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DRONE WATCH: House Hearing on Drones

Joshua Hersh reports on Huffington Post that the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday on the use of drones in targeted killings. There was bipartisan unhappiness over the lack of transparency from the administration, yet the committee voted down a bill that would have required more information.

“The House Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Thursday to discuss a resolution put forward by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that would order the White House to turn over to Congress all documents related to the government's targeted killing program.

“The measure was dismissed as overly broad and aggressive, but legislators took the opportunity to vent their frustrations about the limited amount of information the administration has shared with the public and Congress about the use of drones.”

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DRONE WATCH: High-Tech Killing

University of Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell writes in Peace Policy of the “high-tech killing” made possible by drones, and the apparent violations of international law this creates.

“The arguments for drones continue to mutate as the technology advances to ever more powerful killing machines:  Predators, Reapers, and now the Avenger. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on November 20, 2012, that the Pentagon plans to expand the use of drone attacks in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. He said that al Qaeda has “metastasized to other parts of the global body.’’ Now the policy of targeted killing with drones is spreading to other parts of the globe.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drones Lead to Hatred in Pakistan

Qanta Ahmed, Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion and Associate Professor of Medicine, State University of New York, writes in Haaretz about a recent trip to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. She finds that hatred of the US and strengthening of the Taliban are directly linked to continuing drone attacks.

“While the drive to codify U.S. drone policy is finally gaining momentum, it may be a case of too little, too late. As long as drones remain airborne, neo-orthodox Islamist terrorists and non-violent - but extremist - anti-American ideologues gain political capital, hoarding it as fast as America loses it. As long as we allow our administration to deploy drones without accountability, Pakistani anti-Americanism is validated, the Taliban is actually strengthened, while we as Americans remain confined in an ugly reality - defined not by who we are, but by whom, how and how often, we kill.”

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Bishop Walter Sullivan, A Passion for Peace

Bishop Walter Sullivan, former head of the Catholic diocese of Richmond, Virginia, has died at the age of 84.

In the movement against nuclear weapons in the 1980s and 90s, I met and worked with a number of Catholic bishops. The then-named National Conference of Catholic Bishops had issued a pastoral letter in 1983 opposing nuclear weapons, The Challenge of Peace, which became a model for other denominations. The bishop I knew best was Bishop Sullivan, who served as bishop-president of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace organization, for more than 10 years. He was also committed to people in poverty, and was a featured speaker at the first conference of Call to Renewal in September 1995. It is prophetic voices such as his that we badly need today. I was blessed to have known him.      

The National Catholic Reporter has an obituary worth reading:

“One of the celebrated "Jadot bishops," meaning progressive American prelates appointed under Pope Paul VI during the 1970s, Walter Sullivan led the Richmond, Va., diocese for almost 30 years, and from that perch became one of the country's premier "peace bishops," denouncing armed conflict from Vietnam and the Cold War all the way up to Iraq.

"He just could not reconcile war and Christianity," said Phyllis Theroux, a Virginia-based author whose biography of Sullivan, The Good Bishop, is scheduled to appear from Orbis Books in May.

"He once said that as far as I'm concerned, you can take the whole 'just war' tradition and stick it in a drawer and lock it up," she said, adding that Sullivan believed the idea of a just war had been "abused" by both clergy and politicians.

“Bishop Walter Sullivan died Tuesday as a result of an inoperable liver cancer after he returned to his Richmond home from a local hospital. He was 84.”

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DRONE WATCH: Loan-a-Drone

While most news of drones is their use abroad by the U.S. military and CIA, they are also increasingly used for surveillance in this country. A report in the Washington Times shows that the Department of Homeland Security and its Customs and Border Protection agency are using their drones to assist local law enforcement agencies.

“The practice is raising questions inside and outside government about whether federal officials may be creating an ad-hoc, loan-a-drone program without formal rules for engagement, privacy protection or taxpayer reimbursements. The drones used by CPB can cost between $15 million and $34 million each to buy, and have hourly operational costs as well.

“In addition, DHS recently began distributing $4 million in grants to help local law enforcement buy its own, smaller versions of drones, opening a new market for politically connected drone makers as the wars overseas shrink.

“The double-barreled lending and purchasing have some concerned that federal taxpayers may be subsidizing the militarization of local police forces and creating new threats to average Americans’ privacy.”

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Crashes Increasing

Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of U.S. drones crashing at civilian airports. Craig Whitlock reported in the Washington Post:

“A review of thousands of pages of unclassified Air Force investigation reports, obtained by The Washington Post under public-records requests, shows that drones flying from civilian airports have been plagued by setbacks.

“Among the problems repeatedly cited are pilot error, mechanical failure, software bugs in the “brains” of the aircraft and poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers.”

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DRONE WATCH: The Year of the Drone

Most drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen are eventually reported. Not so in Afghanistan. Since they are part of an ongoing war, they don’t make the news. But Stuart Ackerman, writing in Wired, finds that the Air Force reported last week that there have been 447 drone strikes in Afghanistan this year.

“Never before in Afghanistan have there been so many drone strikes. For the past three years, the strikes have never topped 300 annually, even during the height of the surge. Never mind 2014, when U.S. troops are supposed to take a diminished role in the war and focus largely on counterterrorism. Afghanistan’s past year, heavy on insurgent-hunting robots, shows that the war’s future has already been on display.”

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DRONE WATCH: Deaths in Pakistan

One of the remaining Al Qaeda leaders was killed Thursday in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan. The Associated Press reports:

“Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who was also known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti, was killed when missiles slammed into a house Thursday near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in the North Waziristan tribal area, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.”

The report added that his wife and daughter were also injured, and his wife died Friday.

Reuters reports another senior leader killed on Sunday when a drone fired missiles at a house with Mohammad Ahmed Almansoor inside, in the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. Three other suspected militants were killed in the attack.

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DRONE WATCH: Rules for Drones

The New York Times reports that before the election, the Obama administration was working to develop rules and procedures for killing by drone strikes. The impetus for the project was a concern that if Mitt Romney were to win the presidency, there was nothing in place to guide a new administration. Resolving internal disagreements also appears to be a goal, as The Times notes:

“Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.”

The Guardian adds that there already are rules – known as international law.

“Human-rights groups and peace groups opposed to the CIA-operated targeted-killing programme, which remains officially classified, said the administration had already rejected international law in pursuing its drone operations.

"To say they are rewriting the rulebook implies that there isn't already a rulebook" said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Center for Democracy. "But what they are already doing is rejecting a rulebook – of international law – that has been in place since [the second world war]."

Also this weekend, the Washington Post reported that drones are also playing a role in the selection of a new CIA Director to replace David Petraeus.

“As Obama approaches a second term with an unexpected opening for CIA director, agency officials are watching to see whether the president’s pick signals even a modest adjustment in the main counterterrorism program he kept: the use of armed drones to kill suspected extremists. … The list of possible replacements is led by three CIA veterans who have all contributed to the agency’s pronounced shift toward paramilitary operations. Obama’s choice could determine whether the trajectory continues or begins to taper off.”

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DRONE WATCH: Awake to Drones

An Awake to Drones blog has been started by Protest Chaplains of Chicago to begin a conversation about the use of drones for warfare and surveillance. They hope that such a conversation “will guide and lead us to take actions to stop this warring madness, to ground the drones.” 

“We invite you to wake up and join us in theological conversation or dialogue about the use of drones for warfare and surveillance. A few of us here in the Chicago area from a variety of faith and spiritual backgrounds have begun to wake up and talk about the horror of it all. We are beginning to question our country’s use of drones instead of due process, our President’s Kill List, the naming of all men above 18 years of ages as “enemy combatants.” It’s made some of us go back and study Just War theory again, dig deep into our sacred texts, examine our consciences. It’s brought us together and made us want to reach out to you.”

Protest Chaplains are “imams, ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, friars, sisters, monks, as well as non-ordained, from all traditions, or none, supporting Occupy Chicago as chaplains/spiritual presence.” 

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DRONE WATCH: Educating About Drones

Brian Terrell, co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, will begin a six-month prison sentence the end of November after being arrested for trespassing while protesting drones at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The Columbia Missouri Daily Tribune reports that he is using his remaining time to educate about the use of drones.

Last week Terrell spoke to students at the University of Missouri: 

“Terrell told students the program at face value seems like a "no-brainer" because it keeps American troops out of harm's way. But he also challenged them to consider how the United States would respond if other countries were firing missiles into America from a video game console overseas. "If someone else was doing this to us, we would try to bring them to justice," he said.”

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Amid Israel-Hamas Violence, Reconciliation Between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Continues

Christianity Today reports:

As violence flares anew between Hamas and Israel, which is preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks reaching as far as Tel Aviv, CT checked in with Jerusalem-based reconciliation ministry Musalaha for an update on reconciliation efforts between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews.

In 2009, CT reported how three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting—which killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis—left Gaza's beleaguered Christians beginning 2009 in their worst situation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. However, reconciliation work between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews continued.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Kill Less and Spy More

Noah Shachtman points out in Wired’s Danger Room that since 9/11, U.S. intelligence agencies have had counter-terrorism as their primary focus, including hundreds of drone strikes. Then he notes two former heads of the CIA who are urging a return to intelligence-gathering.

“We have been tremendously focused on counterterrorism for the last 11 years [since 9/11]. How do you now begin to make sure that you cover other necessary things without making the country less safe?” asks former CIA director and retired Gen. Michael Hayden.

“Nearly every major international security concern facing Petraeus’ successors is, in essence, a question of intelligence: What is Iran’s nuclear capability, really? Which way will the Syrian civil war go? Why is China building up its Navy so fast? What the hell is Kim Jong-Un up to? “Those are things that you’re not going to learn through diplomacy or through press reporting. And that takes you to intelligence,” notes John E. McLaughlin, the CIA’s former acting director.” 

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BREAKING: Israel Attack Kills Hamas Military Chief

There are multiple news reports that an Israeli air strike has killed senior Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari in Gaza City. The Associated Press is reporting that “The Israeli military says its assassination of the Hamas military commander marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants.” 

Al Jazeera adds that Palestinian security sources reported a total of four air strikes across Gaza late Wednesday afternoon. A BBC reporter in Gaza City says the sound of gunfire echoed through the streets after the air strike. This follows several days of cross border attacks by Hamas on Israel and Israeli retaliation.

Haaretz is running a live blog, and on Twitter #Gaza, there are live reports of continued shooting and explosions from further air strikes.

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DRONE WATCH: Pakistan Developing Drones

As it continues to condemn U.S. drone attacks, it appears that Pakistan is close to manufacturing its own drones. The Guardian reports that at a major arms fair held in Karachi last week, a senior Pakistani defense official briefed allies on their progress.

"The foreign delegates were quite excited by what Pakistan has achieved," said the official, who was closely involved with organising the four-day International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (Ideas). "They were briefed about a UAV that can be armed and has the capability to carry a weapon payload."

“The official said Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to friendly countries, principally Turkey and the Gulf, that it can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionising warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability.”

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