Medea Benjamin is a petite woman with enormous courage and energy. She co-founded the California-based human rights organization Global Exchange and the women's peace group Code Pink. She has just written a book on drones, a task that inspired her to co-host a drone summit in Washington, D.C., last weekend.
The CIA and US Joint Special Command have been carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2004. Few Americans know about the consequences of this policy. In Pakistan alone, there have been 300 strikes, which, by some estimates, have killed up to 2,000 civilians.
On Monday, counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan gave a speech on drones at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. It was the first time a member of the Obama administration had spoken publicly on US use of drones, which Brennan once described as weapons of "exceptional proficiency" and "precision." Benjamin, a woman with convictions and a great deal of information, interrupted to give some damning details:
The U.S. government refuses to disclose who has been killed, for what reason, and with what collateral consequences. It deems the entire world a war zone, where it can operate at will, beyond the confines of international law
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So there I was at the Wilson Center, listening to Brennan describe our policies as ethical, "wise," and in compliance with international law. He spoke as if the only people we kill with our drone strikes are militants bent on killing Americans. "It is unfortunate that to save innocent lives we are sometimes obliged to take lives -- the lives of terrorists who seek to murder our fellow citizens." The only mention of taking innocent lives referred to Al Qaeda. "Al Qaeda's killing of innocent civilians, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its image and appeal in the eyes of Muslims around the world." This is true, but the same must be said of U.S. policies that fuel anti-American sentiments in the eyes of Muslims around the world.
Meanwhile, down in Tampa, Fla., this week, the United Methodist General Conference fell short of voting in favor of a resolution to divest from three companies -- Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Caterpillar -- that help sustain the Israeli occupation but called for boycotting all Israeli companies "operating in the occupied Palestine Territories."
While some advocates of Palestinian rights were disappointed in the Methodist vote, the Palestinian BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) National Committee interpreted events in Tampa as an occasion to hope and persevere. An excerpt from their statement reads:
Four annual (regional) Methodists conferences have already adopted resolutions calling for divestment from companies that sustain the Israeli occupation.
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