A challenge to drone apologists – where is your evidence?

Over the past few week there has been increasing attention to the issues raised by the growing use of armed unmanned drones. As protests at factories and bases have taken place, newspapers have begun to editorialize, politicians have formed committees to investigate and legal action is being undertaken.

Amidst these positive moves there are those of course who would dismiss concerns about drone strikes and remote warfare. Earlier this month Reuters published an Op-Ed piece in response to the Stanford  & NYU Law Schools report ‘Living Under Drones, which investigated US drone strikes in Pakistan. Read more

One Week to Drone Wars Conference

 Next Saturday,  18th September, peace campaigners, researchers and the public will come together in central London to examine the growing phenomenon of drone wars.  The conference, organised by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) will take place at the University of London Union and will include speakers, workshops and a chance to network with other campaigners.   Click here to for more details and booking form.  

Meanwhile a second report into a NATO attack in Afghanistan which killed 23 civilians has again faulted drone operators for playing down the presence of children in the convoy.  According to the New York Times, the investigation, this time by the US Air Force, found that the drone pilot “had a strong desire to find weapons,” and this “colored — both consciously and unconsciously — his reporting of weapons and children.” 

The ‘playstation mentality’ of drone operators is one of the serious concerns that the peace movement has in relation to drone strikes and will b be examined in more depth at the September 18th Drone Wars conference.

Amnesty International: Attacks from US Aerial Drones in Pakistan

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.