A well-known peace group, CODEPINK, the legal advocacy organizations, Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and others will be gathering in Washington, DC, this weekend for the first international summit on drones. The summit will bring together lawyers, journalists, activists, human rights advocates and robotics technology experts, who will all be speaking about several issues that stem from the development, evolution and proliferation of drone technology. Personal stories from Pakistani drone strike victims are also going to be shared.
The summit, taking place at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, will happen over two days. Ethical and political issues of drone use and targeted killings, legality and transparency of drone use and targeted killings, victims, compensation and accountability, domestic drones, surveillance and privacy concerns and an international convention on drone use will be discussed. On Saturday, Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill will speak during the closing session. In the opening session, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve and Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who sued the US on behalf of drone strike victims, will speak.
The State Department originally refused to grant Akbar a visa to attend the conference. Like numerous scholars and scientists that had been blocked from entering the United States by the Bush administration, it appeared he was going to be kept from coming to the US because of his political views on US drone attacks. He had submitted a visa request to attend a Columbia Law conference just over a year ago and received no response on whether he was approved or not. At the last minute, on Monday, a meeting was held with US Embassy officials, the US government relented and a visa was granted.
Benjamin explains she decided to organize this summit when she was doing research for her recently published book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She looked into what people were doing around drones and found there were “different communities doing work on different aspects but they [were] not really talking to each other.” The human rights community was focused on “accountability, transparency, compensation for drone victims.” The legal community was working on moving cases through the courts. The activist community was going to bases and headquarters of drone manufacturers. Student groups were beginning to examine university funding for drone research and scientists were becoming engaged in issues as well. She concluded the communities needed to “come together” so everyone could learn about what communities were doing and how work being done overlapped.
Domestic drone issues, such as concerns about privacy and unwarranted surveillance of Americans, have been considered separately. Part of what will make the summit a success is how participants and speakers come to understand that all communities have to work together. All the issues are connected. As Benjamin explains, drone use by Homeland Security or Border Control in the United States and drones flying and killing people in countries overseas are both examples of the “undemocratic abuse” of this “technology for repressive purposes.” They are connected in that what is happening shows a clear “lack of respect for democratic values and privacy issues and international law.” In fact, she points out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) does not just work on one aspect of drone use. They have lawyers that have a campaign on the killing of American citizens and also a campaign on law enforcement use of drones.
I spoke to Maria Lahood of CCR, who argued the case of Al-Aulaqi v. Obama. I also spoke with Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). From now until the summit begins, a few more posts on this upcoming summit will run here at The Dissenter featuring their thoughts on the summit and drones. And on Saturday, after a week spent covering Pfc. Bradley Manning’s April motion hearing, I will be attending this critical summit to listen to speakers. I will be reporting on what journalists, lawyers, activists and victims of drone strikes from around the world have to say about the US’s use of drone technology throughout the weekend.