The controversy over the use of military drones is coming to the Quad-Cities.
A Chicago-based group will launch a 195-mile demonstration walk in the Quad-Cities on Monday, with organizers saying they want people to know that places in the Quad-Cities and Des Moines are involved in developing drone technology and piloting the unmanned vehicles.
The protest is being called "Covering Ground to Ground the Drones," and it will leave from Rock Island on Monday.
Brian Terrell, a former Quad-Citian who lives in southern Iowa, will take part in the march and is a key participant. He has been objecting to drone use since 2009.
"They're killing people. We've got them in the air 24/7 by the thousands," he said this week.
Too many of those people, critics say, are innocent civilians.
The group that is organizing the march and a speaking event on Sunday is called Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Terrell is a co-coordinator of the group.
Voices says the Quad-City connection to drones stems from the making of engine components at the Quad-City Manufacturing Lab, a nonprofit research group on the Arsenal Island.
The protest group says it hopes to draw the public's attention to those connections, pointing to a brochure on the lab's website that refers to "engine components" for unmanned aerial vehicles built under an agreement with Western Illinois University and a Rushville, Ill.-based company.
"We at Voices are opposed to further research and development of drone technology at Rock Island Arsenal," the group said in a statement.
An official with the lab, however, said that it isn't producing drone technology and the work it did do was to make only a small number of prototype parts a few months ago for its partners to experiment with.
"The lab was contracted to make some prototype parts out of some unique metals," said Sam Kupresin, a board member and retired Navy admiral. "That's all that was done."
The lab specializes in titanium and lightweight materials.
Kupresin said he could not identify the entity that the lab contracted with. But a Western Illinois University news release in 2011 said a professor there was working on a Department of Defense grant with Rushville-based Innovative Design and Research Corp. to develop computer models for new engine designs for drones. Part of the grant also involved making prototypes, the news release said.
Drones have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, beginning with the Bush administration. Their use, however, has spiked under President Barack Obama, prompting increased scrutiny by Congress and protests.
The New America Foundation, which tracks drone-related deaths, said last month that up to 3,336 people have been killed in strikes, according to The Associated Press. Critics say too many of those deaths were innocent civilians. Some estimates put the number of civilians killed in the hundreds, but estimates vary.
The 195-mile walk will end in Des Moines, where the Air Force plans to base a drone operation in 2014, replacing the F-16 program there.
Last month, protesters demonstrated against the plans.
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Pilots in Des Moines with the 132nd Fighter Wing will fly the drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to The Des Moines Register. The drones will gather information, monitor troop safety and, on rare occasions, drop bombs, the article said.
Terrell, who lived in the Quad-Cities from 1979 to 1986 and lives on a small farm in Maloy, Iowa, said he's been working on the drone issue since 2009, attending protests in Nevada, New York and Missouri. He just finished a six-month jail term after being sentenced for trespassing at Whiteman Air Force base in central Missouri, where he also was protesting the use of drones.
In addition to exacting a toll on civilians, Terrell complained drone use is changing the nature of warfare.
"At this distance, it's all the more vague," he said. "It's just becoming too easy."
The Obama administration has said little publicly about the use of drones, but it has said civilian deaths are limited. Last month, Obama defended the program, calling it an effective and necessary tool in the fight against terrorism.
He acknowledged civilian deaths but said the program is legal.
A drone strike was used in 2011 to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the Obama administration identified as a key al-Qaida leader. The man's 16-year-old son also was killed in the attack.
The Voices organization says marchers will be walking the approximately 195 miles from the Arsenal to the Air National Guard facility at the Des Moines Airport. The march will begin after a 9 a.m. news conference on Monday.
Voices says about 20 people will take part in the walk. Some are local people, but others are coming from other parts of Iowa and Illinois and from Wisconsin, New Jersey, Colorado and England.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, there will be an event at Magnificat Chapel, 820 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, which is open to the public and sponsored by the Sisters of Humility. Speakers will include Terrell and Kathy Kelly, an Illinois peace campaigner who is returning from a trip to Afghanistan, the group said.