By Jennifer H. Svan, Stars and Stripes
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Thousands of peace activists from across Germany and abroad are expected on Saturday to demonstrate outside Ramstein Air Base against the base’s alleged role in U.S. drone operations.
The protest, organized by the Berlin-based alliance “Stopp Ramstein – No Drone War,” has support from dozens of peace organizations from outside Germany, including the U.S.-based CODEPINK, Women for Peace.
Converging on Saturday morning at three meeting points, in Landstuhl, Ramstein-Miesenbach and Kaiserslautern, the protesters intend to form a “human chain” on a route from Kindsbach to Ramstein-Miesenbach along the perimeter of Ramstein Air Base, organizers said. The protest is to conclude with speeches outside the base’s west gate, from about 1:30 to 3 p.m.
Base officials at Ramstein advised people to avoid the west gate area on Saturday, as well as the main road from Kindsbach through Landstuhl and between Landstuhl’s city center to the west gate access road, up until the traffic circle. Both the west and east gates will be open normal hours; the LVIS gate will also open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“There is a long history and lasting relationship between Ramstein Air Base and our German hosts. We’ve enjoyed a fantastic rapport with our community over the years and are incredibly thankful for their continuing support,” base officials said in a statement when asked about the protest.
Activists maintain the killing of suspected terrorists by armed drones without due process of law is illegal, not only in Germany but in the United States.
“Drones are very unpopular in Germany. It is killing. It is from our understanding against international law,” said Reiner Braun, a “Stopp Ramstein” committee member and executive director of the German and International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms.
Ramstein’s alleged role in the U.S. drone war was first brought to public attention in 2013 by former U.S. drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant. Bryant, who won a “whistle-blower award” in Germany last year, alleged that the technology used at Ramstein transfers the data between drone pilots in the United States to their remotely operated aircraft flown for U.S. military and CIA missions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
U.S. Air Force officials haven’t said much about what role Ramstein plays in drone operations, if any. In the past, they’ve emphasized that no Ramstein facilities are used to directly fly or control any remotely piloted aircraft.
“We know the orders aren’t coming from Ramstein,” said Elsa Rassbach, a CODEPINK representative in Germany.
“CODEPINK,” she said, “is involved to support the German criticism of the U.S. drone war and German efforts to investigate it.” Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who has protested the military’s use of armed drones in the States, will be a featured speaker at the rally. He says the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that “nobody should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.”
“These drones are being used to precisely do that,” said McGovern, who was arrested with 11 others in January outside Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in New York for blocking base access for about two hours.
German police, who will be present at the rally along with military police to conduct vehicle and crowd control measures, said they are planning for about 5,000 protesters outside Ramstein.
Several hundred participants were expected to set up temporary quarters at a “peace camp” in the village of Ramstein-Miesenbach starting Wednesday night.