Drone Warfare on Trial

warfare -- assassination by unmanned aircraft -- is arguably one of the
most hellish spawns of the modern military-industrial era, and its use
is becoming routine in the Af-Pak war, yet (what else is new?) there's
no debate about it at the level of national policy, just a shrug and a

warfare -- assassination by unmanned aircraft -- is arguably one of the
most hellish spawns of the modern military-industrial era, and its use
is becoming routine in the Af-Pak war, yet (what else is new?) there's
no debate about it at the level of national policy, just a shrug and a

nation's future is itself on a sort of autopilot. It belongs to the
market forces, in tandem with the reckless, short-term strategic
interests of the Pentagon and the politics of empire. There's no moral
voice at the core of this system -- not even, any longer, a voice of
common sense. We live in a spectator democracy: Our role is to gape at
the spectacle. The news cycle runs 24/7 and tells us nothing, if the act
of "telling" includes in its meaning an invitation to participate.

the students who sat in at segregated lunch counters and otherwise
disrupted the nation's Jim Crow status quo nearly half a century ago, we
have to find a way to interrupt the false consensus of
military-industrial America at the level at which it wages war and
engages with the rest of the planet. Doing so takes persistence and
courage -- and sometimes a breakthrough occurs.

bring you the Creech Air Force Base 14: Father John Dear, Dennis
DuVall, Renee Espeland, Judy Homanich, Kathy Kelly, Father Steve Kelly,
Mariah Klusmire, Brad Lyttle, Libby Pappalardo, Sister Megan Rice, Brian
Terrell, Eve Tetaz, Father Louis Vitale and Father Jerry Zawada.

year and a half ago, they were part of a 10-day vigil outside the base
in Indian Springs, Nev. (about 35 miles from Las Vegas), protesting the
Predator and Reaper drone flights over Afghanistan and Pakistan that are
remotely piloted from the base. At the end of the vigil, these 14
activists entered the base illegally, carrying a letter, according to
Kathy Kelly of the Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence, "we
wanted to circulate among the base personnel, describing our opposition
to a massive targeted assassination program." They were arrested and
charged with trespassing.

happened at their trial in Las Vegas two weeks ago may turn the
incident into more than simply a symbolic protest. What was supposed to
be a cut-and-dried trespassing trial -- a crime's a crime, the law's the
law -- ended up being something far larger than that.

of the signs that protestors outside the courthouse were carrying as
the trial began bore the words: "Put Drone Warfare on Trial." And that
may be what happened.

any case, Judge William Jansen, despite his stern lecture at the outset
that the issue before the court was trespassing and nothing else,
listened to the testimony of the three witnesses that the defendants,
who had mounted a pro se defense, called to the stand -- and something
shifted, a door opened, the scope of the trial widened. The question of
who we are as a nation had its day in court. One of many, I can only

a trial about the misdemeanor offense of trespassing, the defendants
called as witnesses: Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general under
Lyndon Johnson; retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who resigned from the
State Department in protest of the 2003 invasion of Iraq; and Bill
Quigley, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

were allowed to be questioned. They were allowed to speak. According to
Kathy Kelly, whom I talked to recently, as well as various accounts of
the trial, including an essay by Father Dear,
the witnesses talked about the historical and legal precedents for
trespassing in service to a higher law, including what is known as the
"necessity defense": If someone is trapped in a burning house, for
example, you have the right to break the law against trespassing in
order to effect a rescue.

wrote Dear, "cited the history of protesters who broke petty laws, from
our nation's founders to the suffragists to the civil rights activists
who illegally sat in at lunch counters. In the long run, we honor them
for obeying a higher law, for helping to bring us toward justice, he
said. Unfortunately, there is a gap between 'the law' and 'justice,' and
so, he explained, the struggle today is to narrow that gap."

witnesses made a number of points that put the defendants' trespassing
in a larger context, including the fact that U.S. drone strikes kill
civilians indiscriminately and in large numbers (there's a 10-to-1
civilian-to-insurgent kill ratio, according to a recent Brookings Institute
study); that intentional, targeted killing is a war crime; and that,
according to Nuremberg principles, every citizen has a duty to disobey
laws or orders that perpetuate crimes against humanity.

the defense rested, the judge made the astounding observation that
there was more at stake here than the usual meaning of trespassing. He
announced that he needed some time to study the testimony and set a new
court date -- Jan. 27, 2011 -- at which he would render his verdict. And
that's where it stands.

will tell whether a door has really opened here, and whether the
Nuremberg principles have truly become relevant in American life and
jurisprudence again. But what if they have? What if the moral force of
peace has found its voice in a nation long thought to have given up on
such matters and gone shopping permanently?

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