A well-known and highly respected Yemeni anti-drone activist was detained yesterday by UK officials under that country’s “anti-terrorism” law at Gatwick Airport, where he had traveled to speak at an event. Baraa Shiban, the project co-ordinator for the London-based legal charity Reprieve, was held for an hour and a half and repeatedly questioned about his anti-drone work and political views regarding human rights abuses in Yemen.
When he objected that his political views had no relevance to security concerns, UK law enforcement officials threatened to detain him for the full nine hours allowed by the Terrorism Act of 2000, the same statute that was abused by UK officials last month to detain my partner, David Miranda, for nine hours.
Shiban tells his story today, here, in the Guardian, and recounts how the UK official told him “he had detained me not merely because I was from Yemen, but also because of Reprieve’s work investigating and criticizing the efficacy of US drone strikes in my country.”
The notion that Shiban posed some sort of security threat was absurd on its face. As the Guardian reported Tuesday, “he visited the UK without incident earlier this summer and testified in May to a US congressional hearing on the impact of the covert drone program in Yemen.”
Viewing anti-drone activism as indicative of a terrorism threat is noxious. As Reprieve’s Cory Crider put it yesterday, “if there were any doubt the UK was abusing its counter-terrorism powers to silence critics, this ends it.”
But perceiving drone opponents as “threats” or even “adversaries” is hardly new. Top secret US government documents obtained by the Guardian from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”.
Under the title “adversary propaganda themes”, the document lists what it calls “examples of potential propaganda themes that could be employed against UAV operations”.
One such example is entitled “Nationality of Target vs. Due Process”. It states:
Attacks against American and European persons who have become violent extremists are often criticized by propagandists, arguing that lethal action against these individuals deprives them of due process.”
In the eyes of the US government, “due process” – the idea that the US government should not deprive people of life away from a battlefield without presenting evidence of guilt – is no longer a basic staple of the American political system, but rather a malicious weapon of “propagandists”.
The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, among many other groups, have made exactly that argument against the US drone targeting program (“the US government’s killings of US citizens Anwar Al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011 violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law”).
Another paragraph from the NSA entry complains that the phrase “drone strike” is a “loaded term”, as it “connote[s] mindless automatons with no capability for independent thought” and thus “may invoke an emotional reaction”. This, the document asserts, “is what propaganda intends to do”.
Although the document at one points suggests that some drone opposition may come from “citizens with legitimate social agendas”, the section on “adversary propaganda themes” includes virtually every one of the arguments most frequently made in the US against the US drone policy, including that the threat of terrorism is small when compared to other threats, that drone strikes intensify rather than curb the risk of terrorism by fueling anti-American animus, and that drones kill too many civilians.
Secret NSA drone document – selected excerpts:
You’re much more likely to be killed by lightning than by a terrorist:
Americans are 110 times more likely to die from contaminated food than terrorism: