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Storm of criticism for armed drones

In June, the use of armed (pilotless) drone aircraft came in for criticism from a senior UN official, Amnesty International, and, reportedly, CIA officials. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that Britain and France were conducting a feasibility study into the possibility of jointly producing or purchasing a new drone aircraft.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”, submitted a strongly-worded report to the UN human rights council on 4 June, calling for an end to CIA drone strikes.

Alston wrote: “because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audiofeed, there is a risk of developing a ‘Playstation’ mentality to killing.” He added: “A lack of disclosure gives states a virtual and impermissible licence to kill.”

On 10 June, Amnesty International USA published a new report, “As if Hell Fell on Me”: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, which described civilians in that region as facing the triple threat of the Taliban, Pakistani security forces, and US drone attacks. Amnesty observed: “the one legal explanation provided for current [US] drone attacks invokes a basis that does not find recognition in international law”.

Meanwhile, some CIA operators are concerned that, because of its “blowback” effect, the policy of relying on drone attacks “is doing more harm than good,” according to Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to US special forces, interviewed by Inter-Press (IPS) news service on 3 June. Addicott claimed that some CIA officers “are very upset with the drone strike policy”: “They’ll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise.” The men in Pakistan’s tribal region “view Americans as cowards and weasels”.

Britain also uses armed drones to carry out killings. Through a Freedom of Information request, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (England) discovered that UK drones were used in 84 attacks over 18 months (see PN 2519).

On 9 June, a previously-secret Anglo-French drones initiative became public when Eric Trappier, international director of Dassault Aviation, argued against the possibility of France buying US Reaper drones as part of a joint Anglo-French drone development or acquisition programme.

According to the report in Defence News, potential candidate drones include developments of EADS’s Talarion, BAE Systems’ Mantis, the Reaper from General Atomics, and Dassault/Thales’s Système de Drone MALE (SDM). On 17 June, EADS (European Aeronautic Defence & Space Company) reportedly froze its Talarion drone programme after Germany and France failed to commit funds for the project.

www.dronewarsuk.wordpress.com
Drones strategy day, 18 September, ULU, Malet St, London WC1. More info: FoR, 01865 25078.

Chris Cole, co-ordinator of Fig Tree, maintains the DroneWars blog:

Topics: Robotic Warfare