Brian Terrell shared his knowledge of drones recently with a group meeting at Yale Divinity School. The videos of the discussion are below along with a typed transcript. There remain some inaudible parts, but 99.5% is audible.
Brian: Okay, thank you. Thanks all. It’s good to be here. Thank you Chelsea and Promoting Enduring Peace Group for arranging this. It’s really good to be here because I feel like I’m coming into a discussion that’s ongoing, that’s already started here. I was here, I talked to some of you over lunch back in December, and I had met Chelsea, Greg, and Greg Creighton back in November at Drone Summit in Washington D.C.
I’m aware of some folks in this community who’ve gone to Hancock Airbase and been involved in the resistance there. I hope we can have a good discussion, too, but I’ll open with a few things. A few months ago I was going through the secular journals of Thomas Merton, who I think would be known here at Yale Divinity School, particularly as he was one of the pioneers of Christian Buddhist dialog, Trappist monk and mystic and poet, but he wrote this long before that when he was a student at Columbia University in 1940.
He had been raised largely in Europe and England and France and was over here on this side of the ocean going to school and was missing out the war. He was very concerned about the future, of course as everyone was.
He said this, June 24, 1940, “We have not even desired peace except for the wrong reasons because we didn’t want to get hurt, and we didn’t want to suffer. If we are ever going to have peace again, we will have to hate war for some other reason than that we fear to lose our houses, our refrigerators, our cars, our legs, or our lives. It is terrifying that the world doesn’t wake up to this irony. That a time when all of our desire is nothing but to enjoy pleasant sensations and avoid painful sensations. There should be almost more pain, more suffering, and brutality, and horror, more helpless to do anything about it than there ever was before.”
I think the drone technology has really embodied exactly what Thomas Merton feared in 1940, is that we have this illusion that we can make war someplace else, and that we can avoid the unpleasantness, the inconvenience, the pain, the horror of it. As long as we can keep it off someplace else, it’s okay, and because for so long the reason why we were against war was because of what it might do to us.
We’ve only gone on to more and worse wars. This technology that promises to limit war with a pinpoint precision, surgical war, President Obama has called it, and that it can be done from very far distances that illusion is fast decaying. I’ve been active against drone warfare since 2009. I was part of the first protest at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, which at the time was the only place the Air Force was flying drones from.
Since its spread, I’ve been to Hancock Air Base and actually a year ago I was four months into a six-month sentence in Federal prison for resisting the drones being flown out of Whiteman Air Force Base near Kansas City. How this technology works and how it collides the distance in ways that’s never been done before in several ways. One is, been articulated by several drone operators who since have gotten out of the military and have described the experience for us is the intimacy that drone operators and pilots have with their victims.
That is really unprecedented. They’re watching at a far distance. They’re watching in pretty high definition video what’s going on on the ground and they’re seeing our top F-16 pilots who said that they would never ever see the plume of smoke from the impact of their missiles because they’re gone. A drone goes … the predator, a couple hundred miles an hour, and it’s watching this going on the ground. They’re watching the impact of their missiles.
I was in Germany this fall, and I had the opportunity, I was speaking at a college and talked to a young man who had just gotten out of the German Army and he had been with the NATO Forces in Afghanistan and he was talking about his experience there and how he confessed to me that he’d killed several people, and he didn’t feel good about that. He didn’t understand the politics, and he wasn’t happy about the war, but he said all he really knew is that he is that he was with his friends and people he identified as the Taliban were shooting at him, and he was shooting back. Some of his friends died, and some of these insurgents he was fighting against died too. He didn’t feel good about it, but he didn’t lose any sleep.
It brought to mind the story of Brandon Bryant, one of these drone operators I was talking about. He was talking about two of the people that he had killed. He was stationed at Creech Airforce Base at the time, and for several weeks, he would take his shift and sit down in the chair and be watching the video screen at the controls of the drone, and he would be following. He was assigned to follow these two guys. The surveillance went on around the clock. He would do his 8-hour shift and get out of the chair, and somebody else would replace him on and on for two weeks, and other people are watching what is going on on the screen with the CIA and other military analysts, and their looking at what’s going on and somebody somewhere figured these two people were somehow an imminent danger to the United States. He was ordered, and he followed the order and pushed the button. Hellfire missile killed those two people.
Brandon Bryant said he did not see anything that indicated that they were any kind of danger or doing anything nefarious. That determination was made some place else. He did see though enough to know they were good dads, and he is losing sleep over killing those two guys. He feels like that was murder, and it made him into a heartless sociopath.
The isolation in a way … I am thinking about these two soldiers. One is on the ground, and he is being shot at, and the other is 7,000 miles away where no one can touch him. The impact is much deeper on the person who is physically farther away but another way much more intimate. I think we are learning something about not just what post-traumatic stress is but about the human psyche and about what damages us. It is not only the pains and indignities and torture that we might feel in our own bodies but also and probably even more so what we inflict on other people.
Something that’s also … Since 2009 since the Obama administration has ramped up, the first armed drone strikes were in 2002 in Afghanistan. They have picked up significantly under the Obama administration. They have been found to be pretty useless in combat. A man named Michael Savage, who is the Air Force General, and he is in charge of the Air Force’s combat command, and he said in a speech last year that the predator and the rebirth in combat is totally useless. It’s good at assassinations, but in combat, it’s not a very good weapon. That’s from the top.
From the bottom, another drone operator … This is a young woman, Heather Linebaugh that was with the Air Force for 3 years as a drone operator, and she said this “Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the unmanned aerial vehicle predator and reaper program, I wish I could ask them a few questions. I would start with how many women and children have you seen incinerated by Hellfire missile, and how many men have you seen crawl across a field trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding from severed legs, or even more pointedly, how many U.S. soldiers have you seen die on the side a road in Afghanistan because our ever so active UAV are unable to detect an IED (improvised explosive device) that awaited their convoy.” That’s the simple airman.
Another person on the top is General Stanley McChrystal who was the head of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. He flatly said that the Drone program was hindering the military efforts of the NATO forces, allied forces there, making things worse.
What these are used for more and more, even in Afghanistan, but in places far away from any place where the United States is in any kind of … we aren’t in a declared war of and have not been since World War II, but any kind of state of aggression, is finding people either by name, which are called personality strikes, and we know it has been leaked to the New York Times that Tuesday mornings the President meets with his advisors and they go through names and pictures, and they decide on people who are threats to the United States and various parts of the world, and that goes down the chain of command, and the drone operators are to look for those people. There is also the signature strikes, the people who are acting consistent of the way of somebody who would be a threat to the United States.
So, what we are doing with these drones now is finding people or looking at people who are acting in certain ways that would look to somebody 7,000 miles away to be suspicious. We are killing them, and we are not killing them while they are launching rockets or laying landmines or involved in any kind of aggression but while they’re picking up their kids from school, while they’re at weddings, wherever we might find them. Kids playing football that might look a military training exercise are often targeted.
This has required a huge stretch of our language according to the UN decoration of human rights and the rules of war, even the United States Army manual for the rules of war. Outside the battle field force is acceptable against imminent threat. That has always been defined as somebody like immediately going to be doing something. If you can stop somebody using force from doing something murderous and destructive under international law you have the right to do that, and according to domestic law and our own military rules, that’s acceptable, but what they’ve done with this … Last year, the justice department white paper surfaced titled on the lawfulness of a lethal operation directed against the U.S. citizen. This is signed off on by Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General saying that the determination from a well-performed high-level administration official that a target represents imminent threat is sufficient basis to order the killing of an American citizen. “The condition that an operational leader presents an imminent threat of violent attack against United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.”
You hear President Obama saying we are only attacking people who are an imminent threat to the Unites States, but they redefine imminent to be somebody wrote something once or met with someone who looks like somebody who met with somebody. It’s all unraveling to where they can target who they want. These are the standards got American citizens. The standard for non-citizens is much, much lower of course.
Another entertaining kind of thing that Eric Holder, our Attorney General, said some months ago with the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and then later his son Abdulrahman 16-years-old American citizen killed in Yemen.
We have a constitutional right to due process, and he said some people might say that means a judicial process. That would be mistaken. There is no guarantee to judicial process, but the burden of due process can be met by the executive branch deciding itself on the basis of secretive information that a U.S citizen is a threat.
This devolving of language … I am been involved in the protests at Hancock and Mark and Creighton were here and Greg was not here but have been more recently. The same thing that’s happening in Iowa … What’s happening in Syracuse is an Air National Guard Wing that’s based right out of the Airport … Hancock Air Force Base is actually just a little corner of the commercial civilian airport in Syracuse. They turned over from flying F-16 fighter planes to flying drones, and when that shift happened, they changed their name from … What’s the number mark, one-hundred …
Speaker 4: 174.
Brian: 174th Fighter Wing to 174th Attack Wing. In Iowa, my home state, they just made that change from 137th Fighter Wing to 137th Attack Wing. This is not just semantics. We are changing from a fight to an attack. A fight has two sides, and there can be some parody in it, and when there’s a fight, usually there’s some gray area acuity about who was right and who was wrong, but in a fight also there is such thing as a fair fight, there is such thing as a just fight. Some would say that there is such thing as a just war. No one says there is such thing, no ethical system that I’m aware of endorses the idea of a just attack. An attack is two sides, but you have a perpetrator and a victim. The victim is always under international law and domestic law. The victim of an attack is always protected under law. Always. What’s happening with this technology is we’re moving from anything like war to just a very, very bald-faced and arrogant, we are on the attack, and that puts us in the wrong every time.
Also with this, the language Orwell would have really … did not see anything like this coming. A lot of you are old enough to remember the new intercontinental missile that came out in the Reagan administration, the MX missile, and Ronald Reagan dubbed it the Peace Keeper, which is very Orwellian, and now, the gloves are off, and we are calling these weapons the frist generation of our drones The Predator. The one that’s prevalent now is the Reaper bringing out the image of the Grim Reaper. The next one coming down the pike, I think, is going to be called The Stalker. The age of euphemism is over, and what their armed with is 500-pound bombs, Hellfire missiles.
Think about this. The image of the Grim Reaper … You don’t have to be a Christian in this society, and I know that Islam has the same image of an angel of death. If you look at the New Yorker just for the cartoons, you will see the Grim Reaper, the guy in the black robe with the hood, and he’s got the scythe on his shoulder coming and knocking on your door saying it is time for you to go and its lots of jokes about that. The images on what we have now is the president of the United States sitting down on a Tuesday morning with his advisors, and he is deciding, not God. He is deciding to whom the Grim Reaper is going to be assigned to visit, and the president of the United States is ordering hellfire to rained down on them, and it clearly is a theological claim that the administration is making for the power of the presidency.
I think another way that hasn’t been looked at enough about how these drones are crashing in the space between war and peace came to me very vividly in October after being … I was six months in Federal prison like I said, and during those 6 months, I was walking in very tight little circles all the time thinking about all this stuff. Since I got out, it was like a tight spring breaking, a rubber band snapping or something. I have been all over the place and really finding very gratifying to share the things that I worked out walking around the track in the prison yard. I have been all over the place.
I was in England, and I was privileged to be at the trial of 4 people who had entered into the RAF base in Waddington near Lincoln. It is one of the places that Royal Air Force has a wing based at Creech Air Force Base still and has had for many years, but now, they are also flying drones from their own base in England.
One of the defendants, Keith Hendon, is a young Church of England vicar, and he was defending himself, and he testified from the stand that when they cut their hole in the fence and went through onto that property that he was entering into a war zone. The prosecutor cut him off and said “You can’t say that,” and he said, “Yes, I can.” As her majesty’s government declared it a war zone, but just explained that there are people in uniform who are engaged in real-time battle who are flying planes and dropping missiles and dropping bombs and shooting missiles. They are engaged in combat, and he said for the first time since World War II, there is combat being waged from English soil.
He said when he was inside this base, which is right outside of Lincoln, it’s kind of suburban, he was looking out through the chain link fence and seeing kind of suburban neighborhoods and seeing children playing, and he realized that those kids in those neighborhoods of civilian community was in danger because you can say what you want about the ambiguity of the legality of the drone program. I think the arguments for it are all pretty false, but there is no ambiguity that where you have people in uniform engaged in combat, that is a legitimate target of war, and we are putting targets of war in suburban Syracuse, in Des Moines, outside of Las Vegas, outside of Kansas City, and it’s only a matter of time before … All these different levels, our efforts at keeping the war at bay and keeping the war limited, it’s going to crash in on us.
I’d like to just tell one more story. I was released from prison May 24th, and the day before I was released the president was on television talking about the drone program, and it was depressing to hear what he was saying cause it was all lies, but it was exciting that he was even talking about it because I know that this was not his plan. He did not say to his advisors, “I think you know it is time for me to get on TV and talk about the drones and how great they are and what a wise judicious legal weapon they are.” He was forced because of the debate. He was forced by a few people here in the United States and more people in Pakistan and Yemen and some in Europe, very few but a growing number raising these issues.
I was very happy though especially … I found out … I knew right away who it was. I’m watching this on TV on my last day in prison, and the president is so smug talking about this program in just glowing terms, and I hear a voice off camera asking some really, really hard questions of the president, and that voice disappears as the police apparently have taken her away.
Medea Benjamin was going to be here soon, and I think she shifted the debate and one young man, who I really hope to meet sometime, and I have been following him in the foreign media. He was interviewed in Der Spiegel in Germany some months before, and I know he’d been trying to get a break into the U.S. media, and it was just a couple days later that Brandon Bryant was on the Today Show of all things. He told the story that … This is the young man I was talking about who had followed these two young fathers and left their children orphans after he followed some orders, but he told a story, which was on the Today Show of all things, that is chilling.
He was talking about the first time he killed anyone, at night, and there is a battle going on somewhere nearby but not immediately. Again, the word imminent does not mean anything anymore, but there were some GIs and fire fights and a couple of miles away there were three guys walking through a mountain road to Afghanistan, and they had guns, which is not a surprise or significant very much. These three guys are walking down the road, and the order comes to shoot them, and he fires a hellfire missile. This is at night. It is daytime in Nevada. It is night in Afghanistan on the other side of the world, and they use infrared heat sensing thermal imagery at night measuring the gradations of temperature, and of course, the screen goes white with the explosion of the Hellfire, and two of the people are just gone, just disappeared. One of them lost his leg, and he watches the arterial bleeding in great detail, the warm blood, it’s wintertime, going into the cold night and watches the pool of blood spread and then recede as it cooled. And then he watched pixel by pixel as the victim’s temperature came to the ambient temperature of the air and the ground around him and disappeared. He was just gone. But God bless this young man, he says every time I close my eyes, I see him.
Now the president in his speech said “Of course, we deplore the loss of innocent life in this drone program, but its war, and it happens.” He said, “Everyone in my command is haunted by these deaths.” Haunted by these deaths when only a few months before John Brennan, who he put for the head of the CIA, was saying there were zero unintended deaths.
I am sure that Brandon Bryant was only able to get this on American television because the debate was shifted by Medea Benjamin speaking out at that time. He and the president said about the same thing. He said that he is haunted. The president says he’s haunted. I believe Brandon Bryant, and I don’t believe the president. If he is haunted, he is haunted because by some of the people in this room. We are the ones that are haunting the president over this, and that’s really our job right now.
Open for questions and comments.
Speaker 5: I think there are different aspects … It is so new that there is obviously … The victims are [inaudible 00:33:38], but they are technical.
Speaker 5: We don’t have details. Along that line, why are these weapons so invulnerable? Why can’t they be shot down? Why can’t their very faint signal from the satellite be jammed? I can’t even [inaudible 00:34:04] victim available. How can this weapon have this invulnerable [inaudible00:34:14] before countermeasures in effect annihilate it?
Brian: That’s actually what this General Savage said when he said they are useless in battle. He said I can’t use drones in any contested situation. They crash a lot. There have been many … Upstate New York drone was using for training crashed into Lake Ontario. Another just a few weeks ago … A predator drone unarmed that the ICE, a department of Homeland Security, the immigration patrolling the border had to be crash landed in the Pacific Ocean because they were afraid it was going to crash in San Diego. They were able to divert it to crash.
We know that a couple of years ago the Iranians announced 2 or 3 years ago that they had an American drone and shades of the Gary Powers kind of thing with the U2 flights is of course the United States saying “We are not flying drones into Iranian airspace. What are you talking about?” Then, they brought it out, and they said obviously this is a fake. They found a photograph of one of our drones, and they made a mockup of it because if it crashed it would have been destroyed. They said well who said anything about it crashing or being shot out of the sky? Apparently, the claim is that they had hacked into its controls, and they had brought it down safely.
Speaker 5: If you could hack into it, then of course you could appropriate it for your own purposes.
Brian: Right. Right.
Speaker 5: Also along that line, [inaudible 00:36:09] literally not so much of a problem but everywhere else in the world [inaudible 00:36:15].
Brian: Yeah. I am sure that they have got different technologies just like they can land airplanes in cloud cover and things. I am not really up on all the technology, but yeah, it is very vulnerable, and the technology is spreading very, very fast. Even non state actors … Hezbollah has Israel saying Hezbollah is flying drones over northern Israel.
Brian: Police departments are using such things. Yes. Yeah. A lot of police departments already have them for patrolling the streets. They’re just like little helicopters that look like the size of a dinner plate, and they’ve got cameras on them, and going down the city streets, and somebody’s watching that from the police station and can call in a squad car if they see something, which I think is just further removing people from the police.
We were talking at supper with people at my table about “Is there a good drone? And my take on technology is that we are not driven by it but that we make decisions, and it’s very policy-driven. For example, George W. Bush had the means of using the armed predator drones and hardly ever did. Under Obama, the change of administration, policy change, and this goes crazy, increases and increases.
On these commercial drones a couple years ago with the Federal Aviation Administration for their funding bill, the president required them by next year, by 2015, to open up the skies to some 30,000 drones that are presently illegal to flying. There is all of this investment being plugged into it now and various places vying to be the places for the research to go on and everything. This doesn’t have to happen. It is happening because these decisions are being made, and they’re driven by profit.
There have really been several sad cases lately about these commercial drones, and one kind of egregious one is in December in Norway. There’s UNESCO Heritage Site, an ancient wooden village many hundreds of years old that has been pretty untouched high in the fjords, and there was a fire and most of this was destroyed, terrible loss. If you do a YouTube search, you will see a video taken by drones. CNN and other news agencies had drones there, and it is really great. Not putting any journalist in danger, we have all of this great footage of this village burning down, but the fire fighters and the police in Norway right now are investigating because they could not get firefighters into the village with helicopters because of the drones that were in the air. The police had asked them to recall their drones, to get them out of the area, and they refused.
I think we can’t uninvent the drone, and there may be uses … I know they are being extensively in Japan in Fukishima. They are monitoring radiation from that … I hate to call it an accident … the horrible scene there.
There are things that can be done with them, but finding lost kids is not what’s driving this technology. It’s really going to be a degrading not only of war but of our personal privacy and stuff as time goes on.
Speaker 6: Who is the main manufacturer of the West’s drones?
Brian: The two main armed drones are the Reaper and the Predator, and this company in California, General Atomics, that’s who kind of puts it together, but there are parts being made by lots and lots people, and there are also dozens of kinds of drones that at present time aren’t weaponized, some of them as small as flies and some them as big as 747’s for surveillance. Everybody’s getting in on it. Boeing is in on it. Rockwell is in on it. This is a huge burgeoning industry.
Casey: How’s fighting the violence of drones and ware and media … Sometimes, the only [inaudible] through a drone Instagram called Drone Scram.
Casey: Not only that. It is almost like they’re strategically in place like far apart from each other like earlier [inaudible 00:42:34] 2 strikes at once almost. [inaudible 00:42:37].
Casey: And [inaudible 00:42:41] Brian: One of the interesting things mentioning Afghanistan is there’s the bilateral security agreement that’s being hammered out now with the Karzai government that’s all .. controversy about it. One of the ironies is that Obama is fighting to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after this year for the purpose of maintaining bases in Afghanistan to fly drones into Pakistan. This idea that this technology keeps our soldiers safe is … no there will be U.S. soldiers, and of course they’ll be targeted.
As far as how we can break through the silence, I think one of … My first experience with protesting drones was in Nevada, and we had … There was a journalist, Jason Whited who worked for one of the local papers there in Las Vegas who was a veteran of the Air Force. He was very, very concerned and spooked at what was going on at Creech Air Force Base 40 miles down the road. He was grateful. He thanked us for coming and doing the protest because he said he couldn’t convince his editor just to write something about what’s going on at Creech Air Force Base, but when we had our protest there and arrests and trials and expert witnesses, he could interview the expert witness. He interviewed Richard Falk and Ramsey Clark and people and put in the Las Vegas newspaper what’s going on there.
I think we’ve really seen what’s happening in Syracuse. The local paper has just had some very, very, very good coverage, not just about making us look good sometimes but about really educating people what’s going on.
I was getting the New York Times sent to me in prison, and this is from … The president’s speech was May 23rd of 2013. I had to have this forwarded to me back home from the jail. But the day before the president’s speech. The New York Times above the fold. I like the alliterations. See all the B’s. Debate Aside Drone Strikes Drop Sharply. They have. In Afghanistan, they’ve picked up, but it’s been a couple months since there has been a strike in Pakistan. The New York Times is of course a part of an establishment. If you read the article, a better headline would be … which most people don’t … The better headline would be Debate Causes Drone Strikes to Drop Sharply, but they don’t want us to know that. They don’t want us to know that raising the level of debate can have an effect in the real world. I really think that … I can’t be too discouraged because I’ve been working on this for quite a while, and even in the peace movement four years ago, there was not a lot of understanding about the danger of this and not a lot of support sometimes for the first efforts against the drones.
What difference does it make if there is someone in the plane? What difference does it make to the people on the ground? Maybe isn’t this is better than other kinds war? Isn’t this maybe some kind of progress toward peace? Do you need to protest everything? This is the kind of thing that we heard back then. We come from a time where in the general public you try to talk about drones, and they mostly wouldn’t know what you are talking about, but then they would say, well what’s the problem? Where’s the down side? The whole thing is looking to people even if they are not against it. It’s looking kind of shady. It’s looking kind of spooky. That shift has come because people like a lot of folks in this have helped push that discussion.
At this point in the game, I just think anything that you can do that makes any kind of noise, and I always think that talking to the people at the bar where you hang out or the coffee shop or the people you work with is every bit as important as talking to your member of congress. I think at this point in the game with the drones probably even more because what we need is a real cultural shift, and this has to come from the bottom. As far as what you can do, just figure out what it is in your life and your circle of influence and use whatever leverage you have to bring up these questions and objections to this.
Speaker 8: I wanted to ask … I think you right that we have to talk to the [inaudible 00:48:45] school people are connected to churches, city [inaudible 00:48:49] needs to be talking to about it within their congregation. That is certainly how we divide the negation we have used for a long time. The [inaudible 00:48:58] meet in people’s houses [inaudible 00:49:00] people’s houses and sometimes in their churches, and then, I think it’s got to go at that level. I was wanting to ask you though specifically about your experience within the community for Creative Nonviolence. I wonder if you can talk about that and the importance. I think the movement that’s been going on [inaudible 00:49:18]. If you could just share with us the spiritual [inaudible 00:49:26] Brian: Actually, Voices of Creative of Nonviolence … This is the question when they changed the name some years ago … This is not any kind of linear connection with Community Creative of Nonviolence that is in Washington D.C. We have our newsletter back there and also the newsletter and sign-up sheet and also the newsletter from the [inaudible 00:49:50] in Iowa where I live so help yourself to that information and also about the campaign nonviolence, some ideas about what to do in the future.
I think one reason why Voices was very, very quick to get onto the drone issue is … Voices began as Voices in the Wilderness during the sanctions against Iraq, and a lot of people … Is any here … I know I traveled to Iraq [inaudible 00:50:31] in 1998 with Voices breaking the sanctions, and when the sanctions were over with the invasion, about that time, Voices in the Wilderness got hit with a judgement of several tens of thousands of dollars from the treasury department for violating the sanctions.
The name was changed for various reasons because the sanctions that brought us together were gone, and we didn’t want the government to get a penny of our money. We changed the name to Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Since then, we’ve been having delegations, some to Pakistan, and we’ve had a running presence.
I have only been to Afghanistan once, and I hope to go there this summer, but we have had members of our community in Afghanistan just about all the time these last few years and before that in Pakistan. The first times that we heard about the drones was not from our governments spokespeople and U.S. media. We heard about drones for the first time from people in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We’ve known … One very good friend of ours is from … Rales Muhammad is from … After we met him, his brother went through training to be an Afghan police officer, and the class of these men who trained under U.S. soldiers to be Afghan police were celebrating their graduation and got hit with a hellfire missile and a bunch of them wiped out. This is the kind of thing that we’ve heard from our friends. It’s on a very, very personal level that we see it from a different point of view.
Voices is not Catholic worker. With a lot of people, myself included and Kathy Kelley very much come out of the Catholic worker background, and I think of the personalism of the Catholic worker is reflected in that too. In saying that, I am in a very worried position. I have been talking about just war and international law, and I’ve been arguing it’s pro se defendant in court over and over again on top of these things, and I’m pacifist, and I don’t believe in the just war theory. I think that was the very beginning of situational ethics that the conservatives are so afraid of. I think it is a degradation of the gospel, and I am an anarchist, and I don’t believe in the rules of war, and I don’t believe in the U.N. resolution on human rights that outline the conditions by which someone can go to war. I object to the provisions of the Geneva Convention that leave wiggle room and allow for the use of weapons against civilian populations under certain circumstances.
What I am seeing with the drone is … The important thing with anarchism is it’s not pretending the law doesn’t exist. There is better ways for us to organize ourselves, but what we’re seeing with the drone is taking away what other restraint that international law and our own domestic law and our own military regulations, laws that are in a sense I abhor, but I see them disappearing suddenly with nothing else in their place, and it’s very, very scary. I don’t believe in the just war theory, but I am really glad that some people have some restraints. The drone is representing those restraints being lost.
I think I am kind of in a position like Thoreau explained himself that once asking for no state at the same time asking for a better state. I am at point saying no … I am saying for no war for another and at the same time saying that certain things have to be proven and have to just so outrageously abhorrent that we just won’t even think about doing them, we won’t go there.
Speaker 9: How did the license that the executive have assumed to be judge, jury, and executioner? How did that come before [inaudible 00:55:58]?
Brian: There are people pushing it. I know that the constitution … The center of constitutional rights were … Just like now, they are looking for somebody, some shadowy person, I believe in Yemen, who is an American citizen, and they are already setting us up for his murder. Anwar al-Awlaki we knew was leaked that Obama was gunning for him, and his father tried to with a center of constitutional rights tried to use the courts to stop that and were unsuccessful. There are people on that level, American Civil Liberties Union. There are people working legally. The group Reprieve in England is working with victims of drones in Yemen and Pakistan and trying to get them standing in U.S. courts. That’s a huge effort that’s going on.
One thing that’s amazing … I am was talking with Mark about their case coming up in Syracuse. I’ve been on trial in various states of the United States and attended the trial in the United Kingdom as I said. I think more successfully than anything else we’ve done with nuclear weapons or with Guantanamo or with the contra wars is we’ve managed to get into these little courtrooms. This is … In Syracuse, it’s the township court. The court is in session at 5 in the evening to 11 at night because the judge had a day job. This is traffic tickets and stuff. In this little court dealing with disorderly conduct charges bringing in the Nuremberg principles bringing in the supremacy clause of the constitution and all of this Geneva Conventions and everything being discussed in these little courtrooms all over the country.
The same thing we saw in Las Vegas and Missouri … I think this is really … Even the judges, like the ones in Syracuse who really aren’t going to shut us down and really going to find us guilty and put us in jail. They are fascinated by this. We’re bringing these huge issues that ought to be in the Supreme Court are in the courtrooms where people are usually trying to talk about trying to get off of speeding tickets and such.
I have to spend some time figuring this out. I sentenced to prison going on 2 years ago. This was in a Federal court. I was charged with trespassing in U.S. magistrate’s court. Among our witnesses, we had Bill Quigley, who was a legals director for the Center of Constitutional Rights. He is a law professor from Loyola University as well and Colonel Ann Wright, who also has a law degree, and her job in the military was explaining the rules of war to soldiers and lecturing soldiers on the rules of war among other things. She was a diplomat of the State Department, and after the invasion of Iraq, she knew that her boss Colin Powell was laying, and she was one of a number of diplomats who resigned over that. Anyway, they both testified in our trial, and when the judge came to sentence me, he said that it was reprehensible that I was comparing our fighting men and women of the United States military to Nazis, and I was really taken aback by that because I didn’t say that. I don’t say that. I don’t think that’s helpful in conversation, but after I had some time to think about it, I realized what happened, and why I got the maximum sentence was because I had gotten through to this guy and I got expert witnesses. I did not say that our soldiers were acting like Nazis, but our witnesses and I lay out that the United States military is not acting in a way consistent with how a military in a democratic republic acts, but our military through the drone program is acting the way a military acts under a fascist regime. He figured that out. I didn’t have to lie that out. He figured it out. He got it, and he was outraged, but his outrage was with me for bringing it up, not the fact that our military is acting in a lawless unconstitutional manor, flagrantly violating all of their own precepts and rules.
This brings up fascinating things, and also from the beginning of this … Like I said, there are people in the peace movement who are skeptical about taking on the drones back then, but there are also people who are died in the wool militarist, imperialist, America has to run the world, we have to get our way, we got to get those Islamic fascist, who at the same time were frightened of the drones, who look at this and say “I don’t know if we should go that way.” This is something that’s for a lot of reasons was very controversial within the military.
This is not something that there is universal acceptance or love for this program. This issue shakes things up and just reveals a whole lot of things that we keep secret and repressed. I think it’s just a weird kind of thing that shakes us in a way that even, I don’t why, things like torture or even the threat of total destruction from nuclear weapons has not always touched the nerve that the drone program does.
Also, I was arrested two years ago in what we called the Trifecta Resista because Whiteman Air Force Base is outside of Kansas City, and they are building a new nuclear weapons plant in Kansas City. If you read about it, my wife was arrested there and sentenced to write essays and one of her essays is in our newsletter from our farm. Essentially the same crime I got 6 months for and Betsy had to write an essay. I laughed.
Also, Chelsea Manning is at Leavenworth, which is outside of Kansas City as well. Two years ago, we had a very intense weekend of protest at the nuclear weapons plant and protesting Chelsea Manning’s being held at Fort Leavenworth and at the nuclear weapons plant. We are doing this again if you’re interested coming up to Missouri May 30th, 31st, and June 1st.
The weapons that Obama administration is … I think this is very, very strange that they are talking about lifespan enhancements of nuclear weapons. That is what they are building this plant for, lifespan enhancement of nuclear weapons, and they’re talking about making nuclear weapons that are smaller and more tactical, ones that are more thinkable, the using of them are more thinkable, and they say “Yeah, we are making more nuclear weapons, but these are little one. These are not the big ones that destroy a whole half of the state. These are just ones that only a neighborhood would be obliterated. The rest of the town would be poisoned forever.” But it’s smaller, and it’s the same kind of mentality as the drone as we get smaller more limited, more surgical, more targeted nuclear weapons. We’re moving in the same direction with the nukes as we are with the drones. In both cases, they make war that much more thinkable, that much more easier. The weapons of war are ones that can be used so easily or in the case of the drone … The administration doesn’t think that it needs congressional approval to send a drone some place, even armed drones. They admit that need it to send air planes with bombs, but a drone … because there’s nobody put in harm’s way. It makes the war that much easier.
Speaker 10: I have a question from [inaudible 01:07:40] you raise a cause worthy of [inaudible 01:07:48] otherwise [inaudible 01:07:50] your court testimony and whatever. [inaudible 01:07:54] We are deeply concerned about [crosstalk 01:08:12] and war. Do you see it as a [inaudible 01:08:15]?
Brian: I think you came in a little bit, didn’t you? I spoke to that event about how this weaponry shows that the moral injury, the harm to the psyche and soul is not so much what a person suffers themselves but what they inflict on others. This is something that is just really revealing.
I want to speak to something pastorally. Some of you might remember the Catholic bishop’s conference in the United States made a pastoral letter condemning drone warfare. June 4th is the Washington Post. The United States Catholic bishop’s conference justice and peace chairman, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, and he is my bishop. He wrote, in his job as a chair, a really very pointed, very good look at the drone under the just war theory and pretty much very effectively talked about how this doesn’t fit under the just war theory with proportionality and all of the other things. We owe it to ourselves to keep asking the questions of the moral gravity involved. The use of attach drones should be inseparable from the question of whether or not it promotes peace and security around the world.
A friend of mine, who is a journalist, asked the question that her editor would not allow her to publish the answer as what I believe her editor said it was a leading question, and she should not have asked it. It wasn’t quite ethical. I thought it was the only pertinent question asked about Catholics in Iowa because less than 2 miles from the cathedral is where soon members of the Air National Guard will be sitting at screens flying these drones, and it is a very Catholic area. There are going to be Catholics in Des Moines flying drones in the shadow of the cathedral. The question is, what does this have to say to those young men and women who will be asked to do this? The answer that has not been published … The question was, you mentioned Catholics who will be working at the Iowa National Guard facility might be asked to pilot drones. I wondered whether the bishop will tell them that it was immoral to do so. What they wrote about in the post, of course, was not a definitive moral analysis but raised significant moral concerns. Anyone who has conscientious objections to any issue in the military, that’s one thing. The United States has the right to self-defense so the level of policy decision people that we really have to work with in terms of moral concerns.
I don’t think that your question is pertinent to really to this issue.
Saying pastorally, he is talking to the president and telling the president this is wrong, but pastorally, he has got nothing to say to people who are actually going to be involved in this. He doesn’t want to raise the controversy.
And this brought to my mind, I think the best thing if you find it was published in a book of essays, but Albert Camus wrote speaking to the faculty of a Catholic seminary in Paris about the role of Pius XII in the Catholic church during World War II and during the atrocities of the Nazis. He said, “I never heard a voice raised from Rome, and even as a nonbeliever, I knew what was being lost that Rome was not speaking out. Now, I understand. It’s been explained to me that the condemnation was uttered, but it was uttered in the language of encyclicals, which was not meant to be understood. And I swear to you, I am one of millions of Europeans who are waiting for the word and didn’t hear it. What the world needs is for a group of Christians who will speak out and pay out of their own person for it, speak out so clearly that not even the simplest person can misunderstand or miss the condemnation. It needs to be spoken so clearly.”
What we have now like for so many other issues our churches have all these really neat pastoral statements and encyclicals and things like this, and I really think they are written mainly to shut people like us up so we can say, “Oh, we made a statement about that.”
Our bishop, but I don’t mean to just pick on him … Although, he and I don’t get along for some other reasons too. He wants to make the moral stand. He wants to have it on the record in the Washington Post that he said that these drones are immoral and against the just war theory and in violation of the gospels. He does not want to take the heat of saying it stops here and of giving pastoral advice to the young people who he knows are going to be called to do that duty.
I think as far as the churches concern is, I think talking about the moral injury of this is … You really can’t talk about the moral injury caused by this without condemning it because of course that’s where the injury comes is because we know that’s wrong. We know that it’s wrong, and that’s why it hurts. The drone pilots who are suffering the effects of their work, they are not suffering it because they have been subjected to loud noises or they’ve been having to sleep in trenches or because they’ve been abused or tortured. It is their own consciousness that are seeing this knowing that it’s wrong, and they deserve our bishops and pastors not to condemn them to what they are doing but for saying, “Yes, I know. Yes, I know this is wrong, and you’re right.”
Speaker 11: Do you think that maybe we can call on like 14 or 15-year-old hackers that are in the world to get into the military systems and crash drones?
Speaker 12: You’re under arrest.
Brian: It’s a good idea. I don’t know. One of the things about … The National Defense University made a study that said in Afghanistan drones programs are an order of magnitude. The drone strikes order of magnitude more likely to cause civilian deaths than manned flights. One of the authors at that interview was in the study. He suggested that it’s 10 times more likely to kill civilians than a manned aircraft. It just blows away the whole thing about this precision stuff. It isn’t precision when you are using a … A hellfire missile will take out this room and everyone in it. The drone program costs a lot of money, and all the infrastructure for it costs a lot of money, but the individual drones cost like four million dollars. It is big money for you and me, but a fighter plane costs hundreds of millions of dollars. These are pretty dispensable, and because there is nobody in it, the political cost is not there, and because the drone pilot too is not risking his/her life, there are risks that are being taken that wouldn’t ordinary be taken. Also, it is a level of maturity, because a person who normally flies an F-16 would be somebody with many years’ experience, many thousands of hours flying and always an officer with a lot of responsibility. Also, because of all the training that has gone in, his superiors are not going to risk his life really cavalierly, but with these drones, cause they are so little cost and because the drone pilot … They just went up from like 3 months to 9 months, but it’s months of training before they’re in control. They actually get wings, and they wear flight suits when they’re doing this. I thought hell with it, do it in your pajamas. Who knows and who cares. Even that advantage is gone, but they dress up to do this as though they are flying a real airplane.
The New York Times did an article, and they were comparing the years of study for an F-16 fighter pilot, the months of study for preparation for a drone pilot, and somebody in the military brought up that no the disparity of training is not so big as you would think because actually these drone pilots are 18 or 19 years old just out of boot camp with a few months training, they actually have more training than the fighter pilots because they have been training since they were 6 years old at the video games. You were talking about finding these hackers. It would be great if we could find them, but the military is finding them. The military intruders have their own arcades, and they set up in the malls, their own offices in the shopping malls, and they roam the arcades and leave their cards with kids who are racking up the scores.
Speaker 13: In relation to the Air National Guard unit, certainly [inaudible 01:21:04] miles away they have an Air National Guard Base.
Brian: Yeah. Yeah. Its specific units. It’s fitting into the National Guard thing really easily for obvious reasons for the soldier. You don’t need to send somebody out and ship them overseas. It is for the most part like Hancock Air Base, there is nobody lives there. There is no residence. All of those people are going home to their families. They are all National Guard people. It is a very … I think we are going to see that drone.
One thing it’s done with the National Guard … I look into this. I had an email exchange with the Colonel Hapgood, who is the Public Relations guy for the Iowa National Guard, and people who have done conta recruiting and GI rights stuff that know about this is … A National Guard member who is stationed in this state … Somebody from the Connecticut National Guard, while they are stationed in the state, they are being paid by the State of Connecticut, and they are under Connecticut’s adjutant general of the state, and their commander and chief is the governor of Connecticut, and in their federal eyes, that ships to the President of the United States, and their under the Pentagon chain of command. This has to do with their pensions and how they’re paid and how they’re cared for if they’re wounded. All of this is a different status step. I checked into this … What happens when these people are physically in the United States, but they are virtually overseas, and the answer is that they will federalized the whole time even though they are physically in the United States. They will be treated as though they were in Afghanistan as far as their pay and benefits go.
Also, a really weird thing is that where this is happening, I am sure it is the same here in Iowa National Guard Unit get shipped off to Afghanistan, and they have a big send off, and they have a welcome when they come back, and they have websites and Facebook pages where you can see where your local National Guard unit is and get pictures and things like that. They encourage people to like the page and send messages and support to our soldiers and everything.
The soldiers who are flying drones or operating drones, where they are virtually is secret. They are not supposed to tell their spouses or their kids or their parents or their neighbors where the drone is that they are flying. This is another part of the posttraumatic stress and the moral injury is one drone operator said it was a moral whiplash that you are 8 hours a day sitting in a chair, and you’re seven thousands miles away from the war. This is from Nevada to Afghanistan. I am also about 18 inches away from the war, the distance from your face to the screen. They are actually not in danger themselves immediately, but they are flying a plane and dropping bombs and shooting people. They are making these split decisions, and they are in combat. They don’t have the comradery in the trenches. They don’t have the band of brothers. They’re communicating with other people because other people are watching what is going on on the screen, but it is in a little corner like a chat room. It’s not going to be like they have the comradery and soldiers and closeness of people you have in the trenches. They have Facebook friends. It’s on that level. They are going home to their families. They are picking up their kids on their way home from school after they have killed people, and they’re not having any kind of discussion time with their comrades or anything. This is putting us all in a very, very weird position. The military doesn’t want us to admit that there is anything, but there was the Agent Orange or the Iraq Veteran Syndrome or any kind of posttraumatic stress. People from the outside have to shake them up and say you’ve got troubles.
This is back 3 or 4 years ago when we started with this. The commander of Creech Air Force Base was interviewed by a Las Vegas paper, and he just said, “I just don’t get it. I don’t get it. My people are dealing with depression and domestic violence and all kinds of things, and we are calling in more chaplains and more counselors and more psychologist and stuff to deal with this.” All of that is very, very anecdotal, but I think this going back and forth between war and domestic civil life.
One of the things that kind of shook me when I was arrested at Creech Air Force Base in 2009, we got inside the base and then we were looking out, and we hadn’t seen it before, but there is a sign as you are leaving the base that tells the airmen who have just been in combat … Nobody lives at Creech Air Force Base or not many people do. It is regular Air Force but most of the personnel live in Las Vegas 40 miles away, and they commute. … it says, “You are about to enter the most dangerous part of your day.” the commute from the base to their homes in Las Vegas, their most dangerous part of their day. What are we going to do in the future? How are we going to celebrate Memorial Day? A professor of ethics at Annapolis Naval Academy told the New York Times we’ve entered into the post heroic era of warfare. It sounds like I am speaking both sides of my mouth because I think just war theory the rules of war are bullshit. I think the heroic eras of the war is bullshit too. When even that’s gone, when even the pretense of it is that’s no longer people putting themselves in danger for the sake of somebody else, which of course is a very noble thing. Is a generation of veterans who what they did was the same as millions and millions of other Americans who just show up and punch a clock and sit at a computer screen and move the mouse around and click it. They are going to be working for an insurance company or working for a shipping company or something but instead they are killing people.
How are we going to welcome home the veterans who never left home? It’s making a huge change of the whole way we look at war.
Speaker 15: I just wanted to make a couple of predictions because technology is following a certain path? First, the prediction is that the human element would be continuing to minimize so that the humanator aspect including the order of execution will dwindle down and down until …
Brian Terrell: This is the prototype, this is the precursor to an entirely autonomous drone that they can take the biometrics of somebody’s face …
Speaker 2: Or smell.
Brian Terrell: … and let it go and let it cruise around until it finds that person and if you have your grandkids on your knee, the drone’s not going to know that. Ironically what they say, how this is being offered as, like a lot of the stuff we’ve been talking about the drones. We’ve been talking about human error and talking about the moral injury, they can say we’ll get rid of human error and we’ll get rid of the moral injury even of the drone operators by just leaving it all up to a machine and not having a person in the loop at all. So yeah, that’s … everything that you’re mentioning is all stuff that a lot of people are getting a lot of money trying to make real. There’s nothing too weird anymore for this.
Speaker 2: So you think chemical signature is also using spectrometers to identify individual’s chemical …
Brian Terrell: Yeah.
Speaker 2: [inaudible 01:14]
Brian Terrell: The one thing they’re using now quite extensively is your cell phone. They can determine if you’re talking to somebody that they think is a terrorist and they fly over you and they can see that you’ve got these phone calls on your cell phone. You know that could cause a signature strike. That could cause the drone operators to say, here’s somebody involved with something nefarious. You could be a pizza delivery guy who just got a call from those people. Because they’re not going to know that but they’re going to know who you’re talking to. So it’s pretty frightening but I just wanted to say, to leave you with, that we have more power than we know and we can change this. We have already … I don’t want to be too optimistic either because people are dying of this in Afghanistan as we speak and the research is going on and the production is going on and everything. But the noise that we’ve made and the protests that we made have really made a difference so far and really can. I think we can’t let the New York Times have the last word about, you know, debate aside, drone strikes drop sharply. We can affect what’s going on in the world and that gives us a responsibility to do so.