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DRONE WATCH: Drone Launched From Aircraft Carrier

The U.S. Navy took a new step in drone warfare this morning. For the first time, a drone was launched from an aircraft carrier. The drone did not land back on the carrier, a feat that is challenging even for piloted aircraft, but that is expected soon. According to the Associated Press:

The Navy for the first time Tuesday launched an unmanned aircraft the size of a fighter jet from a warship in the Atlantic Ocean, as it wades deeper into America's drone program amid growing concerns over the legality of its escalating surveillance and lethal strikes.

The drone, called the X-47B, is considered particularly valuable because it's the first that is designed specifically to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, allowing it to be used around the world without needing the permission of other countries to serve as a home base.

Read more here.

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NTSB Recommends Lowering Blood Alcohol Threshold for Drivers

The National Transportation Safety Board voted to recommend lowering the blood-alcohol content to legally drive from .08 to .05. While a American Beverage Institute spokesperson called the move "ludicrous," the NTSB has numbers to back them up. According to NBC News: 

The NTSB reports that at .05 BAC, some drivers begin having difficulties with depth perception and other visual functions.  At .07, cognitive abilities become impaired. 

At .05 BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by 39 percent. At .08 BAC, the risk of having an accident increases by more than 100 percent.

Read more HERE.

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DRONE WATCH: New Pakistan PM Questions Drone Attacks

Nawaz Sharif, the newly elected prime minister of Pakistan told reporters yesterday that he considered U.S. drone attacks in that country a challenge to national sovereignty. According to the AP (via the San Jose Mercury News): 

“The CIA's drone campaign targeting al-Qaida and other militants in the tribal regions has been extremely controversial in Pakistan, where people say it frequently kills innocent civilians -- something Washington denies -- and that it violates Pakistan's sovereignty.

"Drones indeed are challenging our sovereignty. Of course we have taken this matter up very seriously. I think this is a very serious issue, and our concern must be understood properly," said Sharif.”

Read more here.

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Gun Control Advocates Target Senators

Gun control advocates are escalating their campaign toward senators who voted against the proposal to extend background checks. The campaign includes letter-writing, protests at town hall meetings and television ads. Several senators including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have seen their poll numbers plunge since voting against the proposal to extend background checks. The Los Angeles Times reports:

"The outside game is about convincing those who voted no that they've made the wrong choice. And that is happening. There are definitely second thoughts out there," said Jim Kessler, a gun policy expert at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. Senators who opposed the agreement, he said, "expected the politics to work for them after the vote and so far it hasn't."

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: NPR Interviews Former Drone Pilot

NPR ran a story today with an interview of a former Air Force drone pilot. He describes some of his experiences, including a death he believes was a child who ran into the target area at the last minute. It brought home to him “the reality of war. Good guys can die, bad guys can die, and innocents can die as well.”

You can listen to the interview here.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Strikes in Pakistan Ruled Illegal

A Pakistani court has ruled that U.S. drone strikes in that country are illegal. The case was filed on behalf of the families of victims killed in a March 17, 2011 strike. The Independent (U.K.) reports:

In what activists said was an historic decision, the Peshawar High Court issued the verdict against the strikes by CIA-operated spy planes in response to four petitions that contended the attacks killed civilians and caused “collateral damage”.

Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the petitions, ruled the drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter on human rights. The court said the strikes must be declared a war crime as they killed innocent people.

Read more here.

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Gun Crime Decreases, Americans Think It's Up

Two studies of government data show US gun crime has decreased from its peak in the middle of 1990s. However more than 50% of American think gun crime has risen. The media coverage of recent mass shooting may contribute to the misconception. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The number of gun killings dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in a separate report released Tuesday. Gun crimes that weren’t fatal fell by 69%.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: China Developing Drones

China is rapidly developing a fleet of drones, some of which are already patrolling its borders. The number of drones and their capabilities remains unknown, but other countries in the region are watching closely. The AP reports:

China's move into large-scale drone deployment displays its military's growing sophistication and could challenge U.S. military dominance in the Asia-Pacific. It also could elevate the threat to neighbors with territorial disputes with Beijing, including Vietnam, Japan, India and the Philippines. China says its drones are capable of carrying bombs and missiles as well as conducting reconnaissance, potentially turning them into offensive weapons in a border conflict.

China's increased use of drones also adds to concerns about the lack of internationally recognized standards for drone attacks. The United States has widely employed drones as a means of eliminating terror suspects in Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Anger in Yemen

As the number of drone strikes against targets in Yemen has grown, the anger of the local people is also growing. The AP reports (via philly.com):

In its covert fight against al-Qaida in Yemen, the United States has dramatically stepped up its use of drone strikes the past year, scoring key successes against one of the most active branches of the terror network. With more than 40 strikes reported in 2012 and nine so far this year, Yemen has become the second biggest front in American drone warfare, after Pakistan.

But the escalation has meant more civilians getting caught in the crossfire.

Civilian deaths are breeding resentments on a local level, sometimes undermining U.S. efforts to turn the public against militants. The backlash is still not as large as in Pakistan, where there is heavy pressure on the government to force limits on strikes , but public calls for a halt to strikes are starting to emerge.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: The Thistle and the Drone

Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, reviews a new book in Al Jazeera — Akbar Ahmed's The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam.

In the Cold War, the US funded and supported any regime, dictatorship or democracy, that opposed communism. From US support for the cruel and brutal dictator in Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, to the Shah of Iran whose support by the US still haunts US-Iran relations, to the leader of Iraq whom the US first supported and then overthrew, Saddam Hussein, there was no virtue not sacrificed in the American quest to subvert and defeat communism. Today, that zeal - and the money and effort backing it - has morphed into US tactics to defeat terrorism.

Under the Obama administration, the principal instrument of these tactics is the drone. Professor Ahmed's book provides a searing indictment of the use of that instrument.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: An Alternative to Guantánamo?

A hunger strike by detainees has Guantánamo back in the news. But has the Obama administration been using drone strikes to kill al Qaida suspects rather than capturing them? The attorney who wrote the the first legal justification for using drones thinks so. The Guardian reports:

“John Bellinger, who was responsible for drafting the legal framework for targeted drone killings while working for George W Bush after 9/11, said he believed their use had increased since because President Obama was unwilling to deal with the consequences of jailing suspected al-Qaida members.

"This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaida [at Guantánamo] they are going to kill them," he told a conference at the Bipartisan Policy Center.”

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President Obama Sides With His Guantanamo Bay Protesters

President Obama broke his silence to comment on the current hunger strike of over 90 men at Guantanamo Bay. Time reports:

“It’s not sustainable,” President Obama said Tuesday, breaking his silence about the protest against his own government. “I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity.”

Obama repeated a position he has long held: The detention facility needs to be closed, with the prisoners either transferred to third countries if they do not present a threat or to the United States for adjudication. “This is a lingering, you know, problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.”

The next steps at Guantanamo Bay are muddled in beaucracy. The President, Congress, and Secretary of Defense all have steps they must take before any real progress can be made.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Protesting Drones

This weekend saw protests on both sides of the Atlantic against drone killings.

In the U.S., more than 250 people marched on an Air National Guard Base at Hancock Field in Syracuse, N.Y. At the end of a funeral procession, 30 people were arrested at the gates of the base. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard:

“Protesters pounded drums, chanted and carried mock coffins. A baby doll smeared with fake blood was suspended from a tall poll carried by one protestor. A sheriff’s deputy speaking through a bullhorn warned protesters laying on the driveway in front of the gate to get up off the ground or face arrest for disorderly conduct. After they refused, the protesters were handcuffed and escorted to a Sheriff’s Department van.”

The protest was organized by the Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones & End the Wars.

In the U.K., 700 people participated in a demonstration outside a Royal Air Force base north of London to protest the U.K.'s use of armed drones in Afghanistan. The action came two days after the news that the Royal Air Force had begun flying drones from the Waddington Base. CNN reported:

"People are pretty upset about the idea that Britain will be developing this drone warfare," said John Hilary, executive director of War on Want. … The coalition also includes members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Drone Campaign Network and Stop the War Coalition.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drones on the Border

 

The U.S.-Mexico border is currently patrolled by 10 Predator surveillance drones. The immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate would increase that in order to provide constant coverage. ABC/Univision reported

“Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, could soon be patrolling the United States border with Mexico 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's what the major immigration reform bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators proposes.

“The goal: "effective control" of the border. Under the bill, no immigrant granted provisional legal status would be eligible to apply for a Green Card until the Department of Homeland Security shows it's made substantial progress toward that goal. Border hawks want the pathway to citizenship more firmly tied to border security success.”

But, as Common Dreams reports,

As the new immigration reform bill moving through the US Senate puts aerial drones at the center of a beefed-up militarized approach to border security, a new report shows that the existing drone-border program has proved an "inefficient, costly and absurd approach" to monitoring the border or enforcing current immigration laws.”

The report was produced by the Center for International Policy, you can read it at Drones over the Homeland.

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DRONE WATCH: Drones Controlled From U.K.

The British military has been flying drones in Afghanistan for several years, firing 350 weapons, including Hellfire missiles. But due to lack of the necessary capacity, British pilots have controlled them from the U.S. Creech Air Force base in Nevada. Last week that changed, as the Guardian reports:

“Remotely controlled armed drones used to target insurgents in Afghanistan have been operated from the UK for the first time, the Ministry of Defence said on Thursday. Missions of the missile-carrying Reaper aircraft began from a newly built headquarters at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire earlier this week – five years after the MoD bought the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor and attack the Taliban”.

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