Remote killing

IssueJuly-August 2012
News by Gabriel Carlyle

Roughly the same proportion of the British public ‘approves’ of US drone strikes as ‘disapproves’, according to a new poll by Pew Global Attitudes.

The international survey, polling 20 countries around the world, found that while 47% of the British public ‘disapprove of the [US] conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia’ (arguably a leading question), almost as many (44%) ‘approve’ of such attacks.

According to figures compiled by the not-for-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,861 and 4,285 people have been reported killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2001. At least 551 – and perhaps as many as 1,035 – civilians have been reportedly killed in these strikes, including at least 200 children.

The US, India and Britain were the only three countries where there was no majority against the strikes: witness the ‘disapproval’ rates for Germany (59%), Japan (75%), Brazil (76%), Spain (76%), Egypt (89%) and Greece (90%).

In the UK, only 31% of those on the ‘left’” support such strikes, compared with 43% in the ‘center’, and 56% on the ‘right’. More interestingly, 57% of British men approve of such strikes, compared with only 30% of women.

All of which suggests that the first job for anti-drone campaigners here in the UK may be to win the battle for public opinion, and bump Britain’s ‘disapproval’ rates up to those of Germany, Spain and others.

Bath victory

In June, Bath Stop War Coalition succeeded in pushing a drones conference out of their city.

While the organisers claimed the event was focused on civilian uses, these occupied only half a day of the conference, leaving three days on military uses of the new technology. Furthermore, military personnel were offered free admission and the main speakers were military.

Bath Stop War Coalition challenged the council over its acceptance of the event at Bath’s prestigious Assembly Rooms. As well as writing to all councillors and to the local press, and running paper and e-petitions, the group lobbied the National Trust, owners of the building.

The tipping point may have been reached when the local group began co-operating with Bristol activists on actions to take at the time of the conference.

Court strategy

Lawyers for the legal charity Reprieve are trying to force the British government to reveal whether or not the UK has been giving the US intelligence for use in its drone strikes in Pakistan.

Confirmation of Britain’s role in the CIA strikes would expose British personnel to potential lawsuits, not least because at least seven British passport holders are believed to have been killed in such attacks.

The action – brought on behalf of Pakistani student Noor Khan, whose father was one of 40 people killed on 17 March 2011 by a CIA drone strike on a meeting of tribal elders in the village of Datta Khel – will be heard at the high court, possibly as early as July.

Meanwhile, indefatigable anti-drones campaigner Chris Cole has been told by the ministry of defence that they will no longer answer his Freedom of Information requests on drones in Afghanistan ‘until at least the end of operations in Afghanistan.’

Cole had asked for a year-by-year breakdown of how many weapon firings by UK drones were pre-planned and how many were done on the fly. Earlier requests by Cole were rejected on the manifestly spurious grounds that they were ‘likely to prejudice the defence of the British Island’ (see PN 2532).

Campaign plans

UK peace activists are preparing for a week of action against the drones from 6-13 October, including a week-long peace walk from Shenstone (home of UAV Engines, which makes drone engines) to Leicester (home to the Thales factory which makes Watchkeeper drones in partnership with Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit) to RAF Waddington (a base for RAF pilots piloting armed drones over Afghanistan – see PN 2534).

UAV witness

Meanwhile, peace campaigner Helen John is re-establishing  her presence outside RAF Waddington with a round-the-clock Women’s Peace Camp, beginning 30 June.