READING WEEK: The final post in our short series of book reviews related to the use of armed drones.
The number of books about the use of armed drones has mushroomed over the past two or three years but investigative journalist Chris Woods’ just published ‘Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars’ sets a real benchmark for the genre and is likely to be a standard text for some time to come.
Over 300 tightly-written pages, the book traces the growing use of armed drones from the almost ad hoc missions in the aftermath of 9/11, to their gradual acceptance in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan before spreading ‘beyond the conventional battlefield’ into Yemen, Somali and most controversially Pakistan. Weaved into this chronological story, Woods examines the multiple legal and ethical issues that surround the drone wars including the questions of targeted killing, asymmetric warfare and the civilian casualties. Read more →
While we continue to get no details of US and UK drone strikes in Afghanistan beyond bald figures, this week Congress was notified of a $95 million sale of 500 Hellfire missiles to the UK of the ‘P’ and ‘N’ variant. The ‘P’ variant is specifically designed for use by drones while the ‘N’ variant has a thermobaric warhead and it may be, as we have previously reported that this variant too may be being use on British drones.
While the drone wars plod on, opposition continues to grow. Ten days ago a coalition of US human rights groups including ACLU, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch wrote to President Obama questioning the legal basis for targeted killing and calling for an end to the secrecy surrounding the use of drones. (full letter here) A coalition of US faith group also wrote to the President challenging the growing use of targeted killing and highlighting the danger of remote warfare. On this the letter states:
“Military trainers know that human nature itself serves as a check on lethal violence. Coming face to face with someone described as an enemy requires a deliberate choice to override a deep human instinct against killing. Remote, technical warfare removes that very human check. As a society we have not adequately considered where this development leads us as a species. The remote nature of this type of deadly violence has the potential to encourage overuse and extension of the policy to more countries and more perceived threats.”
“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had carried out the strikes.
Investigate the serious allegations of the use of drones by US forces for targeted killings of individuals in Yemen and clarify the chain of command and rules governing the use of such drones. Ensure that all US military and security support given to Yemen, and all US military and security operations carried out in Yemen, are designed and implemented so as to adhere fully with relevant international human rights law and standards, and that such human rights standards are made fully operational in training programmes and systems of monitoring and accountability.
Several cables report the growing desire for Predator and Reaper drones. For example Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, after reporting that he was worried about the growing strength of Iran reportedly said “That’s why we need it first…. give me Predator B.”
Turkey too wants the Predator drone with the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, General Ilker Basbug, saying it was urgent that they received the drone to make up for the decreasing US presence in Iraq.
With much less than 1% of the cables so far being releases, we are sure there will be plenty more information about the use of armed drones coming from Wikileaklsover the next few weeks.
The CIA is to redeploy some Predator drones from Pakistan to the arabian peninsula so they can step up the ‘war against terror’ in Yemen and Somalia. The Wall Street Journal revealed this week that:
“U.S. military’s Special Operation Forces and the CIA have been positioning surveillance equipment, drones and personnel in Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia to step up targeting of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP, and Somalia’s al Shabaab—Arabic for The Youth.”
Unsuprising, given what the CIA have done in Pakistan in the name of the ‘war on terror’, senior Yemeni officals are clearly against the idea. According to Associated Press, Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Saidi, said CIA drones would be a “nonstarter,” adding, “to even posit this theory about U.S. drones only builds support for radicalization.”
Yemen has already been the target of several US drone strikes. As noted previously, in May 2010, a Yemeni mediator was killed by US drone as he was seeking to persuade al Qaeda members to surrender.
“The USA appears to have carried out or collaborated in unlawful killings in Yemen and has closely cooperated with Yemeni security forces in situations that have failed to give due regard for human rights.” Amnesty urged Washington to “investigate the serious allegations of the use of drones by U.S. forces for targeted killings of individuals in Yemen and clarify the chain of command and rules governing the use of such drones”.
Yemen and Amnesty are right to be worried about US drone strikes. Just this week a US intellegence official confirmed that a drone strike in Paksitan killed a numer of children earlier this week. “According to the reports we have received here four men, five women and four children died in the attack. The identities of those killed were not known yet,” the official said. Wajid Shamsul Hassan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, was among those who condemned the attack. “Americans are using indiscriminately the drones to hit what they called high-value targets that killed so many people,” Hassan said in an interview with Iranian Press TV.
Amnesty International USA have published a new report, As if Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, looking at the impact on civilians of the onging conflict in Northwest Pakistan. Describing the area as a “human rights free zone”, the report says that civilians are facing the triple threat of the Taleban, the Pakistan army and US drone attacks.
A short chapter in the report – mostly reproduced on the web here – focuses on the CIA’s drone attacks in the area. The following, looking at the legal situation, is excerted from the report:
In March 2010, Harold Koh, Legal Adviser to the United States Department of State, set out for the first time a brief explanation of the Obama administration’s claimed basis in international law for the drone attacks.
He asserted that “as a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, as well as the Taleban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks” adding that the USA “may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law”. Harold Koh argued that this included “authority under international law … to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qa’ida leaders who are planning attacks.“ He further stated that “whether a particular individual will be targeted in a particular location will depend upon considerations specific to each case, including those related to the imminence of the threat, the sovereignty of the other states involved, and the willingness and ability of those states to suppress the threat the target poses”, adding that the principles of distinction and proportionality under international law were adhered to in both planning and execution of all attacks.
This explanation leaves many questions unanswered. Even after Koh’s statement, the USA has not officially acknowledged that it carries out drone attacks in Pakistan (Koh speaks only generally, of “lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles”) and refuses to provide any official information on these attacks, which is crucial to assess their legitimacy under international law and standards. These include who the targets were, what justification there was for using lethal force against them, whether non-letha alternatives were tried or even considered, what safeguards were put in place to ensure that civilians not endangered, who was killed or injured, what investigations took place in cases where violations of international legal rules are suspected and more. Nor was such information forthcoming from the Pakistani authorities. In addition, the attacks have taken place in remote areas to which access is difficult. For these reasons, Amnesty International could not independently investigate conditions surrounding the planning, conduct, or consequences of drone attacks in Pakistan. The organization calls upon the governments concerned – the USA and Pakistan—to ensure that all their actions are in strict accordance with relevant rules of international law, and that sufficient information is made available to the public to ensure accountability.