A Letter from Prison> A Christmas Message from Brian Terrell

“I think our best ethical, moral and religious energy needs to be put toward loving these people. Otherwise, we’re just making the world a much more dangerous and scary place.”

Brian Terrell of Voices for Creative Non-Violence is in prison for six months, the maximum sentence for trespassing on a US base near Kansas City for protesting U.S. drone wars last spring. View his story. His colleague Kathy Kelly travels constantly to the sites of U.S. occupations, identifying with the victims and bringing their stories to us. Read her message from Gaza in We Want It to Stop. [The World Can’t Wait]

December 2012

Friends,

With your support and solidarity and prayers I am settling into life here at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota, these past couple of weeks.

Except for three minimum security prison terms in the ’80s and 90’s, my experience of being locked up here and abroad has been of a series of county and town jails, fetid, noisy, sunless and airless steel and concrete boxes, long tedious days hardly distinguishable from sleepless nights. Prison is still prison, but in many ways Yankton is in stark contrast. If anything, a regime of order and cleanliness is severely enforced here. While this grates on me as with the general population of prisoners, a clean bed in quiet, if overcrowded quarters, has its points.

This is a defunct private college (the present census of inmates is a larger and more diverse population, I venture, than the enrolled student body of Yankton College ever boasted in its history) with well kept grounds. It is a pleasure to be able to get outside and to walk under the winter sky and leafless trees that I cannot take for granted. It is a blessing to feel the sun and the wind in my face.

I have a job, sweeping and mopping one stairwell twice a day, that requires me to stay on site for an eight hour shift. I get paid 12 cents an hour and can bring a book!

My fellow inmates have welcomed me. I am humbled by their endurance, almost all of them here for long years to my short months, almost all jailed as unjustly as I. On the day of my “surrender,” the local Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan featured a front page article with my photo, “Terrell: American Drone Strikes Must Stop” which many read here and was a good introduction. [Editor’s Note:  the text of the article is included below.]

The last few years have been a blur of action and travel for me and even as this is hard to swallow on one hand, this abrupt halt is also welcome in its way. The weeks before this sentence began was especially full of talks around the Midwest and with interviews with the media. I confident that my actions and words have contributed to the crucial discussion on murder by remote control, but I feel “talked out” for now, like I ought to just shut up and listen for a while. This will be, I hope, a needed retreat, a time of contemplation and renewal.

I am deeply grateful to all who have written to me. Thank you for sharing acts of courage and resistance and stories of your efforts to live faithfully, sustainably and with integrity in these difficult

days. My ration of postal stamps that I can purchase from commissary is limited and so I cannot reply to each letter and card. Please accept my apologies and take this message as a return of your greetings and good wishes.

Thanks, too, for all the support shown to Betsy and to Veronica and Becky at home. All is well there in my absence, as with our grown kids Elijah and Clara, off on their own. The pain of most prisoners of turmoil and division with family and friends at home is not my lot and my heart goes out to my brothers here and their loved ones.

I send my Christmas greetings to all from my house to yours. I pray too, against all informed expectation, against all realistic hope, even, for peace in 2013.

your loving prisoner 06125-026

Brian

Terrell: American Drone Strikes Must Stop

 By Nathan Johnson  nathan.johnson@yankton.net
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:59 AM CST

While many Americans may think drone strikes are a safe way to conduct war and improve the nation’s safety, one man will go to prison in Yankton today (Friday) because of his belief that they are remotely committing crimes against humanity.
“The people responsible for setting these attacks up have to realize that they are creating a situation where (our soldiers are going to face retaliation),” said Brian Terrell, 56. “American soldiers are going to be dying because of these drone attacks. When Gandhi was talking about the cycle of violence, I think he was talking about something just as provable as the laws of physics.“We’re taking the Golden Rule and turning it inside out,” he continued. “We’ll do unto other people the worst thing we could imagine happening to us so that it won’t happen to us. You’re not going to stop your neighbor from wanting to hurt you by hurting your neighbor.”A gathering was held for Terrell Thursday evening by his fellow Catholic Workers at Yankton’s Emmaus House. He was sentenced Oct. 11 in a district courtroom in Jefferson City, Mo., to six months in federal prison after being charged with trespassing at the Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo., earlier this year. He and two others were arrested during the nonviolent action during which they sought to speak with military officials about drone strikes.Terrell, who lives Maloy, Iowa, where he has served as a city councilor and mayor in the past, is to surrender himself at the Yankton Federal Prison Camp by 2 p.m. today.“I’m planning on walking,” Terrell said while seated on a couch at the Emmaus House near a photo of Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement. “It will be my last walk in a straight line for a while. It will all be in circles after this.”

Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, and Terrell spent time with her during her final years. She inspired him as a young man to advocate for nonviolence and social justice, and Terrell said he has been thinking about her a lot lately.

In the weeks since his sentencing, Terrell has been speaking at universities and to anyone willing to listen about what he sees as the immorality of drone warfare.

It’s not the first time he has been jailed for protesting drone strikes. Terrell spent a night in jail in 2008 after a protest at a military base in Nevada.

In July, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Air Force had more than 1,300 drone pilots stationed at 13 or more bases across the United States. That number does not include those flying drones for the classified C.I.A. drone program that has conducted missions in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. It is projected that the Air Force will need more than 2,000 drone pilots by 2015.

Using news reports, the New America Foundation says that 337 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed an estimated 1,932 to 3,176 people since 2004. Of those, 1,487-2,595 were reported to be militants — making the average non-militant casualty rate 18-23 percent.

U.S. officials tout drone strikes as helping them to cripple al Qaeda and terrorist plots.

“What makes drone warfare particularly eerie to me — and ironically, acceptable to a lot of Americans — is that it is so easy,” Terrell said.

Soldiers can man a drone 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan from an Air Force base in the United States.

Still, Terrell said the impact of war can still be felt by the soldiers. Traditional fighter pilots could drop their bombs and not even be around long enough to see a plume of smoke, he stated.

“The drone operator sees the attack in real time from thousands of miles away but has intimacy with the fighting that no pilot has ever had before,” Terrell said. “No pilot before has dropped a bomb and seen body parts fly. Now that is happening.”

After a day’s work, these soldiers will go home to their families.

“That’s a very difficult thing psychically, emotionally and spiritually for these, mainly, very young people,” Terrell said. “This is not combat killing. It’s assassination. You find this person going about their business. You may track them for days. They are going shopping, to prayer, a funeral or a wedding.”

As a co-coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Terrell went to Afghanistan in 2010 in order to visit with the people there about the impacts of the ongoing war.

He called the capital city of Kabul the most horrible place he has ever seen. People immigrate from the Afghan countryside they love to the city on a daily basis despite its lack of housing and sanitary services.

“They’re going because of the drones and the night raids (by U.S. soldiers),” Terrell stated. “They are afraid to be out in the countryside.”

While there, he met people who had lost family members as a result of both drones and night raids.

“At the time, there were some people who were very afraid of what will happen when the United States leaves. It’s not a majority,” Terrell said. “But when you talk to them, they want the U.S. to stay but they want the airstrikes to stop and they want the night raids to stop.”

By speaking about his experiences and publicizing the use of drone attacks, Terrell hopes other Americans will take the issue more seriously.

“The challenge of this is, we have the technology to kill at long distances,” he said. “There is an Arab proverb that says that a true prophet is a person who can love at long distance. I think what the American people desperately need is, while we have this technology to kill people who are very far away and strange to us, to be at least as ready and work just as hard to figure out how we can love the people who are so far away.

“I think our best ethical, moral and religious energy needs to be put toward loving these people. Otherwise, we’re just making the world a much more dangerous and scary place.”

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