Out of the blue earlier this week we were hit with the news* that the FAA has approved Reaper "training" flights over Syracuse, NY. These unmanned robots are piloted from our own Hancock air base.
The Reaper is a weaponized surveillance drone notorious for spying and assassination and for killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. According to United Nations investigations some of these attacks qualify as war crime.
The Reaper is hyped as key to the so-called "war on terror." Because they prey on civilians across North Africa, the Mideast and Central Asia, drones are themselves instruments of terror. They generate dread. They perpetuate hatred.
The world is appalled by the U.S.' lethal use of drones over nations it isn't even at war with. For many beyond our shores the U.S. has become a rogue state, contemptuous of other nations' sovereignty and of international law.
Now Syracuse, besides hosting the Hancock Reaper hub, is itself about to be exposed to its stare as we lie under the Reaper flight path. This militarization of our skies further consolidates the national surveillance state. While the NSA snoops on our every communication, the Reaper snoops on our every move.
We had no opportunity to vote on whether we wanted drones over our city and region. There was no hearing, no plebiscite, to determine whether upstate New Yorkers want our airspace invaded by this unsavory technology. The Pentagon -- serving the oil and "defense" industries and abounding with Islamophobic crusaders – is foisting this on us.
Col. Greg Semmel, commander of the 174th Attack Wing of Hancock's Air National Guard, has provided bland assurance that the Reapers will not be carrying live ammunition, that (contrary to other sources) the Reapers have a good safety record, and that the Reapers "will never perform targeted surveillance on any New Yorker or any other U.S. citizen during our training missions." For me, this doesn't fly.
We have already seen how mission creep – the aforementioned U.S. attacks on nations we haven't found a pretext to declare war on – has become standard military operating procedure.
There is now an aggressive drone industry – complete with captive congressmen (our own Charles Schumer!) -- salivating at the prospect of U.S.-manufactured drones crisscrossing global skies and being bought up by police departments throughout the U.S. Municipal law enforcement is becoming more and more militarized -- witness the Syracuse Police Department's proposed acquisition of a pricey, high-tech armored vehicle. One wonders if the U.S. is itself coming under military occupation.
That armored vehicle, also sprung on us in the Aug 5 Syracuse Post-Standard, appears to be part of an arms race between city and county. Onondaga County already has its armored vehicle which it got "to prevent or respond to terrorist attacks." Might not this perceived vulnerability be linked to the Reaper base in our midst?
Already Hancock is corrupting both Onondaga County law enforcement and the courts. When Hancock complained about citizens (nonviolently and legally) protesting its war crime, we have twice been pre-emptively arrested. And now the DeWitt town court issues dubious orders of protection severely penalizing citizens who protest at the base more than once.
Thanks to the increasing militarization of upstate NY, our First Amendment right to petition our government for redress of grievance is being trampled, our civil liberties are being eroded.
Will this chilling 1984-type trend further the freedoms our military supposedly fights for?
* Jeff Stein, Syracuse Post-Standard 8/5/13 article: "Drones to fly over parts of Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties"