10 Years Later and I'm Still Protesting War
Ten years ago, I resigned my post in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. I had worked in the U.S. government for most of my life, first in the Army and Army Reserves, retiring as a colonel, and then as a diplomat. I served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone and Micronesia. I helped reopen the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001.
Yet after serving in eight presidential administrations, beginning under Lyndon Johnson during the war on Vietnam, I ended my career in the U.S. government in opposition to another conflict — the war on Iraq.
A decade after I stepped down as the deputy ambassador in the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia, the war in Iraq is over for Americans, but continues for Iraqis. The whirlwind of sectarian violence brought on by the U.S. invasion and occupation continues to blow there.
The war on Afghanistan is now in its 13th year and as the anniversary of my resignation day approaches, I find myself outside the gates of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, protesting war and, in particular, President Obama’s killer drone programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Although Obama’s kill list, the CIA drone attacks in the undeclared war on Pakistan and the assassination of three American citizens by drone in Yemen receive most of the media and congressional attention, the incredibly large number of drone strikes in Afghanistan has gotten scant coverage — and that is why I am at Creech.
In 2012 alone, the U.S. Air Force has acknowledged 492 drone strikes/weapons releases in Afghanistan. A United Nations report states that only 16 people were killed in those strikes.
In comparison, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that during the first four years of the Obama administration, the CIA launched 313 drone strikes (the Bush administration launched 52 drone strikes in Pakistan). Estimates on deaths of civilians in Pakistan range from 411 to 884 (estimates on all deaths including militants in Pakistan from drones range from 2,536 to 3,577).
From these statistics, one can assume that the number of civilian casualties by drone attack in Afghanistan is severely underreported.
One in four U.S. weapons releases in Afghanistan comes from drones. A report from the Air Command of the U.S. Central Command reveals that from 2010 through the first month of 2013, the Obama administration ordered 1,109 weapons releases from drones. Data on drone strikes in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, is not included in the study. That report has now been removed from the U.S. Central Command website, but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism captured the data before its removal in this chart.
Creech, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was the first of the Air Force’s drone training and operations bases in the U.S. and personnel there still control a large number of drone strikes in Afghanistan.
The drone program has now expanded so that many more U.S. Air Force bases have operational control of drones over Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Mali. Whiteman in Missouri, Beale in California and Kirtland in New Mexico are just a few of the 64 military bases in the U.S. that control, train or house drones.
I and many other demonstrators are at the Creech main gate during the morning and evening shift changes to challenge the continuing war in Afghanistan and the Obama administration’s use of drones, which have killed so many civilians in that country.
Two of my fellow Creech protesters — Toby Blome and JoAnne Lingle — and I were arrested last month at CIA Director John Brennan’s confirmation hearing. We were detained for “disrupting Congress” when we spoke out against his nomination because of his key role in the CIA’s assassin drone program while he was President Obama’s chief adviser on counterterrorism, a position that had not required Senate confirmation in 2009.
As I mark my 10th year of challenging the war policies of the United States, elements of my March 19, 2003, resignation letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell still ring true to me, even though Bush is no longer president and the war on Iraq has nominally ended.
“I disagree with the Administration’s policies on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea and curtailment of civil liberties in the U.S. itself,” I wrote. “I believe the Administration’s policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer, place. I feel obligated morally and professionally to set out my very deep and firm concerns on these policies and to resign from government service as I cannot defend or implement them.”