Four important reports that touch on the issue of drone warfare have appeared in recent weeks. While space forbids a detailed review of the reports, each in turn is extremely useful and well worth reading.
Cage Prisoners have released Unnecessary and Disproportional: The Killings of Anwar and Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki . The report examines the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and the separate killing of his 16-year old son Abdul Rahman in US drone strikes. The report contradicts the narrative put forward by the US authorities and generally accepted by the media that al-Awlaki was as a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the mastermind behind several attacks against the USA. Using the two killings as case studies, the report also raises important issues about the UK’s involvement in targeted killings as more evidence emerges of British citizens that have been killed in drone attacks including evidence to suggest that British authorities actively assist the CIA in its drone programme. Read more →
According to The Engineer, BAE has fitted an “autonomous navigation system” on a Jetstream 31 passenger aircraft to enable it to fly without a pilot – although a pilot was on board in case of problems.
The Washington Post reported this week that the CIA is seeking to expand its use of drone strikes in Yemen. According to the report, the CIA is currently “limited” within Yemen to using drone strikes against known individuals on a targeted kill list. However it now is seeking permission from the National Security Council (Chaired by President Obama) to launch drone strikes when intelligence shows what is called the “telltale signature of al-Qaeda activity”. These so-called ‘signature’ strikes (as opposed to ‘personality’ strikes) are based on intelligence about vehicle movements, communications, movements in and out of a particular building or compound, and patterns of behavior.
It should be noted that in Yemen, as opposed to Pakistan, US military forces such as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) are also involved in launching attacks against suspected al Qaeda targets and these forces may well already have such “permission”.
Of course the whole idea that the US can grant itself “permission” and “authority” to attack either known individuals associated with al Qaeda or those suspected of being involved, anywhere in the world, at any time has no basis in international law as many have repeated made clear.
“When the CIA general counsel says that the agency need only act in ‘a manner consistent’ with the ‘principles’ of international law, he is saying the laws of war aren’t really law at all… The Obama administration should make it clear that there’s no ‘CIA exception’ for its international legal obligations.”
HRW argues that command of all US armed drone strikes should be transferred to US military forces rather than remain in the hands of the secretive and unaccountable CIA.
As secret and unaccountable US and British drone strikes continue in remote corners of the globe, closer to home (but firmly behind closed doors), the drone industry continues to research and develop a drone-filled future.
Over the past couple of weeks, protesters in the UK and the US have gathered to turn the spotlight on the increasingly secret use and development of armed drones. In Bristol, at the beginning of April, the great and good of the drone industry came together at the Annual International UAV Conference to be met with a good-natured, noisy protest. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic at the Creech Air Force base, members of the faith-based group Nevada Desert Experience delivered an ‘Indictment for the Violation of Human Rights’ to the commander of the base. At each demonstration protesters were arrested and jailed.
“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the US government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operated the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have a right to know.”
In 2010 Shaye revealed that an airstrike that took place in al Majala, Yemen in December 2009 killing 14 women and 21 children was launched by US drones, not the Yemeni air force, thus embarrassing both the Yemeni and US authorities. Later, Shaye also interviewed AQAP leaders including Anwar Al-Awlaki challenging them about their methods.
In August 2010, Shaye was kidnapped from his house by Yemeni security forces and disappeared for a month. He turned up in detention after being beaten and was sentenced to five years imprisonment for associating with terrorists. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have campaigned for his release, and it looked as though in February 2012 he was about to be freed. However a few days before Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to about to step down as President, Obama called him to “express concern” at the news that Shaye was about to be pardoned. Shaye release was immediately halted and he remains in prison. For more on this case see detailed report by Jeremy Scahill and this excellent film byAl Jazzera.
Exposing the rise of the drone wars is increasingly becoming the task of our times. But it can be a risky business.