Atlantans Protest International Drone Conference in Buckhead



(APN) ATLANTA — Late last month, from Tuesday, May 28, to Friday, May 31, 2013, a group of Atlanta activists protested the 2013 International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, also known as drones, which held their convention at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead.  

The convention brought together representatives from academia, industry, federal and state agencies, the private sector, and engineers who are working to expand the use of drones in the US and internationally.

Keynote lectures at the conference included “The Beauty of Simple Adaptive Control – Stability and Performance,” “Unmanned Rotorcraft Systems and Applications,” “The Status of Closing the Research Gaps for a Certifiable Sense & Avoid System,” “Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the Natonal Airspace System: Past Present and Future,” “Future Air Force Vision for Remotely Piloted Aircraft,” and “The Flying Robot Revolution is Underway – How do we Keep it Safe?”

The speaker for the lecture listed last above is Dr. Eric Johnson, Lockheed Martin Professor of Avionics Integration, School of Aerospace Engineering.

Many organizations and individuals came together to speak out against the use of drones by the US government for spying, surveillance, lethal attacks, and targeted assassination.

Speakers at the May 28 press conference opposing drones were Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia and President of the Nationaa Lawyers Guild; Henry “Chip” Carey, Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University; Joe Beasley, President of African Ascension and Southeast Regional Director of Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Courtney Hanson, Public Outreach Director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND); Sobukwe Shakura, All African People’s Revolutionary Party; and Bob Goodman, Steering Committee Member, Georgia Peace & Justice Coalition (GPJC).  Dawn Gibson with GPJC moderated the event.

Opponents of drones stood in front of the hotel from 9:00 to 10:00am each day of the four day convention.   

The drone convention came just a week after President Obama promised to reduce drone strikes, make the program more transparent, and release more information to the public.  He said he wants to put more emphasis on capturing suspects instead of killing them.

“In the right hands, drones can be used for some very constructive purposes.  They can be used to monitor environmental spills or count bird populations or locate missing children,” Goodman said in a press release.  

“But in the wrong hands — for instance in the hands of the White House or the military or the CIA — drones can be used in lawless and destructive ways.”

“I oppose the use of drones and other forms of targeted assassinations because of the likelihood that they will cause proliferation, an arms race, and increasing use of drones around the world,” Prof. Carey said in the press release.

“I am also concerned about the lack of democratic accountability for targeting and civilian casualties, which has backfired as a counter-terrorism technique.”

The use of drones has increased rapidly in recent years.  In 2000, the Pentagon had less than fifty drones and by 2010 they have 7,500, an increase of 15,000 percent, according to Global Research.

“The CIA and the military are carrying out illegal ‘targeted killings’ of people far from any battlefield, without charge or trial,” Shahshahani said.  “The executive branch claims the unchecked authority to put the names of citizens and others on ‘kill lists’ on the basis of secret evidence.  The government must be held to account when it carries out such illegal killings in violation of the Constitution and international law.”

While the drone wars continue, so does opposition.  In April, a coalition of US human rights groups including ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to President Obama questioning the legal basis for targeted killing and called for an end to the secrecy surrounding the use of drones.

No one knows how many people drone strikes have killed because that’s a state secret.  But hawkish US Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) recently told the South Carolina Rotary Club that the US government has killed 4,700 people with drones.

The US has now deployed drones armed with lethal force in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.  Some sixty bases throughout the world are directly connected to the drone program–from Florida to Nevada in the US, to Ethiopia and Djibouti in Africa, to Qatar in the Middle East, to the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, according to Global Research.

Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, has been in charge of arming the fleet of Predator drones at CIA clandestine sites in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Peter Schaapveld, a clinical and forensic psychologist, reports his finding from a recent trip to Yemen on behalf of the human rights organization Reprieve, where he assessed the psychological impact of drone strikes on communities hit by drones.

“Drone attacks are causing serious psychological harm to children in Yemen and may be pushing young men into the arms of al-Qaeda,” Schaapveld reported, according to UK-based Channel 4 news.

Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve, who recently returned from Yemen added, “These findings represent further evidence that drones not only kill innocent civilians, but that their use amounts to a form of psychological torture and collective punishment.  Children are afraid to go to school and adults are unable to work, socialize or function with any semblance of normality.  As a result drones abjectly fail to achieve their purported purpose: instead of keeping us safe they breed animosity and tear apart the fabric of some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities in the world.”


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