By Tench Phillips, Naro Cinema
It’s not every day that former Air Force drone operators go public and hold a press conference to give their accounts of the killing of innocent people. But that’s just what happened in December when four brave young men issued an impassioned plea and an open letter to President Obama, defense secretary Ashton Carter and CIA chief John Brennan.
The letter requested that the government reconsider a program that kills too many “innocent civilians,” and which “only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruiting tool [for extremists] similar to Guantanamo Bay.” They accused the administration of lying to the public about the effectiveness of the drone program. They did acknowledge that the program is good at killing people – just not the right ones.
The four drone war veterans now risk prosecution by an administration that has been unprecedented in its targeting of government whistleblowers. They have resolved to tell the truth despite the government’s threat of criminal prosecution, and clumsy attempts to intimidate their families. They have now had their credit cards frozen along with their bank accounts by the Feds, according to human rights attorney Jesselyn Radack. Fortunately they have received help and support from the Government Accountability Project (GAP). The nonprofit public interest group has litigated for such well-known whistleblowers as Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake.
One would think that this story would be considered essential news – and yet the major media, with the exception of an interview on NBC News, have chosen to ignore it. The New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream news organizations continue their unstated policy of no-bad-news-reporting-about-drones.
In an effort to draw increased media and public attention for the issues surrounding killer drones, protests have been waged outside select military bases throughout the country. On Jan 28, protesters held another vigil at Hancock Field National Air Base near Syracuse, New York. They decried the immoral and illegal use of drones that are controlled by operators headquartered at the base.
A dozen peace activists were arrested at the protest including Norfolk Catholic Workers’ Steve Baggarly and former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern, a past host of documentaries at the Naro.
We will soon have a chance to hear more stories of conscience when the new documentary ‘Drone’ shows here on Wed, March 9 in our ongoing ‘New Non-Fiction Film’ series that includes speakers and discussion. Two of the four former pilots appear in the film.
‘Drone’ will be introduced by another military veteran who has become a whistleblower – Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired US Army Colonel and the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson has been a lifelong Republican and is now the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. He will be attending the screening and giving his informed opinion as a former insider within the Beltway.
Wilkerson made the decision to come forward during the Bush administration after learning about how torture had been authorized and encouraged at the very highest levels. He knew that this was a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the law of war, and the manuals that they operated under. “I can’t stay silent anymore. I’m going to speak out.”
Wilkerson has had a conversion, and he now explains how U.S. foreign policy has always been about the expansion of sheer power. After WWII, the U.S. expanded the “imperial dots” – military bases established in other countries in order to generate a financial apparatus that would expand Empire and corporate power.
While many people in the world are forced to live in abject poverty, there are generations of families able to hand down and concentrate their wealth in a rigged capitalistic system. The amount of unearned capital in the world now exceeds the total amount of earned income. According to the latest Oxfam study, 62 billionaires now own as much wealth as the bottom half of all humanity.
In a recent interview Wilkerson emphatically opposes American Empire when he makes the following statements.
“Today the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to support the complex that we’ve created in the national security that is fueled, funded, and powered by interminable war.”
“History demonstrates that this is what empires do when they are getting ready to collapse. They begin to be so zealous of their own power and its expansion that they actually decrease their power until it becomes inevitable that they cease to exist.”
“Concentration of wealth and capital – which is not productive wealth unless it’s going back into the real economy to generate industry that produces something – that is unconscionable.”
“You actually have (retired military officers) going out and joining the media – and making the media more conversant with, and attuned to, and want war…
General officers who will go out to CNN, go to MSNBC, go to Fox News – and they will get their six figure salaries for being the security experts and they will report to the American people the dire need for soldiers on the ground in Syria, the dire need for more war.”
As far as Colin Powell’s speech at the U.N. in 2003 where he gave fabricated data about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and that wrongly justified the U.S. invasion, Wilkerson states, “there were a number of reasons for my own personal failure, I will admit those reasons… and I will go to my grave remembering it.”
“I am not opposed to drones as a technological development in warfare – as, for example, I am to nuclear weapons, land mines, chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and other such developments.” He goes on to say, “we have not thoroughly explored and then developed international law, norms, and operating procedures; we have just blundered into extensive drone use. It’s the same with domestic law, particularly given that so many drones are being acquired by law enforcement and others. We have not developed a comprehensive set of ethics for overall use and we have not considered the impact of their use on military ethics. Lastly, our not doing these things makes the inevitable development of such capacities by others, all the more devastating when it arrives.”
The importance of someone of Wilkerson’s stature who now speaks out against the abuses of the state, cannot be overestimated. He has been interviewed in many broadcast news programs, as well as appearing in several political documentaries that have shown at the Naro including ‘No End In Sight’, Alex Gibney’s ‘Taxi To the Dark Side’, and the upcoming ‘Drone’. Colonel Wilkerson will speak before and after ‘Drone’ showing on Wed, March 9.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation All five Academy Award nominees in the category of Best Animated Short. Dates and times available at www.narocinema.com
2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live-Action All five Academy Award nominees in the category of Best Live-Action Short. Showing Tues, Feb 16.
LABYRINTH OF LIES
Frankfurt, Germany in 1958: nobody as yet wants to look back to the recent past of the reign of horror of the Nazi regime. Young public prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) comes across some documents that help initiate the trial against some members of the SS who served in Auschwitz. But both the horrors of the past and the hostility shown towards his work by holocaust deniers bring Johann close to a meltdown. Showing Wed, Feb 17 with an introduction by ODU professor and scholar Kerstin Steitz.
The Story of Land Art In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a cadre of renegade New York artists sought to transcend the limitations of painting and sculpture by producing earthworks on a monumental scale in the desolate desert spaces of the American southwest. The film reveals the enigmatic lives and careers of storied artists Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), Walter De Maria (The Lightning Field) and Michael Heizer (Double Negative); a headstrong troika that established the genre and who stand in marked contrast to the hyper-speculative contemporary art world of today. Showing Tues, Feb 23. Presented with The Chrysler Museum.
80th Anniversary of Movies on Colley Ave! 1936-2016
Originally built as the Colley Theater by local entrepreneur William Wilder, the theater opened on Feb, 24, 1936. We will have a short tribute to the golden days of movie theaters before the screening of one of the best classic films released that year. Guest host is Mal Vincent. Showing Wed, Feb 24.
Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW
A newspaper photographer with a broken leg passes time recuperating by observing his neighbors through his window. He sees what he believes to be a murder, and decides to solve the crime himself. With the help of his nurse and wife, he tries to catch the murderer without being killed himself. Hitchcock makes explicit the voyeurism inherent in going to the movies. Showing Tues, March 1 in ‘Faith In Film’ series hosted by Scott Hennessy.
HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD
An eclectic group of young pioneers – Canadian hippie journalists, photographers, musicians, scientists, and American draft dodgers – set out in the early seventies to stop Richard Nixon’s atomic bomb tests in Amchitka, Alaska. They ended up creating the worldwide environmental movement, Greenpeace. The film spans the period from the first expeditions up through the first whale and seal campaigns in 1979. Soon after the founders were forced to give away their central role to a worldwide movement that became Greenpeace International. The documentary is an intimate portrait of the group’s original members and of activism itself—idealism vs. pragmatism, principle vs. compromise. Important lessons for progressive movements to relearn today in the ongoing fight to defend the rights of nature. Showing Wed, March 2.
In the wars being fought today in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria – the U.S. government and the military-industrial complex have developed war strategies that are similar to video games. And young male gamers who are proficient in those games have become prized recruits. Brandon Bryant, a former Air Force drone pilot who now suffers from post-traumatic stress states that “We’re the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate peeping Toms. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives. It was just point. And click.” In this movie, Bryant and a few brave young pilots go public in their opposition to drone killings. Our government has already begun to retaliate against these whistleblowers by freezing their banking accounts. Showing Wed, March 9 with retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson introducing the film.
HEART OF A DOG
“Hello, little bonehead. I’ll love you forever.” So begins Laurie Anderson’s wry, wondrous and unforgettable cinematic journey through love, death and language. Centering on Anderson’s beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, who died in 2011, this personal essay weaves together childhood memories, video diaries, philosophical musings on data collection, surveillance culture and the Buddhist conception of the afterlife, and heartfelt tributes to the artists, writers, musicians and thinkers who inspire her, including her late husband Lou Reed. Showing Wed, March 16.
JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE
Janis Joplin was one of the world’s most influential rock icons and a goddess of sound, but there was actually far more to her than that. She inspired a generation, breaking new ground for all the female rock singers who followed. Date to be determined.