On January 23, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare, will begin a three-month jail sentence in federal prison for a protest against drones (also known as "unmanned aerial vehicles") at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I had a chance to interview her before she had to turn herself in.
Medea: Can you just say why you have been particularly moved to take action against drone strikes?
Kathy: I think 21st-century militarism is very frightening when you combine the military's Joint Special Operations Forces with drone and air strike capabilities. The military doesn't need sprawling bases anymore because they can use these new technologies to control populations and instill tremendous fear. But the use of drones creates resentment and antagonism, and continues to kill civilians.
Wars have been killing civilians for a long time, but with the help of drones, 90 percent of the people killed in wars these days are civilians. The British organization Reprieve reports that for every one person who is selected as a target for assassination by drones, 28 civilians are killed.
The weaponized drones are operated here in the United States in Air National Guard bases and Air Force bases, and with the press of a button they are killing people thousands of miles away in places like Afghanistan. Many people are enamored with being able to send an unmanned aerial vehicle to kill people in another country without a soldier in this country being harmed. But we find that the people operating these drones are experiencing trauma and stress just like soldiers in war zones.
I'm also very worried about drone proliferation, with other countries acquiring these weapons systems. In 1945, only one country possessed a nuclear weapon, and look at the world now. I think the same thing is going to happen with drone proliferation.
I also think that with the activist focus on drones, we can have tangible successes. We have a good possibility of persuading the public that this is a wrongful way to move ahead. It violates international law and makes other people near the bases here in the United States vulnerable as targets themselves.
We've already seen considerable progress on this issue. The bases that were getting the drones systems, like the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek, Michigan, used to be so proud they were popping champagne. Now the commanders at the Battle Creek base, where the Guard is being trained to operate weaponized drones, are reluctant to talk about the drone program.
Medea: Can you tell us about Whiteman Air Force Base and what you did that resulted in this three-month sentence?
Kathy: A squadron at Whiteman, which is in Knob Noster, Missouri, operates weaponized drones over Afghanistan, which has been an epicenter of drone warfare. Whiteman Air Force Base won't disclose information about the results of these drone strikes, but we, as American citizens, should have the right to know what is being done in our name.
I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, living with young people who have been victimized by our drones, young people who fled to Kabul and are too frightened to go back home to visit their own relatives, young people who see a future filled with prolonged and agonizing warfare.
We wanted to bring their grievances to the commander at Whiteman. So I crossed a line onto the base. A symbolic action for people in Afghanistan is breaking bread together, so I carried a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander asking how many people were killed by Whiteman Air Force Base on that day.
I took one or two steps over a line. Then I was arrested.
When I went to trial, the military prosecutor told the judge, "Your Honor, Ms. Kelly is in grave need of rehabilitation." But I think it's our policy that's in grave need of rehabilitation. We've already spent $1 trillion on warfare in Afghanistan and will be spending another $120 billion. The Pentagon wants $57 billion for this year alone. We're squandering resources that are sorely needed at home and abroad to solve extremely serious problems our world is facing, problems like the climate crisis and global poverty.