How Can You Resist the Age of Drones?



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Last week President Obama nominated his counterterrorism chief, John O. Brennan, to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Though some civil liberties groups and other critics have raised questions about Brennan’s involvement in the CIA’s practice of torture during the Bush administration, relatively less has been said about his primarily responsibility during President Obama’s first term: accelerating and institutionalizing the U.S. drones program and its “disposition matrix” — as the government’s sanitizing parlance puts it — which has included setting weekly drone kill lists.

Politicians and the mainstream press have generally reacted warmly to Brennan’s nomination, especially in contrast to President Obama’s choice for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel, who is considered suspect by some in the foreign policy establishment because he opposed the Iraq War and is said to harbor anti-war sentiments rooted in his service during the Vietnam War.

While we will have to wait to see if Hagel’s reluctance to take the U.S. into war pans out, there is no doubt about Brennan’s trajectory. As a Washington Post series last October highlighted (which I commented on here), Brennan has created a powerful new system that fuses drone technology, satellite surveillance and massive databases to target and kill persons of interest globally, with the capacity to cross borders at will. An international law expert at the University of Notre Dame, Mary Ellen O’Connell, has urged the Senate to vote against Brennan on the grounds that the drone program is among “the most highly unlawful and immoral practices the United States has ever undertaken.” By tapping Brennan to direct the CIA, President Obama has signaled his commitment to an expanded role for remote warfare, targeted assassinations, comprehensive surveillance and an even greater projection and reach of U.S. military power.

That’s why what took place in a courtroom in California the day after Brennan’s nomination is significant.

Five activists were arraigned last week in federal court on charges stemming from a peaceful demonstration at Beale Air Force Base north of Sacramento, Calif., protesting drone warfare last October. Rev. Sharon Delgado, Jan Hartsough, David Hartsough, Jane Kesselman and Shirley Osgood were charged with unlawfully entering the Beale facility to protest the base’s drone fleet and will be headed to trial in April. (Four others were arrested but their charges were dropped.)

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