Protest at upstate New York air base over use of drones

Thirty-three were arrested April 22 by Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies for protesting at upstate New York’s Hancock Field air base over the use of unmanned drones in Afghanistan. The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones brought together activists from Veterans for Peace, Occupy Buffalo, the Western New York Peace Center and other groups for the protest. Activists planned to deliver a “war crimes indictment” to base personnel, but were “pre-emptively” arrested as they approached the base.

Three women succeeded in reading aloud the text of indictment at the base gate. Addressed to “the Service Members of Hancock Air Base,” the statement read: “By giving material support to the drone program, you as individuals are violating the Constitution, dishonoring your oath, and committing war crimes. We charge the chain of command, from President Barack Obama, to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, to Commander Colonel Greg Semmel, to every drone crew, to every service member supporting or defending these illegal actions, with the following crimes: extrajudicial killings, violation of due process, wars of aggression, violation of national sovereignty, and the killing of innocent civilians.”

Members of the New York State National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing at the base outside Syracuse have used satellite uplinks to fly unmanned MQ-9 Reapers in Afghanistan since 2009. The military also uses its airspace above Fort Drum in New York’s Jefferson County to train personnel in how to fly Reapers. The National Guard wants to launch regular, unarmed MQ-9s above the Adirondack Mountains to train drone crews from Hancock Field and Fort Drum, but this proposal is still awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. (Buffalo News, April 25; Albany Times-Union, OpEd News, April 23)

See our last posts on Afghanistan, the drone wars and the anti-war effort.

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  1. Hancock 15 drone resisters found guilty
    A press release, Dec. 14, via Occupy Washington DC:

    Syracuse — Last night, in DeWitt Town Court, in a swift four and a half hour trial, Judge Jokl found eleven of the original fifteen protesters of Reaper drones, guilty of trespass. Hancock Air National Guard Base is home of the MQ-9 Reaper drone maintenance and trainingcenter, adjacent to Syracuse Airport where soldiers pilotdrones used in the extra judicial killings in Afghanistan. 

    The eleven pro se defendants argued that their action of civil resistance, of blocking the front gate of the base, on June 28th, was two fold.

    First, to present grievances to the government by deliveringa War Crimes Indictment, co-authored by former Attorney General of the U.S., Ramsey Clark, indicting Hancock base personnel, up their chain of commandto President Obama, of war crimes.  Second, to prevent war crimes of: extra judicial killings, killing of innocent civilians, wars of aggressions, and the violation of national sovereignty…

    This action was done in accordance with customary law, which prohibits acts of aggression by all nations.

    In his closing argument John Hamilton said, “There is no exception anywhere, for you, for me, for anyone from this overarching legal certainty:  acts of aggression are always and everywhere illegal, and must not by ignored [sic] by the courts.  Extra-judicial murder must be called out and stopped.” 

    …In Daniel Burgevin’s closing, he stated, “I am innocent of trespass. The unlawfulness of trespass is when a hellfire missile enters through the roof of a family’s home, exploding and spreading fire and shards of metal through the bodies of the family living inside. …That is the unlawfulness and the criminality of trespass.”

    Judge Jokl did not allow the war crimes indictment into evidence, thus limiting his scope of interpretation to NY State law.

    Within ten minutes of deliberation the j udge found the eleven guilty.

    The judge sentenced Ed Kinane and Rae Kramer, of Syracuse, Clare and Ellen Grady, and James Ricks of Ithaca, to 15 days in jail. 

    Dan Burgevin, Dave McClallen and Nate Lewis of Trumansburg,  George and Judy Homanich of Binghamton, and John Hamilton of Ithaca, were all given fines and community service and one year conditional discharge.

    Last night Ed Kinane and James Ricks started their 15 day sentence in Onondaga County Jail. The other three report to jail at 5 pm on January 11th, 2012. 

    On January 10th, 2013, two groups of drone protesters will be in De Witt Town Court to argue motions with their trial dates to be announced possibly that night.  On Oct. 25th, 2012, the protesters closed all three gates of the base, blockading  it, for two hours and forty minutes. 

    An order of protection was signed by Judge Jokl on behalf of Col. Earl A. Evans, preventing protesters from going near  his “place of employment”, or face the penalty of seven years in prison.

    We are heartened by these courageous people, and Judge Jokl’s denial of their moral necessity defense is outrageous. However, we do wish they had kept the extremely problematic Ramsey Clark out of it…

  2. Drone protesters not guilty

    From Waging Nonviolence, Oct. 25::

    A crowd of over 50 people in New York’s DeWitt Town Court broke out into cheers at 10 p.m. yesterday when Judge Robert Jokl issued a not guilty verdict for five members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. The fivepro se defendants — including Ellen Grady, Bill Streit, Carmen Trotta, Bill Pickard and Linda Latendre — were on trial for disorderly conduct, stemming from a symbolic blockade of the National Guard 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Airfield in Syracuse, N.Y., earlier this year.

    The defendants’ action took place on February 13, 2013 — Ash Wednesday — when together they stood in the driveway to the air base holding signs that described drone activities and the murdering of children around the globe. During the action, Latendre read a statement that said, “We come to Hancock Airfield this Ash Wednesday to repent for the actions of our government and to ask God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people we daily terrorize with these drones.”

    The 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Airfield is responsible for the maintenance and operation of MQ-9 Reaper drones. These unmanned combat flying machines have recently come under the international spotlight for illegal killings of U.S. citizens, as well as innocent civilians overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia…

    All five of the defendants self-identified as people of Christian and Catholic faiths, guided by Christ’s radical message of living with compassion and love for all. Rev. Bill Streit is a member of the Catholic Worker for over 25 years…

    In closing, the defendants addressed Judge Jokl directly, asking him to “join the arc of justice” and find them not-guilty of disorderly conduct. In order to reach a guilty verdict, the district attorney had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the five defendants had acted with reckless intent to cause significant public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm. This would have most likely resulted in a fine and jail time. The prosecution, however, failed to meet its burden of proof, and despite “wanting to find them guilty,” Judge Jokl ruled with the defense, and the crowd cheered.