US Dismisses UN Criticism, Insists Remote Drone Killings Are 'Just'
October 27, 2013
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Alexandra Olson / AP & Michelle Nichols / Reuters
The UN conference on drone strikes opened today in New York with calls from UN experts to see more transparency around the use of drones for extraterritorial executions by nations, and condemnations by several nations of the unlawful use of the attacks en masse by the US. The Obama Administration was quick to dismiss any complaints, insisting the killings of several thousand people worldwide without any legal oversight by CIA drones was "legal and just."
US Dismisses UN Criticism, Insists Drone Strikes 'Just'
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(October 25, 2013) -- The UN conference on drone strikes opened today in New York with calls from UN experts to see more transparency around the use of drones for extraterritorial executions by nations, and condemnations by several nations of the unlawful use of the attacks en masse by the United States.
The Obama Administration was quick to dismiss any complaints, insisting the killings of several thousand people worldwide without any legal oversight by CIA drones was "legal and just."
Pakistan reported to the UN that at least 400 civilians were confirmed killed in the US strikes in their country, and hundreds of others are classified as "probable non-combatants." Yemen confirmed scores of deaths as well.
The White House has dismissed the reports of civilian deaths too, insisting that civilians are killed in all wars and that they are the only ones who are capable of accurately counting how many civilians they really killed, a number which they are keeping a secret.
UN Experts Call for More US Transparency on Drones
Alexandra Olson / Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (October 26, 2013) -- Two UN human rights investigators called for more transparency from the United States and other countries about their drone strikes program, saying their secrecy is the biggest obstacle to determining the impact pact on civilian casualties.
Ben Emmerson and Christof Heyns, who presented two reports on the subject at the United Nations on Friday, also called on other countries to speak up about when deadly drone strikes are acceptable. They said the lack of consensus risks creating anarchy as more countries acquire the technology.
Emmerson said the US has justified some drone strikes against terrorist targets in other countries by arguing that it is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaida with no boundaries. He said other countries disagree with that analysis but few have spelled out their own positions.
"We all recognize that the moment other states start to use this technology in similar ways, we are facing a situation which could escalate into a breakdown of peace and security," said Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.
In his report, Emmerson said he received statistics from the Pakistani government indicating that at least 2,200 people have been killed in drone strikes in that country since 2004. Of those, at least 400 were civilians. But Emmerson said independent verification is difficult and the involvement of the CIA in counter-terrorism operations in both Pakistan and Yemen "has created an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency."
Emerson said that any time civilians are killed "the state responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed and public explanation."
The US considers its drone program in Pakistan to be a key weapon against insurgent groups that it says stages cross-border forays into neighboring Afghanistan. But many Pakistanis believe the strikes kill large numbers of civilians, raising tensions between the two countries and complicating their cooperation in the fight against militants.
Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, expressed disappointment with the US response to reports this week by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International questioning the legality of the drone strikes.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US "would strongly disagree" with any claims that the US had acted improperly, arguing that American actions follow all applicable law. He said there must be "near-certainty" of no civilian casualties before the US proceeds with a drone strike. He said they're not used when targets can instead be captured.
Both Emmerson and Heyns said that the use of drone technology in a deadly strike is not the inherit problem. They said that in many cases, drone technology allows precision targeting that can reduce the number of civilian casualties.
"Drones are not inherently illegal weapons. They are here to stay," Heyns said. "The main focus should be on legal parameters" on when to use them.
Emmerson's report said the UN mission in Afghanistan has acknowledged drone strikes in that country -- carried out by both the US and Britain -- have led to fewer civilian casualties than attacks using other weaponry.
In Yemen, his report said "the United States has largely succeeded in avoiding the infliction of large-scale loss of civilian life," with the exception of a cruise missile strike on a camp in 2009 that reportedly killed 40 civilians.
The strikes in Yemen are part of a joint US-Yemeni campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, called the most dangerous al-Qaida branch.
Pakistan Tells UN at Least 400 Civilians Killed by Drone Strikes
Michelle Nichols / Reuters
UNITED NATIONS (October 18, 2013) -- Pakistan has confirmed that of some 2,200 people killed by drone strikes in the past decade, at least 400 were civilians and an additional 200 victims were deemed "probable non-combatants," a UN human rights investigator said on Friday.
Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, also urged the United States to release its own data on the number of civilian casualties caused by its drone strikes.
Emmerson said Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told him it had recorded at least 330 drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan's largely lawless region bordering Afghanistan, since 2004.
Clearing out militant border sanctuaries is seen by Washington as crucial to bringing stability to Afghanistan, particularly as the US-led combat mission ends in 2014. Most, but not all, attacks with unmanned aerial vehicles have been by the United States. Britain and Israel have also used them.
In an interim report to UN General Assembly released on Friday, Emmerson said Pakistani government records showed that drone strikes had killed at least 2,200 people and seriously wounded at least 600 since 2004.
He said Pakistan had confirmed that "at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of remotely piloted aircraft strikes and a further 200 individuals were regarded as probable non-combatants."
"Officials indicated that, owing to underreporting and obstacles to effective investigation, those figures were likely to be an underestimate" of civilian deaths, Emmerson said.
Emmerson, who visited Pakistan in March, noted that principal media monitoring organizations had recorded a "marked drop" in reported civilians casualties from drone strikes in the tribal areas during 2012 and the first half of 2013.
The tribal areas have never been fully integrated into Pakistan's administrative, economic or judicial system. They are dominated by ethnic Pashtun tribes, some of which have sheltered and supported militants over decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
"The involvement of CIA in lethal counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and Yemen has created an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency," Emmerson said.
"One consequence is that the United States has to date failed to reveal its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft in classified operations conducted in Pakistan and elsewhere."
During his Senate confirmation process in February, CIA director John Brennan said the closely guarded number of civilian casualties from drone strikes should be made public. The US government, without releasing numbers, has sought to portray civilian deaths from these strikes as minimal.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at the time that she had been trying to speak publicly about the "very low number of civilian casualties" and to verify that number each year has "typically been in the single digits." However, she said she was told she could not divulge the actual numbers because they were classified.
In May, US President Barack Obama signed a document that he said codified guidelines for the use of force against terrorists. He said before drone strikes were taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians would be killed or wounded.
Emmerson urged the United States to declassify to the maximum extent possible information "relevant to its lethal extraterritorial counter-terrorism operations; and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft, together with information on the evaluation methodology used."
He reported that in Afghanistan, the UN mission said while casualties were likely underestimated, it had assessed that in recent years drones strikes appeared to have inflicted lower levels of civilian casualties than other air strikes.
Emmerson said "the United States appears to have succeeded in avoiding the infliction of large-scale loss of civilian life in Yemen" when carrying out drone strikes. "Nonetheless, there have been a number of incidents in which civilians have reportedly been killed or injured," he said.
"The most serious single incident to date was a remotely piloted aircraft attack on 2 September 2012 in which 12 civilians were reportedly killed in the vicinity of Rada'a," Emmerson said.
The full report can be viewed here.
*Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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