Inside Story Americas / Al Jazeera – 2013-02-08 00:50:15
Probing Obama’s Drone Wars
Inside Story Americas / Al Jazeera
“The vast majority of people who have lost their lives through the use of targeted killing technology are not Americans. They are citizens of different states in which this technology is being used on the sovereign territory of another nation. And there does now need to be, absolutely clearly with the proliferation of this technology, an immediate and focused debate within the international community in which the US plays its proper and active part in seeking to achieve consensus.”
— Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights
(February 6, 2013) — A leaked US government document sets out a legal justification for President Barack Obama’s policy of extrajudicial killing, as the United Nations is preparing its own investigation into drone strikes.
Obama’s policy of using lethal force against suspected terrorists is coming under further scrutiny after a document alleged to be a Justice Department white paper was obtained by the US media.
The document moves the goalposts in regards to when the government is authorised to carry out the killing of a US citizen, like Anwar al-Awlaki or his teenage son in Yemen in 2011. Specifically, it broadens the criteria of who might be considered an “imminent threat” to the US.
According to the white paper, there are three criteria for the legally acceptable extrajudicial killing of a US citizen who is identified as a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force.
Firstly, an “informed, high-level official” must conclude that a US citizen poses what it calls an imminent threat of violent attack against the US. Secondly, the government must conclude that capture is not feasible. And finally, the operation should be conducted under the applicable laws of war.
US citizens who are targeted need not have been charged with a crime, the paper states. Those targeted also do not need to be informed of the allegations against them. The US paper also contends that the government’s actions cannot be reviewed by any court.
The Obama administration has made repeated use of targeted killings. Most of these killings are conducted through drone strikes.
Last week, the UN announced a major investigation into drone strikes. Led by the UN’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, the study will examine the extent of civilian casualties, and the wider consequences of an expanding global drone war.
It is estimated that, of the more than 3,000 people killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, 500 were civilians.
While US officials say that the strikes exclusively target terrorists, critics argue that drone strikes cause high civilian casualties. Critics also say the lethal attacks are illegal under international law.
To discuss the latest information on how the US views its drone strikes and the wider implications of its programme, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Ben Emmerson, the UN’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights; Marcy Wheeler who writes the political blog, Emptywheel; and Joshua Foust, a foreign policy analyst and columnist for PBS.
â€¢ In September 2011, a drone strike killed two US citizens in Yemen
â€¢ In October 2011, a drone strike killed a third US citizen in Yemen
â€¢ The Obama administration’s John Brennan helped manage the drone programme
â€¢ Brennan’s confirmation hearing for CIA director is scheduled for Thursday
â€¢ The UN will examine the civilian impact of drone strikes, after several states requested this investigation last June
â€¢ The investigation will focus on 25 cases of drone strikes
â€¢ These case studies include strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan
â€¢ Examined countries will also include Somalia and Palestine
â€¢ The inquiry’s final report is to be presented before the UN in October 2013
TEHRAN (February 8, 2013) — State television in Iran has aired video purporting to show footage extracted from a CIA drone captured inside the Islamic republic’s airspace in December 2011. The Elite Revolutionary Guards released the video in a documentary broadcast late on Wednesday.
The al-Alam TV broadcast marked first time the footage has been seen since the RQ-170 Sentinel was captured after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern border with Afghanistan.
“By decoding data extracted from the drone, we found out that the aircraft had conducted many flights in Iran’s neighbouring countries,” Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division, said in the broadcast.
The Guards aerospace division, which said it seized the unmanned aircraft, said the footage showed images of the drone landing at an airbase in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, as well as at a base in Pakistan. In addition, the TV also showed images of an Iranian helicopter transporting the drone, as well as its disassembled parts being carried on a trailer.
Iran has previously claimed that it brought down the drone electronically by “spoofing” its GPS guidance system. US officials have said the Sentinel suffered a malfunction.
The US military and the Central Intelligence Agency regularly use drones to launch missile strikes in Afghanistan and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, but do not generally confirm such raids.
Shortly after Iran announced the drone’s capture, the NATO-led military force in Afghanistan said the aircraft had been on a mission over western Afghanistan. US media had reported fears in the United States that Iran could access and make use of the highly advanced technology used in the drone. But a US official later cast doubts that “the Iranians have the expertise” to exploit the technology found in the aircraft.
The RQ-170 Sentinel is a high-altitude stealth reconnaissance drone made by Lockheed Martin. Its existence was exposed in 2009 by specialised reviews and later confirmed by the US Air Force in 2010.
Iran said in January that it was in possession of two more US-made RQ-11 reconnaissance drones it shot down over the previous 15 months, in addition to a ScanEagle drone and the RQ-170.
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