Elsa Rassbach – CODEPINK representative in Germany and a member of the Stop Air Base Ramstein Campaign Coordinating Committee
On June 30, 2018, we mounted our fourth large demonstration of the Stop Air Base Ramstein Campaign. Beginning in 2015, we have held demonstrations each summer at Ramstein, which is the largest US air base in Europe. Approximately 2,500 took part in the demonstration this year, and we engaged for the first time in civil resistance.
About 300 people blockaded the two access roads to the main gate of the huge Ramstein Air Base for around an hour. Many were carried away by police. A dozen activists were briefly detained and may face charges. Most participants in the blockade had previously taken part in civil resistance training provided by the Ramstein Campaign at the nearby camp where several hundred protesters stayed during the week-long Ramstein Action Week.
There were many media reports about the demonstration, including the following in English:
Ruptly News Service (with interviews of US participants): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0poTLUccak
The demonstration and civil resistance were preceded by a rich program of activities during the Ramstein Action Week. These included several days of Peace Workshop sessions, a half-day International Meeting against Military Foreign Bases with many international guests, a cultural program with music concerts at the camp, and a side trip to the nearby German base Buechel that included a blockade. Buechel is where the US military maintains what are thought to be the last 20 nuclear warheads on German soil.
Why we protest at Ramstein Air Base.
For decades Ramstein Air Base has played a pivotal role in all US wars and military interventions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. For example, during the Iraq war, Ramstein served as a transfer point for approximately 80 % of US military personnel and materials to Iraq. Ramstein is also key for US and NATO military threats to Russia as well as for military exercises in Eastern Europe. And Ramstein plays an essential role in the US drone program.
Ramstein Air Base is located near the city of Kaiserslautern, where ca. 100, 000 German citizens live. According to Wikipedia: "With around 54,000 people, including military service members, Department of Defense civilians and contractors as well as their families, the Kaiserslautern Military Community is the largest U.S. military community outside of the United States.”
The US military presence contributes approximately US $1 billion annually to the local German economy, and the base also has a huge US-style shopping mall on its premises (see “Ramstein Air Base Walkaround” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZrdt4CsfQ0 )
Many Germans in the area are employed directly or indirectly by the US military and/or NATO or profit from their presence; they are financially dependent on the base but at the same time suffer from the massive environmental damage caused by the huge amount of military activity in the area. The Stopp Air Base Ramstein Campaign has initiated public discussions regarding possibilities for converting the military base to civilian uses.
One central demand of the Ramstein Campaign is that the German government stop allowing the US to use Ramstein for illegal US drone killings — a demand that is widely supported by the German population.
In 2014, the US whistleblower and former drone sensor-operator Brandon Bryant first revealed the essential role of Ramstein in US drone surveillance and drone strikes in the Mideast, Afghanistan and in Africa. Subsequent documentation from the files of Edward Snowden and other sources further confirmed Brandon Bryant’s statements, and in 2015 he was called to testify for five hours before a subcommittee of the German parliament that was investigating US National Security Agency practices and collaboration with German intelligence services.
Thereafter, the German government continued to deny any knowledge of the role of Ramstein in US drone killings. But upon questioning in early December, 2016, in the German Bundestag by parliamentary representative Andrej Hunko of the Left Party, the German State Department representative finally admitted that this is the case.
The German government could likely stop much of US drone warfare by prohibiting drone strikes considered illegal under German law. The German government leases Ramstein Air Base to the US military and has the power to cancel the Stationing of Forces Agreement with the US government upon two years’ notice.
According to German jurists, German legal authorities have a responsibility to prevent uses of the base that violate international and/or human rights laws and/or the German constitution. The German court system has accepted a complaint by plaintiff Faisal bin Ali Jaber of Yemen against the German government for its complicity in a US drone strike that killed two members of his family; the case is in the appeal stage. Amnesty International reports that the UK, the Netherlands and Italy also provide assistance to the illegal US drone program: https://reliefweb.int/report/world/deadly-assistance-role-european-states-us-drone-strikes
International participation in the 2018 Ramstein Action Week broader than ever.
People from many countries (including Cuba, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea, the UK and the US) took part in the weeklong activities: https://www.ramstein-kampagne.eu/international-meeting-against-foreign-military-bases/.
Among the US participants were Ann Wright (CODEPINK and Veterans for Peace) and Pat Elder (World Beyond War), who spoke to an enthusiastic audience of about 700 at a public event on the evening before the demonstration. Ann also spoke at the final rally of the demonstration on June 30th. Earlier in the week Toby Blomé held a workshop about civil resistance at the US drone bases Creech and Beale, and I held one on the German government’s attempts to acquire armed drones and on German complicity in US drone killings.
Phil Wilayto joined us for the International Meeting against Military Foreign Bases https://www.no-to-nato.org/2018/03/2018-07-29-ramstein-germanyinternational-meeting-against-foreign-military-bases/. Plans for the conference against US and NATO bases in Ireland in November were discussed: https://www.no-to-nato.org/2018/06/2018-11-16-18-dublin-irlandinternational-conference-against-us-nato-military-bases/ Participants in the International Meeting reported on the many activities against US bases in their countries; the reports of massive actions and success of protests in South Korea were particularly encouraging.
Two of the about a dozen people who were detained by German police during the blockade of Ramstein Air Base were Americans: Toby Blomé of CODEPINK and Phil Wilayto of UNAC. The Sputnik article refers to “an elderly American couple,” but Toby and Phil, who are unrelated, were at different places in the blockade and were brought separately to the police precinct in the nearby town of Landstuhl, where they were held for about an hour. Like the Germans who were detained, they may face fines or even the criminal charge of “coercion” in the German court system (i.e. for physically preventing autos from entering the main gate of Ramstein Air Base). Following their release, we US activists joined with German activists for a lively discussion and evaluation of the blockade and to begin planning for legal assistance as well as further actions.