Medea Benjamin: Drones kill innocent civilians and antagonize whole populations
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.
As most people know, President Obama has expanded drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen, and it has been, to some extent, the weapon of choice. But just how does that accord with international law? Is it really in the interest of American people to be known as the country that rains down death on villages in many countries around the world?
Now joining us to talk about drone warfare is Medea Benjamin. She’s the cofounder of the peace group Code Pink and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She’s been organizing against U.S. military interventions, organizing very actively in the antiwar movement for many years. She’s also an author. Her recent book is called Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. And she’s also involved in organizing the drone warfare summit taking place in Washington this weekend. Thanks for joining us, Medea.
MEDEA BENJAMIN, CODE PINK, GLOBAL EXCHANGE: Thank you for having me on The Real News.
JAY: So why have you zeroed in on drone warfare?
BENJAMIN: Because, as you said, it is the new way of killing. It’s the 21st century way of doing war. It’s a way of waging war without putting U.S. lives at risk. It’s a way of waging war without letting the American people know we’re even at war. It’s a way of waging war that lets the CIA and other secret organizations have controlâ€”don’t even have to go to Congress. It’s a tremendous abuse of executive power. And it’s killing a lot of innocent civilians. And the American people need to know about it.
JAY: So I would guess the counterargument to that would be: well, isn’t drone warfare better than some large-scale conventional warfare? And they would give the example of the Pakistan border region with Afghanistan. You know, the alternative, if they want to go after the Taliban bases in Pakistan, they would say, would either be aerial bombing, which would cause more civilian death, or actually troops on the ground, which would again be probably even more destructive. Why? I mean, isn’t the issue the war itself? Why drone warfare?
BENJAMIN: Well, the issue is the war itself, except the drones make war easy for the U.S. government. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work. I mean, if drones worked, we wouldn’t still be fighting in Afghanistan, because we’ve been using drones there for ten years. If drones worked, then we would be eliminating the Taliban in northern Pakistan or whatever remnants of al-Qaeda are there.
But the truth is that every time we kill somebody with a drone, we create more enemies. And it just perpetuates the cycle of violence. It doesn’t lead to any victories. It doesn’t lead to the demise of al-Qaeda. Whether we’re talking about Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia, people who have spent time on the ground tell us that these drone strikes are counterproductive. And you hear in Pakistan this coming not only from all the political parties, the entire elected Parliament of Pakistan, but it comes from the grassroots as well. People who hate the Taliban said you are only encouraging them through drone strikes.
JAY: Well, according to U.S. authorities, at least, they say the drones have been effective in a sense. They claim to have wiped outâ€”I think they usually talk about two-thirds of al-Qaeda leadership. What do you make that claim?
BENJAMIN: I don’t think it’s true. I think that we are perpetuating al-Qaeda with our attacks. I think we’re driving local people into the hands of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And I think we’re also setting an example around the world that we feel we can go anywhere anytime and kill anyone. And why shouldn’t other countries do that as well? So there’s many, many reasons to oppose the drone strikes.
But I think one very important thing is that we need to have real discussion about it here in the United States, to talk about where we are using these drone strikes, who is in charge, who is monitoring, who is evaluating, how many innocent people have we killed, what do we do about those innocent people. And so we’re trying to at least start the discussion that could lead to a regulation of the use of drones.
JAY: In terms of the summit, who are some of the speakers and what are some of the examples they’re going to be speaking about?
BENJAMIN: We’re very excited that finally, after months of pressure, the State Department relented and issued a visa to Shahzad Akbar, who is a lawyer from Pakistan who’s been advocating on behalf of drone victims. He will be here. There will be other legal representatives, like Clive Stafford Smith coming from the U.K. One of the best journalists around drone strikes is coming from the British group called the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. We have members of the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation that are looking at drones, coming here to the United States. We also have members of a scientific group called the international robotic arms control group, and they are trying to get an international convention against the use of totally autonomous lethal dronesâ€”that means drones that don’t even have a pilot who is located on the ground but are preprogrammed. So this is quite an array of different organizations coming together for the first time.
JAY: And what’s the call, in the sense of what public policy is it you would like to see on the drone issue?
BENJAMIN: Some of the groups that are coming are anxious to have a campaign to get drones out of the hands of the secretive CIA. Others want to get more oversight from Congress. Still others are trying to get compensation for drone victims. Some of the activist groups just want to see an end to the use of killer drones. Others want to work towards a long-term goal of an international convention. We’re trying to strengthen the different campaigns, to provide some kind of coalition or a way for the groups to act together to be more effective.
JAY: And in terms of, you know, ordinary American people, you know, some of the reasons, as you said, drones are used is it somewhat sanitizes war. It certainly decreases American casualties. I mean, wouldn’t an ordinary Americans say to you, well, if we’re in a war, isn’t it better that Americans aren’t getting killed?
BENJAMIN: Yes, and isn’t it better not to be at war? And we’re saying that the drones make war easy. The Obama administration feels that because no Americans’ lives are at risk, it can expand the drone warfare and not even go to Congress. So the American people don’t know what’s being done in our name. And most of Congress doesn’t know, eitherâ€”there’s no effective oversight, as well.
We now have drone bases not only in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and drones over Yemen and Somalia, but we’ve got bases in Djibouti and the Seychelles, in Ethiopia. We have sent drones to Uganda and Burundi. We have a drone base now off the coast of Australia. We are expanding this drone base tremendously. And the proliferation is not only coming from the United States, but we are selling drones overseas. So are the Israelis and the Chinese. Over 50 countries have drones. Nonstate entities have drones. And we feel it’s leading us towards a world of chaos and lawlessness.
JAY: Alright. Well, thanks very much for joining us, Medea.
BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me on.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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