14 April 2009
Peaceniks Target Killer Drones
By Noah Schachtman
Wired

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/04/the-drones-cant/


For nearly 30 years, Father Louie Vitale — a 76-year-old former Air Force navigator turned Franciscan monk and peace activist — has traveled to the remote deserts of the Southwest to demonstrate against … well, just about everything involving America’s military. He’s been thrown in jail for protesting the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, the wars in Iraq and the military’s interrogation procedures, to name just a few of his more than 200 arrests. But these days, Vitale (pictured, fourth from left) and his fellow activists have a new target in the mountains and deserts north of Las Vegas: America’s fleet of killer drones.

"We’ve been out there in that very desert, stopping nuclear testing, for over 30 years now," he tells Democracy Now. "All of a sudden, we noticed down the street … all of these drones." At first, he thought they were just practice drones. "Then we find out that they’re bombing and bombing and bombing in Afghanistan."

In Central Asia, the unmanned strikes on suspected militants have become one of the most controversial elements of the eight-year campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Late last week, Pakistan’s prime minister demanded that America hand over control of the drones operating in his country to the Islamabad government. The News of Pakistan accused the tele-operated aircraft of "perishing 687 innocent
Pakistani civilians
" in 60 separate strikes, while only "killing 14 wanted al Qaeda leaders."

But here in America, the unmanned attacks have gone on largely without protest. Even the professional activist types have largely ignored the robots and their military masters.

Last Thursday afternoon, however, Vitale and 13 other demonstrators marched into Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base, where the military remotely pilots the unmanned aircraft that fly over Afghanistan and Iraq. They sat down, and began to sing and pray — part of a 10-day vigil dubbed "Ground the Drones."

About an hour later, they were arrested by the State Police. At the activists’ behest, the cops then drove them to Las Veags for booking. "When we were released on Good Friday morning, we did what any normal Christian would do," Vitale’s compatriot, John Dear, writes. "We went back to the scene of the crime and continued to pray and speak out for an end to U.S. warmaking."

Dear then launches into a rather purple account about his detention, release and return to Creech — just in time for a "Stations of the
Cross" demonstration, he notes.

With 60 folks, we read and prayed through each modern-day station, learning how Jesus is condemned and crucified all over again in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan because of our weapons and wars. We prayed, sang and reflected along the towering chain fence of the military base — and were interrupted repeatedly by the drones flying overhead.

We saw with our own eyes that these drones are real, that our country is dead set on killing, that these weapons are no joke. We tried to take action, to say as Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemani, "Stop, no more of this!" Tomorrow on
Easter Sunday morning, we will gather for mass at the Nevada test site, then walk on to that military base to offer the risen Jesus’ gift of resurrection peace and get arrested all over again. So it goes.

[Photo: Pace e Bene]
 


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