Anti-War Leaders Target Drones


BETHLEHEM -- As the U.S. military grinds on in completing its mission in Afghanistan, two 64-year-olds from the Capital Region have earned their stripes as leaders of the anti-war movement.

Joe Lombardo of Delmar and John Amidon of Albany became friends in 2003 while protesting the war in Iraq. They've walked similar paths for decades and remained active as the peace movement has changed in recent years. The two are now part of a core group that carries out bold actions across the nation and abroad. Their efforts are focused on ending America's use of drone aircraft, the unmanned military planes that have killed important enemy combatants but also innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"There's still a need for a movement," Lombardo, a retired state worker and musician said Friday over the sounds of the Grateful Dead at Perfect Blend Cafe in Delmar. "Drones help expand war."

Lombardo recently returned from an eight-day trip across Pakistan that was organized by the anti-war group CodePink. The trip took him and 30 others on an anti-drone caravan to the border of Waziristan, a mountainous region in northwest Pakistan that borders Afghanistan.

The Pentagon considers the semi-autonomous area a sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. The CIA has targeted Waziristan with drone strikes on the suspicion that is a staging ground for attacks on American troops in Afghanistan, according to reports. President Barack Obama has made drones a centerpiece of the U.S. military arsenal, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently endorsed their use.

Lombardo and Amidon, who is a Marine Corps veteran, believe drone warfare violates international law.

A recent report by Stanford University and New York University researchers contends that far more civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas than U.S. counter-terrorism officials have acknowledged. "Living Under Drones" concludes the strikes are creating more enemies than they are destroying. Using statistics from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, it says that 474 to 884 civilians have died from American drone strikes since 2004, including 176 children.

This week, Amidon and other demonstrators protested the use of drones by blocking the entrances to Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse. New York Air National Guard members fly unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drones in Afghanistan by remote control from the base, and use video from the planes to bomb enemy targets. Seventeen protestors were arrested Thursday and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

"It's an illegal assassination of women and children," Amidon said. "We don't think we should be expanding our war zones, and there should be a judicial process for all."

More Americans than ever support ending the war in Afghanistan and limiting military involvement overseas, Lombardo said.

"Deeply concerned citizens are practicing civil resistance," Amidon said in an interview Friday. In December 2010, he and Lombardo were arrested, along with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, outside the White House during a protest of America's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. A judge dismissed the charges.

Last week, a California district attorney dismissed charges against Amidon, Ellsberg and 13 others for their participation in a Feb. 25 protest of the launch of a Minuteman III missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Lombardo went to Pakistan in early October to see things for himself. He interviewed family members and others who put the number of casualties much higher. In Waziristan, Pakistanis are afraid to congregate, fearing they will be attacked from above, he said.

Lombardo stopped at several towns and villages to attend rallies against the use of drones. He spoke with people who have lost relatives to drone attacks and a reporter who documents each drone strike. The CodePink group was accompanied by Pakistani presidential candidate Imran Khan.

The country's military refused them entrance into Waziristan, but the trip generated daily front-page news in Pakistan and raised the issue of drones globally, Lombardo said.

Lombard, a founding member of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace who helped bring the first United National Peace Conference to Albany in the summer of 2010, will discuss this month's overseas trip at 3 p.m. Sunday at Bethlehem Public Library.

"Joe's an institution here," Mark Kelly of Delmar said Friday. "He's been out there on this corner, rain, sleet or snow since the war started."

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