Drones and the ‘propensity to kinetic action’

Predator drone crew at Creech AFB

The concern that drones make armed attacks and military intervention more likely is often rejected by the military and the drone industry, who argue that the drone pilots are able to stand above the ‘fog and friction’ of the battlefield and to make dispassionate  and rational decisions about whether or not to use ‘kinetic force’.

This argument, however, has been torn to shreds by the release of a mass of papers detailing the US military investigation into a massacre of Afghan civilian on 21st February 2010Read more

Legal action initiated in UK as drone strikes continue in Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza

It was announced yesterday that a legal proceedings will be initiated in the High Court in London to challenge British complicity in US drone strikes in Pakistan.

Reprieve together with Leigh Day & Co, acting on behalf of the family of Malik Daud Khan, one of 40 people killed in a CIA drone strike on a tribal gathering in North Waziristan in March 2011, are suing Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Hague over British intelligence agency support for the strikes. Richard Stein, Head of Human Rights at law firm Leigh Day & Co said:

“We believe that there is credible, unchallenged evidence that the Secretary of State is operating a policy of passing intelligence to officials or agents of the US Government; and that he considers such a policy to be “in ‘strict accordance’ with the law”. If this is the case the Secretary of State has misunderstood one or more of the principles of international law governing immunity for those involved in armed attacks on behalf of a state and/or the lawfulness of such attacks; and his policy, if implemented, involves the commission of serious criminal offences by employees of GCHQ or by other officials or agents of the UK Government in the UK.”

So far the Foreign Office has yet to respond. Meanwhile drone strikes have continued in Pakistan and elsewhere over the past weekend.

On March 9th between 8 and 12 people (reports vary) were killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan.  Yemeni officials and local witnesses also reported US drone strikes on Friday in Baydar, in the South of Yemen and again on Sunday in Jabal Khanfar. US military sources however refused to comment on these drone strikes .

At least 20 Palestinians, including a 12-year old boy have also been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza over the weekend. On Friday Israel carried out the ‘targeted killing’ of Zuhair Al-Qaissi, the leader of the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC). Two other people were also killed in what witnesses said was a drone strike although this has not been possible to confirm. Responding to the Israeli targeted killing, rockets were fired at Israel which led to further Israeli airstrikes, which are continuing.  Israeli drones are reported to be carrying out some of the airstrikes.

As drones continue to kill, drone protests go global

Tariq Aziz attending the drone meeting in Islamabad. Photo: Reprieve

We reported two weeks ago on the killing of 16 year-old Yemeni teenager Abdul-Rahman, the son of Anwar al-Alwaki  who was himself the victim of a drone strike a few weeks previously.  However Abdul-Rahamn was not the only 16 year-old killed in a drone strike this month.

A few thousand miles away 16 year-old Tariq Khan and his 12 year-old cousin Waheed were killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan on October 31.  A few days before being killed, Tariq had attended a meeting on the drones organised by British human rights group, Reprieve with the aim of encouraging local people to document the strikes taking place in their area.  Lawyer and campaigner, Clive Stafford Smith talks about the Jirga and meeting Tariq in his piece for the New York Times piece: 

Tariq was a good kid, and courageous. My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government.  And Tariq’s extended family, so recently hoping to be our allies for peace, has now been ripped apart by an American missile — most likely making any effort we make at reconciliation futile.

Two thousand miles west and Israeli drones fly constantly over Gaza with the latest strike killing seven members of Islamic Jihad.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an eye-opening interview this week with a ‘Lt Col Ido’ (his surname was withheld for security reasons) who teaches ethics to Israeli drone operators.   The Lt Col says “When people are killed by mistake, we are tormented, and that’s how it should be… I’ve met some people who had a very hard time with it. Some coped, and others wanted to leave. I told them, ‘This is dirty work. Who would you like to have do it? We would all like to be professors.'”

The whole article, looking at how Israel uses drones for “everything from gathering intelligence in what the air force calls the “third circle” – namely, the Iranian sector and its satellites – to assisting fire-fighters in the Mount Carmel forest fire and guarding worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus” is well worth reading.  Israel is also about to deploy the giant Eitan drone for use in Gaza and Lebanon as Ynet news reports.

Fifteen hundred miles south of Israel is the Ethiopian city of Arba Minch from where, according to a recent  report in the Washington Post,  the USAF are flying Reaper drones over Somalia.  While the US say the drones based in Ethiopia are for surveillance purposes only (the Ethiopian government are refusing to admit the drones are even in Ethiopia) US drones are undertaking strikes against al-Shabab in Somalia.

Meanwhile it has been confirmed this week that US drones in Iraq are to be move to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey from where they will be used to ‘monitor’ Kurdish separatists in Iraq and presumably Turkey.

But it is not only the drones that are circling the globe.  Resistance to the drones is growing and going global too.  We have repeatedly reported on the anger in Pakistan against US drone strikes and the many protests taking place there, the latest of which saw some 2,000 people protests outside the Parliament building in Islamabad.

For the first time (as far as we know) anti-drone protests have also taken place in Yemen, with some extremely brave people coming together in Sana’a to protest the strikes there (see video below)

In the US, protestors have recently gone on trial  following a civil  disobedience action at the main entrance of Hancock Air National Guard Base on  April 22, 2011, where 38 people were arrested at a die-in protesting the  drones.  The verdict will be handed down on 1st December (see http://www.upstatedroneaction.org/  for lots more info.

And  in London tomorrow (16 November) protestors will gather outside a hotel in  central London where the drone industry will gather for two days to discuss, plan and, as there publicity states discuss ‘how to stop the public hysteria surrounding UAV operations in  the 21st Century?’   As human rights lawyer Jules Carey put it on twitter: There should be more hysteria about UAVs not less!   At our protest we shall remember Abdul-Rahman, Tariq, Waheed and all the other victims of drone  strikes young and old.  Why not join us?

The Real Drone Virus

Since Wired announced last week that a computer virus has infected the Ground Control stations of the USAF Reaper and Predator drone fleet at Creech Air Force Base, the blogosphere as well as the general media  have been awash with the story.

While many commentators have jokingly refered to the Terminator movies, the reality is that the virus isn’t that serious.  While it is worrying that a so-called secure network controlling lethal weapons can become infected with a computer virus (and one that is apparently resisting attempts to delete it) it is seemingly a fairly common piece of malware that records keystrokes.

Much more serious is the ‘drone virus’ that has infected the body politic. Created in military labs by scientists looking for the quick, easy and profitable cure for the world’s security problems, the drone is now spreading virus-like around the world. Before the drone virus spread, the idea that nations could simply, publicly and illegally assassinate individuals and their families without causing outrage would have seemed incredible.  Now we have been infected, the military can ‘take out’ targets of opportunity thousands of miles away before heading home for dinner with the kids.  Now we have been contaminated by the drone virus, Presidents can command the killing of citizens without any charges being filed or indeed any due legal process.  This is the real drone virus and we must find a way to cure ourselves.

Th press too has become infected with the drone virus.  With little exception the vast majority of the media has lauded President Obama for the drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen on 30September.   Before any charges have been filed and without any chance to defend himself al-Awlaki was sentenced to death by US official and “senior lawyers from across the administration” following the drafting of a secret memo.

What criticism there has been in the mainstream media has focused on the fact that al-Awlaki was an American citizen (seemingly it is not so much of a problem to assassinate non-Americans) or the fact that other nations may also now think the have the right to assassinate people with drones.

Perhaps this piece, entitled ‘Drones and the Law’ from the Economist  typifies the response.  Mildly chastising Obama by arguing that drone assassinations should be carried out by the armed forces not the CIA – and suggesting that perhaps there could be secret court hearings to give the appearance of due process –  the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan is nevertheless described as “legitimate self defence”.

A notable exception to the supportive remarks of the drone virus infected press is a piece by Andreas Whittam Smith in the Independent.   Whittam Smith seems to be immune to the drone virus.  In the end, he says,  the killing of al-Awlaki was murder.   He is right.

Drone Strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, Proliferation Elsewhere

A US drone strike in Yemen on Thursday (5th May), was an attempt to assassinate US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, said to be head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  Two Saudi brothers were killed in the strike but Al-Awlaki apparently escaped.  Al-Awlaki has been placed on a list of people approved for targeted killing by President Obama. This was unusual in that he was a US citizen.  Ai-Awlaki’s father and the US civil rights group ACLU have attempted to have him removed from the list but failed.

On Friday (6th May) four US drones attacked a compound in North Waziristan killing at least 17 people.  While most press reports concentrated on the fact that this was the first drone strike in Pakistan since the killing of Bin Laden, it is also the first strike since Imran Khan threatened further civil disobedience against NATO supply routes if drone strikes did not cease.

Meanwhile drone proliferation continues as military companies push drones in Africa, Europe, South America and India.  As we have reported previously, Israel is a key exporter of drones and drone technology and a recent report suggests that they are  currently negotiating to sell – or perhaps rent – Heron drones to Angola.  The report also suggests that Kenya may be a future customer.  

In Europe, defence industry officials are pressing governments and companies to “get on with it” and push forward with developing the next generation of drones.  BAE Systems CEO told shareholders at the companies AGM to expect a decision on development of a new Anglo-French drone within the next six months.   In India, development work on an autonomous combat drone has begun.  India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) told press that the aim is to develop the UCAV within seven to eight years . 

In Latin America, at least 11 countries are using surveillance drones with many drones flying over other nations territories and borders.  Most, if not all, the drones have come from Israeli companies or been built with Israeli technology.  The proliferation has led to calls for a ‘code of conduct’ to prevent the arming of drones and it will be interesting to see if this is taken up.

US spy arrest halts drone strikes in Pakistan as Al-Qaeda steal Predator drone

Activist group 'Pasban Pakistan' protest against American diplomatic Raymond Davis at the Karachi Press Club in Pakistan. Davis, is under investigation for the double murder of two Pakistani motorcyclists in Karachi, Pakistan.

In Pakistan drone strikes seem to have ceased since 23rd January. While there have been pauses in drone strikes in Pakistan before, there has been speculation that this latest pause is connected to diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Raymond Davis a US citizen who shot and killed two Pakistan men in disputed circumstances. It has been alleged that Davis is a US spy – the US say that he is a member of the US Embassy staff and has diplomatic immunity. For background to the case see this Washington Post piece.

Meanwhile AFP has reported the crash of a Predator drone in Yemen this week in which the wreckage, initially collected by the police, was then hijacked and taken away by Al-Qaeda gunman. (Rather strangely StrategyPage.com are recommending that AQAP sell the drone to the Chinese.)  Yemen authorities later denied that a Predator had crashed.  The Yemen Times rather cleverly reported both the crash and the denial and then reminded its readers that last year a Wikileaks cable revealed that Yemen had deliberately covered up the crash of a US Scan Eagle drone in Yemen.

In the UK, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise agency has proposed that the Hebrides be used as a place for testing unmanned drones. While the agency is headlining the fact that such drones would be used for civilian use, the proposal has presented to Peter Luff, UK defence minister and the testing range is currently being run by arm giant QinetiQ