Federal Prison Sentence Begins for Anti-Drone Activist

Published on Dissident Voice, by Medea Benjamin, Jan 22, 2015.

On January 23, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare, will begin a three-month jail sentence in federal prison for a protest against drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles”) at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I had a chance to interview her before she had to turn herself in … //

… MB: Can you tell us about Whiteman Air Force Base and what you did that resulted in this three-month sentence?

  • KK: A squadron at Whiteman, which is in Knob Noster, Missouri, operates weaponized drones over Afghanistan, which has been an epicenter of drone warfare. Whiteman Air Force Base won’t disclose information about the results of these drone strikes, but we, as American citizens, should have the right to know what is being done in our name.
  • I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, living with young people who have been victimized by our drones, young people who fled to Kabul and are too frightened to go back home to visit their own relatives, young people who see a future filled with prolonged and agonizing warfare.
  • We wanted to bring their grievances to the commander at Whiteman. So I crossed a line onto the base. A symbolic action for people in Afghanistan is breaking bread together, so I carried a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander asking how many people were killed by Whiteman Air Force Base on that day.
  • I took one or two steps over a line. Then I was arrested.
  • When I went to trial, the military prosecutor told the judge, “Your Honor, Ms. Kelly is in grave need of rehabilitation.” But I think it’s our policy that’s in grave need of rehabilitation. We’ve already spent $1 trillion on warfare in Afghanistan and will be spending another $120 billion. The Pentagon wants $57 billion for this year alone. We’re squandering resources that are sorely needed at home and abroad to solve extremely serious problems our world is facing, problems like the climate crisis and global poverty.

MB: When you crossed the line into the Whiteman Base, did you know that you would be facing such a long sentence? Crossing the line at some bases, and even CIA Headquarters, has resulted in a small fine.

  • KK: My colleague Brian Terrell had previous crossed onto Whiteman Air Force Base and received a six-month sentence. I faced the same judge so I was pretty sure that I would get six months as well. When he only gave me three months, I was actually surprised. I certainly don’t think I did anything criminal; I’m proud of what I did. But I expected the penalty would be higher, and wondered if the judge wanted to look good for a change.

MB: So I take it that means you would do it again?

  • KK: Oh surely, yes. I think it’s important to take these issues directly to the place where the grievance is occurring, and that’s certainly these military bases.
  • I also think it’s important to take these issues to all three branches of government. I love it when CODEPINK goes into the halls of Congress or challenges President Obama, because it’s crucial to pressure the executive and legislative branches. But we have to target the judicial branch as well. We have to try every lever and keep on insisting that the Constitution protects our right to express our grievances.

MB: In early January, you fasted and protested with Witness Against Torture to call for the closing of the Guantanamo prison, including a protest at the home of former vice president Dick Cheney. How do you feel knowing that the people making these policies aren’t held accountable, but you’re heading off to jail? … //

… (full interview text).

(Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange.org. Read other articles by Medea on Dissident Voice).


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