Tag Archives: Drones

Notes on Jail Time in “The Ville”


Editors Note:
Hancock Anti-Drone Resisters Jailed Last Night (7/29)

Posted on July 30, 2015 by ucgdew
Four anti-drone resisters were sentenced Wednesday night in Judge Joseph J. Zavaglia’s DeWitt (NY) Town Court for alleged trespass at a “die-in” on April 28, 2013 at Hancock Air Base, home to the 174th Attack Wing of the NY National Guard, just north of Syracuse, NY. At their four-day trial this past June trial the six-person jury acquitted the four of disorderly conduct and obstruction of government administration…

All four were identically sentenced to one year’s conditional discharge, $250 fine, $125 court costs and a two-year order of protection. Both Pleune and Rice told Judge Zavaglia, through their attorney Lewis Oliver, that they would not agree to the conditional discharge – which led him to sentence the two to 15 days in Jamesville Penitentiary. Pleune and Rice were taken from court in handcuffs.

Hi All,

Joan Pleune and I refused to accept the one-year Conditional Discharge. I would rather do the jail time than curtail my first amendment rights of protest and assembly for a year. We were released after serving seven days of our fifteen-day sentence for trespassing at the Hancock Air Base. We were incarcerated at the Onondaga County Jail at Jamesville, New York. We earned five days for good behavior and three days for jail time served after the April 2013 arrest while we awaited bail payments.

Syracuse and the surrounding area have many pockets of poor Blacks and Whites. There were fifty-three women in our building. Our cell block could hold sixty-two, but some rooms were being painted. A fight broke out on the other cell block and four women were in lockdown in our isolation area called “the bubble.” Some food was stolen by the male inmates in kitchen jobs.  Six inmates on our cell block had their urine tested for drugs, were strip searched and had their cells tossed looking for drugs. They all became sick and the guards thought they might be having withdrawal symptoms. The test results had not come back when I left, but the guard told me 99% to 100% they would test positive for drugs. One girl was in there because her boyfriend shot the owner of the car they were stealing. The other inmates were critical of her because she showed no remorse. The women were in jail for various crimes due to their drug use.

We were identified as “The Protesters” and “The Golden Girls”. The other inmates were helpful and friendly to us.  They were very curious about our actions at Hancock Air Base, what drones are and how they are used in the Middle-East.  We had a six-month-old baby sharing a cell with her mother and another two girls were pregnant. They will deliver their babies in jail and have their babies with them while they serve time.

Some inmates were in lockdown for offenses. Some rarely came out of their cells at all. The eldest was 67 years old and looked much older. The inmates whom we became friendly with said they were using heroin when arrested. Most of the younger inmates looked so clean and bright because they were now drug free.

The food was starchy with loads of soy cooked in the shape of….meatballs, sausages, patties, baloney, all of it yucky. We shared much of our food with other inmates. A GED program and AA meetings seemed to be the only  activities offered. There were books – plenty of raggedy paperback romance books and two  bibles. I did find “The Scarlet Letter.” And two children’s books were fairly interesting. One was written by the author of “Bambi” , the other by a great-great granddaughter of Charles Dickens. Yes, another inappropriate book, “Poetry and Short Stories”  by Dorothy Parker. I wonder if I was the only person who ever picked it up to read.

I have another open case at the DeWitt court house; most likely the trial will be early next year.  I’m interested in seeing or hearing about some of my fellow inmates again. I hope they gain sobriety, self-control and make a better future for themselves.

– Bev Rice
for the Granny Peace Brigade

The Golden Girls Go To Jail


Press Release – 19 July, 2015 – The Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones & End the Wars

Four anti-drone resisters were sentenced on July 29 in Judge Joseph J. Zavaglia’s DeWitt (NY) Town Court for alleged trespass at a “die-in” on April 28, 2013 at Hancock Air Base, home to the 174th Attack Wing of the NY National Guard, just north of Syracuse, NY. At their four-day trial this past June trial the six-person jury acquitted the four of disorderly conduct and obstruction of government administration.

All four were identically sentenced to one year’s conditional discharge, $250 fine, $125 court costs and a two-year order of protection. Two of the resisters, Joan Pleune and Bev Rice told Judge Zavaglia, through their attorney Lewis Oliver, that they would not agree to the conditional discharge. This led the judge to sentence the two to 15 days in Jamesville Penitentiary. Joan and Bev were taken from court in handcuffs.

Dear Sisters and Friends,

Final Update—maybe

As most of you know, I had no idea what was going to happen at our sentencing. The only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t serve more than 10 days and I thought that to be fairly unlikely. HAH! Was I wrong!

Lew Oliver, our attorney, was thorough and pugnacious in his attempt to have the trespass conviction vacated. It was all to no avail. Judge Zavaglia ruled that the conviction held.

Then the sentencing. I was first. Because I don’t hear very well, Judge Zavaglia invited me to stand in front of the bench for the sentencing. He was clearly pleased that his sentence was a conditional release. Unfortunately, it was chock full of stringent requirements: I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that, blah blah blah. They printed it out for me and, standing there in front of Zavaglia, I read it. “I can’t do this,” I said. “Talk to your lawyer,” he replied. And so I did. As I talked with Lew, I considered two things. The first was how really bad the beds are in jail. The second: HOW HARD YOU ALL TRIED TO KEEP BEV AND ME OUT OF THE SLAMMER. But I couldn’t stomach the conditional release. I had to say no. I knew Bev wouldn’t be able to sign it, either. Judge Zavaglia asked me what I thought the sentence should be. I thought that was a little weird. I didn’t really know what the choices were. He called Lew up to the bench and asked if he had advised me not to take the conditional release. “I most certainly did NOT,” said Lew and then asked for a recess to confer with us. Bev said that she, too, would not accept the conditional release. At sentencing, both Zavaglia and the Assistant DA were visibly upset. Even though the DA had asked for 15 days, he didn’t consider us getting it to be a victory. At a certain point he informed Zavaglia that we didn’t have to actually SIGN the conditional release for it to be the sentence. Signing simply meant we had read it. TOO LATE. We were in cuffs.

And so, the GOLDEN GIRLS, as we would be dubbed by our fellow inmates, were off to the Jamesville Correctional Facility, where, in the morning, we would be warmly welcomed. But for the night, Bev and I had very different experiences. Bev was housed in a cell that hadn’t been cleaned after the last prisoner. Our Bev, who hates dirt, had to put up with multiple dust bunnies all night. She nailed them in the morning with kotex and spritzer. As for me, I was thrown into the hole for the night. They only had one empty regular cell, and that one had Bev’s name on it. I heard an officer say to the officer who had escorted us to the cell block, “We’re going to have to put her in THERE.” “Oh!” she said, “you can’t put her in THERE!” Put me in WHERE?” I asked. The officer kindly explained that it was an isolation cell where they house young women who are acting up. They assured me I’d be moved to a regular cell in the morning. A young woman (at least, young by our standards) pressed three books into my hands. “TAKE THESE WITH YOU!.” One turned out to be quite good and it kept me sane.

In the end, we served only 7 days of a 15 day sentence. That’s because you automatically get 1/3 off for good behavior and we had 3 days coming to us because of the three days we spent awaiting bail in 2013 (15-5-3=7). We had really good personal and political conversations with some really smart and talented women, and some not so smart and talented. We could go outside into a small asphalt yard with a chain link fence around it and razors on the top. We sat with other prisoners on that asphalt, as far as we could from the Canadian goose poop, with our backs to the chain link fence which had a sign on it saying:

Do Not Touch Fence
It is a violation to touch fence or lean on any part of it.

We’d have had to pay $25 if they had objected to us leaning on it. I don’t say get caught because with cameras all around, surely they had to know that everyone leaned on the fence. Catching the sun’s rays was almost the sole source of vitamin D.

We’re happy to be home and to be with you, but we left behind some pretty cool women.  In a week or so you can check the GPB blog to find out more about these women and our experiences.

Love to you all,

– Joan Pleune
for the Granny Peace Brigade

One Day-Two Demos: Control Drones in NYC & Shut It Down


New York’s “finest”: We have concerns

Tuesday, 14 April 2015 the Grannies had two actions. The first, outside City Hall. NO use of Weaponized Drones or Surveillance Drones in NYC. It was a meeting of the Public Safety Committee, which has before it two New York City code amendments that could result in the use of drones in NYC. We did try to meet with Council Members before the action, but no response. The public response is generally NO…..NO drones in NYC skies.
Contact your Council Member (council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml) and say NO DRONES for surveillance of citizens and no weaponized drone  in NYC.

The second action which should be related, but isn’t yet: SHUT IT DOWN. Ending police murder of our citizens. Its time for justice for Eric Garner, and so many others and stop the police harrassment of Ramsey Orta, the only person imprisoned for the murder of Eric Garner. What did Ramsey do? He took the cell phone photos!

A good mid-afternoon crowd at Union Square, then marching to Police Plaza. Many of the same faces, but even more young people coming out to say: Enough. A peaceful protest, but a very heavy NYPD presence. Good everyone has cell phones and media is around.

– Marty Rajandran
for the Granny Peace Brigade

Meeting at Senator Schumer’s Office About Weaponized & Surveillance Drones


Notes: Action and Meeting as part of the State-wide anti-drone actions in collaboration with Upstate Drone Action

Outside, six* of us gathered in the snow and blowing wind in front of the 3rd Ave offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. A leaflet distributed for the action can be downloaded here. Within the first half hour, Ms Sydney Renwick, Director Community Outreach and Intern Coordination (for Senator Schumer), with whom we had an appointment later, together with a security officer from the building joined us in the cold

The message was basically: What are we doing demonstrating in front of the office of the Senator immediately before we have a scheduled meeting! It was like this had never happened before. We were also asked not to photograph the encounter (already one taken though)! Joan used the opportunity to explain why we were there and talk about the actions at Hancock airbase, one of the sites where drones are managed. As the snow and wind picked up, we were invited to proceed earlier than scheduled to the Senator’s offices and after due consultation, we unanimously agreed to this.

After warming up, Ms Renwick invited us to a Conference Room and we continued the discussion. After introductions, we began by inquiring what the Senator’s position was. Ms Renwick indicated that he has not made any public statements on the militarization of drones since 2009. He has successfully obtained federal funds for drone research for NY universities (i.e. Syracuse, Cornell, Rochester). And two testing sites for drones have been awarded to NY. It was also noted that Senator Schumer is aware of some of the recent “accidents” by drones, the most recent in DC at the White House, but also one in NYC in which a drone almost hit a NYPD helicopter!

We summarized our efforts to enhance public awareness on drone use around the world and to generate public support for a ban on the use weaponized drones everywhere and surveillance drones in NYC, NY State and USA: the 2013 campaign with KnowDrones city-wide, collection of signatures on a petition calling for a global ban and our meeting at the United Nations; development and lobbying among the public and city council members for a resolution that would ban surveillance and weaponized drone use in the city over a 3 year period; public education and informal surveys on the public’s views on drone use abroad and possibly in NYC.  (Noted to Ms Renwick that citizens surveyed at sites in Harlem, Brooklyn, City Hall said overwhelmingly that they did not want surveillance or weaponized drones used in the city)

In a more detailed review of the NYC Council amendments to the City Code on drone use, it was felt both were inadequate: Councilman Vallone’s draft bans weaponized and surveillance drones, but exempts city agencies, e.g. NYPD; Councilman Garodnick’s amendments requires a warrant for use of surveillance drones (no reference to weaponized drones). A state bill currently in draft form on surveillance drone use appeared to be the most comprehensive and protective of civil liberties, but without a reference to weaponization.

Moving to our “ask” it was noted that the use of drones overseas foreshadows possible domestic uses, especially with the militarization of NYPD (noted with concern the recent press article that NYPD will have machine guns for use against terrorists and protestors). How can the Senator use his influence, which is substantial in the State and City, to ban the use of drones for surveillance of people: individuals and groups and to ban any weaponized drones anywhere…..similar to global bans on land mines and cluster bombs.   (We noted, we are not talking about use of drone use by hobbyists, around airports….etc as these seemed to be under the FAA)

Ms Renwick did ask us….in a war (declared war situation) would we rather have US boots on the ground or use drones……but she understood that we were basically against war.

Ms Renwick was not sure how the Senator could really assist and she suggested we might contact Rep Peter King, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

We basically ended hoping the Senator would use his influence to ensure laws that protected our civil liberties and rights and that would ban weaponized drone use everywhere, including NYC. A wide range of drone materials were provided to her: from our website, the draft Code amendments and draft State legislation, Will I Be Next: US Drone Strikes in Pakistan (Amnesty International), You Never Die Twice: Multiple Kills in US Drone Program (Reprieve), and Living Under Drones (Stanford Law School/NYU School of Law).

And then we took photos in the hallway, near the elevators…..esp. for Joan who could show them to her judge, respecting his request that we contact our Representatives.

We thanked Ms Renwick for her time and asked her to inform us of any feedback from the Senator.

– Marty Rajandran
for the Granny Peace Brigade

*Edith, Eva-Lee, Joan, Marty, Phyllis and Mel from our neighbors list

November 7 Drone Use Survey in Union Square


New Gizmo. New Questionnaire. Friday, our day to try  them out near Gandhi’s end of Union Square. It’s a new chapter of the Drone-Free NYC campaign. The more you think and engage, the greater the odds of your joining in, we figure. And so…the poll – 8 questions “What Do You Think About Drone Use?”

(Click on the small images for a medium image. Click on the medium image for larger sizes.)

Today’s Granny team reached out with fliers: “Give us your opinion!  What do you think about drones?”  An example of one response to Phyllis:

Girl:  What’s a drone? I don’t know anything!…
Phyllis:  Take a look at these questions.
Girl:  (Does)  Oh…. You just want my opinion!
Phyllis:  Right! And you can join the poll at the table, over there! Vote red for NO and white for YES. We want to see how people respond and test our new questionnaire.
Girl:  OK!

The girl went to the table, for each of the questions there was a plastic tube.  If her answer was ‘no’, she dropped a soft, fuzzy red ball into the tube; if ‘yes’, she dropped a white one.

Phyllis was busy handing out fliers, but later she noticed, this girl was still standing near the gizmo table, talking with others, explaining the poll to them. Success!!! Over 100 people took the poll. The rain held off until we packed up and headed for lunch to tally the votes. The questionnaire worked well except for #2 that we’ll revise.

Meantime, we heard diverse points of view. Caroline dropped her leaflets. Before they could blow too far, a tall guy kindly helped her gather them up. He was interested in who we were: how many, where from. He addressed each question thoughtfully, at first seeing military use of drones as most efficient in terms of loss of lives. He would not want to limit the police in their choice of tactics…but, (as he continued down the list of questions) drones might not be the most cost-effective way to police the city…

We feel ready to go on getting people to think about it, care about it, talk about it. Next stop City Hall Thursday November 13th. We want the City Councilmembers to see us in action.

– Caroline Chinlund – with Phyllis, Joan, Nydia, Barbara H, Eva-Lee, Barbara W, Edith, Nancy and friends Steve, Bud, Fran and Cindy
for the Granny Peace Brigade

New Yorkers Speak Out On DRONE Use By NYPD


“Should it be legal for the NYPD to use weaponized drones against individuals or groups?”

This was one of several questions posed to New Yorkers last Friday (October 10, 2014) as they walked by Nick Motern’s model Reaper drone and a gaggle of the Granny Peace Brigade, who set up a display and survey table in front of the State Office Building in Harlem. It was a perfect fall afternoon.

The survey attracted a lot of interest as well as questions by the passers-by. One young woman asked “What is a drone?” For Eva-Lee, the perfect question for a discussion on not only what is a drone, but how they are used world wide by the US military and the concerns about their use in the USA, leading up to asking the young woman to express her opinion in the survey. And she did: reading each of the 8 questions and choosing a colored pompom, red for No, white for Yes, to cast her vote. She was one of almost 70 survey participants that day, with all but one responding “NO” to the question of use of weaponized drones in NYC.

All the Grannies had a chance to chat with the survey takers, and to pass out copies of the two excellent handouts: Are Drones coming to your neighborhood/NYC Council Resolution on Drones and the NY Daily News re-print on the discussion of drone procurement and use. We encouraged them to contact their city council representative and express their views on the proposals to use drones in NYC.

Alice had a long session with Sarah, a high school student who was on a break and enjoying the afternoon. She took the survey, asking questions about drones and their use, as well as about the activities of the Granny Peace Brigade and KnowDrones. She sat with Alice for quite a long time, successfully attracting more young people to take the survey. And, before Sarah left, she mentioned that she has to do a project for one of her classes on “changing the world” and she would think about doing this on drone attacks.

Phyllis noted that one young man, yelled with both arms extended in the air, “There should be drones in every bad neighborhood ” three times. When he walked by me I asked him what he considered a “bad neighborhood?” An interesting discussion ensued: who and what determines “a bad neighborhood”, who determines who is a bad person, who would determine when to use drones for surveillance, who would make the decision to use weaponized drones and for what justification would these decisions be made. Much to ponder. The young man stated that he then thought that privacy would be invaded by drones and he certainly didn’t want them to hurt people as he moved to participate in the survey.

A man from New Jersey had his is own encounter with a drone. A local real estate agent was using one to survey a neighborhood. He found the humming sounds and the hovering frightening. In describing how the Reaper drones work to an elderly man, I described the constant humming sound, which can go on all day and night. For the villagers in Pakistan or Yemen, they never know when a missile will be launched. They all, especially the children, live in daily terror.”Do we want drones hovering above us in NYC?” A question most people responded “NO.”

I may have had the pleasure of chatting with the one who person who voted yes on the use of weaponized drones in the city! This was a pleasant middle age man. He felt that it is only a matter of time before drone technology will be used in the city. He felt that drones would help to curb crime, especially drug sales on the streets and crimes against persons. However, he did think that it was essential that controls be established on when, where, how drones could be used by the NYPD and that any use of drones be announced in advance so the public is aware of their use and reasons why. He did accept that NYPD may take liberties with any guidelines on drone use, as has happened in the controversial “Stop and Frisk” approach to law enforcement. During the discussion, it did come out that he had family that were in NYPD.

This was the first use of these questions and approach with the “Ms Gizmo” technique. It worked well! It generated interest and good discussions. And for those taking the survey, a thoughtful process. What we learned: some questions were confusing. Maybe there were too many questions, especially for street use on a working day. We look forward to feedback as we make adjustments for the next action. Date and Time to be announced!

We, the Granny Peace Brigade, stand by our position: No Weaponized or Surveillance Drones in NYC. Do speak to your City Council representative and share your views with them. We urge the NY City Council to set in motion an expansive process of public hearings prior to any actions to procure drones by the NYPD. Any decision on drone use will have far reaching implications on all of us!

Thanks to Alice, Eva-Lee, Nydia, and Phyllis for sharing their experience.

– Marty Rajandran
Photos: Marty Rajandran and Eva-Lee Baird
for the Granny Peace Brigade

Anti-Drone Action in Harlem elicits a surprisingly strong police presence!


We were back at our usual spot in front of the Recruiting Station on Lennox Ave/125th St. sharing information on the latest drone news that can affect NYC residents: the recent statements by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton who said “I’m supportive of the concept of drones, not only for the police but for public safety in general.” He is quoted as also saying: “The Mayor is supportive of it as are many members of the Council…” Is this why there were at least 10 officers at different times during our 1.5 hour action hovering around us; ensuring we did not block the entrance to the Recruiting station; forcing us to remove our posters from the wall? And what about the cameras on the back of the police car, parked in front of us….blocking the bus stops….just for us!? (Click on Photos for larger images.)

2014_06_06martyAs we engaged with the public, this is clearly a subject that many have not given any consideration. However, as we discussed this possibility with them, it was increasingly clear that there is concern about this. Issues like where would such drones be used…..mostly likely in this (Harlem) area, but probably not in Wall Street where so many “criminals” hang out!

2014_06_06joanandguyOne resident felt that the police will not like drones, as it will also capture what they are doing! But generally, people felt that with cameras everywhere, there is enough surveillance….”we don’t need them peeking in our windows” as another resident said. But drone use may have another side as we watched one young man run down the street. Was the police car with the siren following him? Would a drone have been safer? And realizing that the neighborhood had a major police action against large gangs earlier this week, would this have been stopped sooner if drones were following the members around?

2014_06_06jennyandguyWe urge a serious public discussion of the possibility of drone use by the Police force by the City Council, perhaps coming up from Community Board Meetings, and maybe even something on the next ballot. We see the use of drones in NYC as further infringing on our rights to privacy. And we definitely don’t want drones weaponized with rubber bullets, tear gas, real bullets, etc. Call your city council member and share your concerns with them directly!

– Marty Rajandran
for the Granny Peace Brigade

2014 Grassroots Community Fair at Hunter College


Tuesday, March 18 at the Hunter Grassroots Community Fair:

The Granny Peace Brigade came to the fair to ask Hunter students for help. We would like the New York City Council to pass a resolution banning weaponized and surveillance drones in NYC. How will that happen? If many, many voters call their City Council representatives asking for drone-control legislation we just might get a law passed. (Click on photos for larger images.)

Photo: Caroline Chinlund
Photo: Caroline Chinlund
Photo: Caroline Chinlund
Photo: Caroline Chinlund

As students stopped by we gave out flyers and FAQ sheets…



Photo: Phyllis Cunningham
Photo: Phyllis Cunningham




…and got into many interesting conversations about drones.



Photo: Eva-Lee Baird
Photo: Eva-Lee Baird




Photo: Phyllis Cunningham
Photo: Phyllis Cunningham

Here’s what we asked them to do:










Go to http://council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml
Type in your address and borough.
Your council person will appear along with contact info.
Get the phone number and make a call.
Identify yourself as a constituent,
and say that you want your councilperson to support a resolution banning weaponized and surveillance drones in NYC.

– Caroline Chinlund, Eva-Lee Baird & Phyllis Cunningham
for the Granny Peace Brigade

We’re Seeking a Meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon


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”].

November 2013

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.

Respectfully submitted,

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

Grannies meet with United Nations officials


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.

Signing the petition at the NYPL
Signing the petition at the NYPL

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.

Last Drone event at Guggenheim Museum
Last Drone event at Guggenheim Museum

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.

We told them about our desire to see weaponized and surveillance drones outlawed.  We then learned that the two recent reports about drones had been requested by the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee which deals with Social, Humanitarian and Cultural concerns;  Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns reported on Extrajudicial and Summary Executions while Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson reported on Protecting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

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.

He further suggested that we contact other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] such as Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, part of International WILPF.

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