Just a brief update from the first day of our Information Tribunal. Although we were excluded for almost a third of the day while the Tribunal went into ‘closed’ session, it was very illuminating to hear directly from a UK Reaper pilot speaking about British Reaper operations in Afghanistan. [We have been asked not to publish his name].
The Squadron Leader’s ‘open’ witness statement, which we publish here, describes his involvement with UK Reaper operations in Afghanistan from October 2007, first as a pilot from Creech Air Force base in Las Vegas – where he had more than 1,000 hours flying Reapers – and then later as UK Air Operations Coordinator from Al Udeid air base in Qatar.
The Squadron Leader argued that the information we requested – about the location of UK Reaper strikes by province within Afghanistan – would be of use to enemy forces and should not be released. He was pressed repeatedly by our Counsel, Sam Jacobs, as to how the information sought could be of use to enemy forces. Mr Jacobs argued that information published by the RAF in their operational updates often gave much more operationally sensitive information than we were requesting. However the Squadron Leader said he could not give reasons in open session.
The Squadron Leader was also challenged with regard to his assertion that the information should not be released as it would prejudice our relationship with the United States. He stated that “if we ignore US wishes, we prejudice UK interests.”
In the afternoon, Chris Cole gave evidence to the tribunal about the need for much greater transparency from the UK about Reaper drone operations. He talked about the public interest in knowing more details on day-to-day use of armed Reapers and explained to the Tribunal why we wanted the specific information requested. He explained the information would not be a ‘magic bullet’ that would confirm or allay our fears about their use, but would greatly contribute to the public’s understanding of remote warfare.
The Tribunal continues tomorrow.
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