in Baghdad. Al Qaeda was not in Iraq prior to this uncalled for war. In the course our military venture, we used chemical weapons (e.g. white phosphorus,especially in Fallujah, where it is a suspected cause of many birth defects, depleted uranium).
Now in Syria, chemical weapons were used and the results brutal. It is, it seems, the reason for our urging an attack on Syria, possibly by only the U.S. If this were to happen, we would then be a catalyst for what? What we do know is that we would kill more Syrians. Are we appalled because ‘he used a chemical weapon to kill HIS OWN PEOPLE’? Sherry Gorelick, the Organizer of Women in Black (Union Square), raises relevant questions — where was a “Red line” when Israel used white phosphorus in its attack on Gaza, where was a “Red line” when Israel killed 1400 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, where is a “Red line” when Israel continues to kill unarmed Palestinian protesters, three young men in the last week alone, where is a “Red line” when Israel continues to violate international law by building and expanding “settlement” colonies on Palestinian land, and by what right is there a Red line about another country’s civil war, especially when the only strategy is to bomb civilian Syrians (as there is no “surgical” bombing) to punish the dictator who also bombs them?
The Syrian people should not be made to suffer a U.S. invasion. Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (the U.S. is); nevertheless, those guilty of the ordering of criminal acts should be brought to justice though the mills grind slow. Resolution of the political conflicts of the civil war should be resolved through diplomacy — e.g. encouragement of the re-start of the Geneva talks. Is it not hubris for us to flout international law — which bans such military action without approval by the UN Security Council? We should not be desirous of initiating again an attack on a country which has not attacked us and is not planning to attack us. Going to war — especially since modern warfare is not on battlefields but in cities, towns, and villages — should not be contemplated by nations as primary response to conflict. Certainly it should not be contemplated for the purpose of showing the world that a leader “means what he says” and that a “Red line” may not be crossed. A leader should not be goaded into facilitating, or sanctioning, bloodshed!
Please view with deep concern about and understanding of the great wrong of lasting effect which will be brought about if the U.S. attacks Syria, and vote against such action.
– Barbara Walker
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Committed to the struggle to make a safe and peaceful world for all children and grandchildren