While the use of drones has rapidly expanded over the past few year, this growth has been matched by rising resistance, opposition and protests. In this final review of the year we take a brief look at some of the opposition to the use of armed unmanned drones over the past twelve months.
The primary location of opposition to the use of armed drones over the past year has been in Pakistan which has been subjected to over 350 US drone strikes since 2002 – almost fifty in the past year alone according to Bureau of Investigative Journalism figures. Opposition to the drone strikes have come from within Parliament and the government where a major cross party national security report in March called for an end to the drone strikes, formal protests have been lodged with the US Ambassador and politicians have even called for US drones to be shot down.
However it has been outside of the Pakistan parliament where the opposition to the strikes has been most visible. Throughout 2011 there were large protests and demonstrations against the strikes and these continued throughout 2012, with for example, tribesmen from Waziristan staged a sit-in outside the Pakistan Parliament in Islamabad in February.
It was cricketer-turned-politican, Imran Khan’s march that drew thousands and garnered international media coverage and encouraged both the Pakistan Prime Minister to speak out against the drone strikes. By the end of the year, the Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari asked the US point-blank in direct face-to-face talks to end the drone attacks. Given that the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has dropped by a third in 2012, this opposition seems to be having some impact.
In Yemen, however, the number of US drone strikes has substantially increased. While it is much more difficult and dangerous to organise
against drone strikes in Yemen, local human rights groups have spoken out and some protests have taken place. Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye continues to be detained for exposing US military intervention in Yemen and this has received some coverage in Yemen this year.
In the US, there were numerous protests at the various bases connected with drone warfare, especially at Hancock Airfield in New York State. In February 38 protestors were fined or given community sentences after a protest at the Hancock base. In April hundreds of protestors again marched on the base when there were a further 28 arrests and again in June 15 demonstrators were arrested. At the end of the year five of the protestors were sentenced to two weeks imprisonment.
Local drone protest group made a great video of one of the action:
In April four members of Nevada Desert Experience were arrested for protesting at Creech drone base and serving an indictment on the base commander, while nine were arrested following protests at a drone base in California. Two drone protestors were imprisoned following a drone protest at Whitman AFB. Mark Kenney pleaded guilty following the protest and was sentenced to four months, while Brian Terrell and Ron Faust were found guilty following a trial and Brian was sentenced to six months imprisonment.
The wonderful Medea Benjamin, a key individual in the drone resistance movement, focused the attention of the world’s media on the issue when she interrupted a speech by John Brennan, Obama’s Chief Counter Terrorism Adviser.
Here in the UK, in April there were protests and arrests at a drone conference in Bristol and regular protests outside drone factories in Birmingham, Leicester and Brighton throughout the year. A major three-day gathering of the drone industry due to take place in central Bath was moved at the last minute into a secure military base after planned protests gained widespread support.
At the new UK drone base, RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, Helen Johns maintains her peace camp and several groups have organised protests outside the base during the year. In October, a the Week of Action on drones, protests took place in many places (see photo gallery here).
While it is clear that there is establishment support for maintaining and expanding the drone wars, there are signs (sometimes from some surprising places) that civil society resistance along with legal and political action is perhaps beginning to eat away at this commitment. Onwards.