We had a very productive meeting with Congressman Gibson on June 2nd focusing on US drone warfare. We started off with 15 minutes of presenting our case against militarized drones: Priscilla Fairbank wove quotes, statistics and examples into the argument that the drone program is actually expanding hatred and enemies of the US. Marcia Hopple documented the horrendous impact on civilians, quoting good research. Hazel Landa moved Gibson by framing the issue of breaking international law as something about which she feels responsibility to her grandchildren. Nancy Rothman documented the corporate profits made from drone warfare and the undue influence of their lobbyists in Congress. Maud Easter pushed Gibson on what specifically he would be willing to do in Congress to gain Congressional control over and limit the burgeoning drone wars.
This expanded into a lengthy and productive back and forth – our scheduled half hour became an hour! We were pleased overall with the commitments Gibson made, his frankness, and his understanding of the issues involved:
· On Congressional power over the drone wars: We thanked him for voting yes on the recent Schiff amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which would have required expiration this year of the legislation being used to defend legally the expanding drone program, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Since that did not pass, one of our “asks” was that he become a co-sponsor of the HR2324, Sunset to the Authorization of Military Force Act, the Schiff legislation that has the same effect – he responded that he just had!
· Help in recruiting additional co-sponsors for HR2324: In response to our request that he recruit colleagues to join him in co-sponsoring HR2324, he suggested meeting with the 5 of us again on July 28th to identify together possible prospects for him to approach, based on his review and our review of relevant voting records – e.g., those who voted against the recent Schiff amendment and those who have supported other efforts Gibson has initiated to re-assert Congressional control over war-making, members of the New York Congressional delegation, etc. We committed to review these lists in advance, and Maud will contact FCNL staff in DC for their advice. Gibson also hoped we would use our broader national network to encourage identified prospective co-sponsors to sign on.
· On documenting drone-caused deaths: He agreed to review and consider co-sponsoring another Schiff bill, H.R.4372, The Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act, which requires public information on drone-caused deaths.
· Gibson believes the military use of drones depends on the specific situation. He thinks they could be needed as support to troops in close combat, but is concerned about targeting based on observations from on far and is concerned about civilian deaths. He did co-sponsor HR1083, the No Armed Drones Act, to prevent drones being used as a weapon domestically. We need to talk with him more about this.
· Gibson talked extensively about his concern that the country is too quick to take military action, that the constitutionally required Congressional debate on military action is lacking. He viewed the House leadership, including both Boehner and Pelosi, as unlikely to allow hearings on drones, as unwilling to support efforts to rein in drone use and to force greater transparency and Congressional accountability. He doesn’t trust the joint intelligence committee to review adequately the CIA and other intelligence activities, including CIA drone warfare. He mentioned the influence of the Unmanned Systems Caucus with 21 House members and the House Drones Caucus with more than 50 members. He shared with us his previous efforts to rein in the intelligence and military community including:
Ø On Syria, his co-sponsorship with democrat Garimundi of H Amdt.162 to HR 1960, the NDAA for 2014, to remove its bellicose language (his amendment was defeated in committee, but the language was stripped in conference –see Daily Kos article: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/09/01/1235478/-The-House-Already-Voted-on-Syria-including-regime-change-but-they-won-t-breathe-a-word-of-it-now ).
Ø His introduction of HR383, the War Powers Reform Act, which would require Congressional debate on war-making, as happened on Syria. He urged us to encourage other Congresspeople to become co-sponsors.
Ø His vote against the recent HR 3361, the USA Freedom Act, the revision and expansion of the Patriot Act.
Ø His vote, as 1 of only 19 Congresspeople, against HR4152 which supported US providing military hardware and training to Ukraine without requiring any advance plan.