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Sen. Durbin on trip to Middle East and Africa to focus on defense, drones

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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) is visiting a series of countries in the Middle East and Africa on a week-long trip he says aims to review a variety of operations including the use of drones, which has grown increasingly controversial over the last year.

His office describes the visit as his first overseas trip since he became chairman of the Senate's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Durbin will travel to Bahrain, Djibouti and Uganda.

This is from Durbin's office:

"One issue that will be raised at each stop will be the increased use of drone technology for intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism operations. As our reliance on the technology grows, tough legal and moral issues have been raised and must be addressed. Durbin announced that he will chair a hearing on these issues in his Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights in March.

Bahrain is home to the Navy's Fifth Fleet, which directs all naval operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Fleet provides important support for our troops in Afghanistan, combats piracy in the Arabian Sea and off the Horn of Africa, and gives the U.S. an important logistical, intelligence and security presence in a region that includes Iraq, Iran, and Yemen.

While there, Durbin plans to meet with our Ambassador, top naval officials at the Fifth Fleet Headquarters, tour our naval facilities and meet with sailors based in Bahrain. Durbin also plans to meet with senior Bahraini officials and civil society activists. In 2011, Bahrain's government launched a violent crackdown on protesters during the so-called "Arab Spring." Brutal violence was reported along with human rights abuses. Protests and violence continues today; a 16 year old protester was killed by government security forces on Thursday.

The U.S. military's primary base in Africa is Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Camp Lemonnier is the headquarters for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, our military's main counter-terrorism, regional security, military training, intelligence, and humanitarian operation on the continent. The base is home to over 3,000 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors.

In Djibouti, Durbin plans to meet with our Ambassador and embassy team, top military officials based at Camp Lemonnier, soldiers, airman, and U.S. Agency for International Development staff based in the region. Durbin will be briefed on ongoing military operations across Africa, including efforts in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Central African Republic.

Uganda has become the launching point for numerous U.S. military and humanitarian efforts in recent years. The U.S. military is engaged in efforts to train local forces and aids in the tracking of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) forces in the countryside. The LRA has terrorized the region for decades, engaging in numerous human rights violations including the use of child soldiers, mass rape, abductions and sex trafficking.

While in Uganda, Durbin plans to meet with the Ugandan Minister of Defense, the U.S. Ambassador and embassy staff, as well as U.S. military staff stationed in country. Topics of discussion will include U.S. military assistance, ongoing operations, training, human rights issues and roundtable discussion on Uganda's anti-homosexual legislation and their own human rights record. Durbin will also raise regional security issues, including efforts to stabilize eastern Congo after recent violence by the M23 rebel group.

As Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Durbin oversees funding for the military and intelligence communities, our national security requirements and the daily needs of over two million active duty and reserve servicemembers. Durbin is the second-highest ranking member of the United States Senate and also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its African Affairs and International Operations Subcommittees.

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Published Feb 2013

Emmy-winning journalist, Shad Olson, explores the controversy over U.S. drone policy, both at home and abroad.

While technological sky supremacy gives America strategic superiority on the battlefield, the prospect of drone proliferation over U.S. cities is causing concern about loss of privacy, an end to Habeas Corpus and judicial due process and the destruction of Constitutional rights.

South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune and former U.S. Senate candidate, Sam Kephart share their views about the consequences of domestic drone deployment in the fight against terrorism.

Originally aired on KNBN-TV, (NBC) NewsCenter1, Rapid City, South Dakota in February 2013.

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