Published Tuesday, June 30, 2015 | 11:46 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, June 30, 2015 | 4:29 p.m.
Activists cited with trespassing and interfering with traffic earlier this year at Creech Air Force Base used a court appearance today to continue their protest against U.S. armed drone strikes.
“What do we want? Ground the drones. When do want it? Now,” protesters shouted outside the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas.
Thirty-four people were cited March 6 at the base as protesters urged Air Force drone operators to refuse to participate in the overseas strikes.
From the base about 50 miles outside Las Vegas, drone operators remotely pilot Predator and Reaper drones, which often provide surveillance but can also launch attacks.
Opponents of the strikes have criticized the drone program for depriving targets of due process and killing civilians.
At a rally before the Las Vegas Justice Court arraignments, protesters carried a patchwork banner with the images of children purportedly killed in drone strikes.
Barry Binks, who served in the Army from 1964 to 1967, called on operators to disobey orders and refuse missions that may result in civilian casualties.
“It’s an illegal war,” he said. “They are committing war crimes by continuing to do it.”
In the courtroom, 12 of anti-drone activists pleaded not guilty in person or by letter, and a justice of the peace set trial for late October.
Three pleaded no contest, which provided them with an opportunity to offer statements to the court.
Fred Bialy, an emergency room doctor who pleaded no contest, criticized the government’s drone policy, citing civilian casualties and a lack of due process for the intended targets. The strikes, he said, are tantamount to “extra-judicial assassination.”
“They are basically being terrorized by the United States,” Bialy said. “This is no way to treat other human beings.”
Christine Nelson, a nurse practitioner from Northern California who pleaded not guilty to trespassing, acknowledged that it is a tough choice for members of the armed services to disobey orders, but it is the right thing to do.
“What often happens later, years down the road, [is] they’re vindicated,” she said.
The judge sentenced all three who pleaded no contest to time served and their cases were dismissed.
Five other demonstrators, who were not in court but represented by counsel, accepted a deal with the state to dismiss their cases if they pay a $50 fine and agree to remain off base property and out of trouble for six months.
Opposition to drone strikes has risen as the number of strikes has spiked under the Obama administration. The federal government has conducted more than 450 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, nearly nine times more than under President George W. Bush, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.