Friday, March 19, 2010

Drones: A killer above the law.

Although this is a UK based article it also applies as the article notes to US use of drones equally. There is little control of their use it would seem and no attempt to even justify them under international law. Mainly they are continually praised for killing Taliban and Taliban leaders--some several times over! The issue of whether they are justified at all or even if theoretically justifiable must be limited by the likelihood of civilian casualties is simply glossed over. Until recently the attacks were not even acknowledged to be US or whomever. Finally the reports out of Pakistan have at least some reported as US drone attacks! Before they were alleged or presumed or some other circumlocution. This is from the Guardian (UK)


A killer above the law?
Britain's use of drones in the war in Afghanistan must be in accordance with international law

Drones lend themselves to secrecy. Used without fanfare in remote and inaccessible areas, they are invisible to all but their potential victims. The military advantages are obvious, but so too are the potential rule-of-law problems. Unless governments voluntarily disclose information, human rights monitors and independent journalists are unable to verify claims that there are limited or no civilian casualties, let alone to weigh them against credible reports that hundreds of innocents have died.

That is the situation in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the CIA is operating a secret drone killing programme about which we have been particularly critical because the US refuses to disclose the programme's legal justification, the safeguards designed to minimise civilian harm, or the follow-up inquiries conducted.

In Afghanistan, where British forces are fighting armed groups and not the troops of another country, the target must have a direct connection to the combat, either as a Taliban or al-Qaida "fighter", or as a civilian who is "directly participating in hostilities". The use of force must be proportionate, meaning that commanders must weigh any expected military advantage against possible harm to civilians. Violation of these requirements could result in a war crime.

But making the case for formal legality is only the beginning. Accountability is an independent requirement of international law. When complete secrecy prevails, it is negated. Secrecy also provides incentives to push the margins in problematic ways.

Two examples will suffice. First, the US, with reported Nato agreement, has already added Taliban-supporting drug traffickers – alleged criminals – to its kill list. Second, in the wake of the December suicide bombing of CIA operatives in Khost, American drone killings have surged dramatically. In a zone of secrecy, there is no way to know if the 90 people reportedly killed in 11 subsequent strikes were legitimate targets or simply retaliatory killings.

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