President Obama was sworn into office the first time on January 20, 2009. Three days later a drone strike landed in Zeraki, North Waziristan in Pakistan.
The Bureau for Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) reports that from June 2004 through September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed over 2,500 people in Pakistan. Around a fifth of that number is thought to have been civilians. Of those, 176 were children.
Those injured numbered in the thousands as well.
Rights groups report that the killing of those who are innocent has become a prime recruiting tool for non-state armed groups that is instead actually escalating the violence. The Pew Research Center estimates that 74% of Pakistanis view the US an enemy to themselves.
A report published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism this week said that the rate at which civilians are being killed by US airstrikes in Afghanistan is at its highest point since 2008, an analysis of newly published UN data reveals. On average a civilian was killed every fourth drone or jet strike in 2015 – up from one in 11 attacks the year before.
Civilian death tolls are compiled by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for its annual report and from official US Air Force data on the number of strikes it carries out in the country.
In its latest annual report published last week, UNAMA said there had been 103 civilian deaths from US air actions in Afghanistan in 2015. Although this number represents more than the 101 recorded in 2014, all deaths came from a third as many airstrikes. These death rates suggest to some that military targeting is becoming less accurate.
People who watch the numbers and have talked to survivors have been organizing against these US practices. One such group is Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
In 2013 the group organized a walk across Iowa from the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois to the Iowa Air National Guard. Walkers wanted to publicly object to the plans for the base to convert from a bomber command base to a drone command base.
In 2014 another walk was organized from Boeing headquarters in Chicago to the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek Michigan.
And another was organized in 2015. The 90-mile walk took protesters from Madison, Wisconsin’s City/County/Jail complex in Dane County. The county has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in the country on many fronts including incarceration.
The group arrived to Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin on August 25th hoping to call public attention to make connections between the militarized police violence at home, mass incarceration, and military violence abroad by the US drone program.
KGNU brought you on-the-ground coverage from all three of these events.
Since people of color are the most affected in all of these scenarios the group used the miles to reflect on US systemic racism, sometimes through public speeches, through prayer and sometimes through meditation.
The Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars has held monthly vigils at Volk Field for four years now and have sometimes escalated to nonviolent civil action.
Such was the case August 25th of last year. A group of about 50 arrived to the gates of Volk Field, chanted, sang, and read the names of those killed by police in the US and the names of those killed by the US by drones abroad. The event coincided with national “Say Her Name” events held throughout the country that weekend.
A group of 9 attempted to meet with the base commander Colonel David Romauld to demand an end to the drone pilot training program at the base.
The trials for some of the 9 who were arrested have been happening all month. So far, all have been found guilty of trespass. Joy First, a grandmother and activist who participates in the monthly vigils was found guilty earlier this month and was sentenced to a fine of $232.
First shared with KGNU about her actions that day and about her guilty sentence.
“Silence is complicity. I have a first amendment right to petition my government for a redress of grievances and that is what I was doing at Volk field. I have an obligation following Nuremberg to speak out when I see my government is doing something illegal. I was not there because I wanted to be arrested. [In court] defendants have not been permitted to present evidence as to their intent. When police asked us to leave [that day] I believed it was my right and my duty to remain. I did not go to Volk Field on August 2, 015 to break the law; rather I was there to uphold the law. This is not a simple trespassing case.”
The peace activists will reconvene at Volk Field as they have for years again this Tuesday.
Peace activists hold action and are arrested at Volk Field in 2015. KGNU file photos