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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lost drones


It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your drone is?

Oh, the confusion of it all! The U.S. military now insists it was deeply befuddled when it claimed that a super-secret advanced RQ-170 Sentinel drone (aka "the beast of Kandahar") which fell into Iranian hands on December 4th -- evidently while surveying suspected nuclear sites -- was lost patrolling the Afghan border. The military, said a spokesman, "did not have a good understanding of what was going on because it was a CIA mission."

Whatever happened, that lost drone story hit the headlines in a way that allowed everyone their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Dick Cheney went on the air to insist that President Obama should have sent Air Force planes into Iran to blow the grounded Sentinel to bits. (Who cares about sparking off hostilities or sending global oil prices skyrocketing?) President Obama formally asked for the plane’s return, but somehow didn’t have high hopes that the Iranians would comply. (Check out Gary Powers and the downing of his U-2 spy plane over Russia in 1960 for a precedent.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swore we would never stop our Afghan-based drone surveillance of Iran. Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked that his country be kept out of any “adversarial relations between Iran and the United States.” (Fat chance!) The Iranians, who displayed the plane, insisted proudly that they had hacked into it, “spoofed” its navigational controls, and brought it in for a relatively soft landing. And Kim Kardashian... oops, wrong story.

Further reading.

Monday, December 19, 2011

HRW: Letter to President Obama: Targeted Killings by the US Government

December 16, 2011
From: Human Rights Watch:

Dear President Obama,

We previously wrote to you on December 7, 2010, to express our concerns regarding the US targeted killing program. We made recommendations that would minimize harm to civilians and ensure US policies and practices were in line with the country’s international legal obligations. Since then, the use by the United States of Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems (drones) to conduct targeted killings has expanded rapidly in Pakistan and other countries. Yet, your administration has taken few steps to provide greater transparency and accountability in conducting targeted killings, intensifying concerns both in the US and abroad about the lawfulness of these attacks.

Human Rights Watch recognizes that the US government has a responsibility to address threats to national security. The deliberate use of lethal force against a specific target can be legal in operations against a combatant on a genuine battlefield, or in a law enforcement situation in which there is an imminent threat to life and there is no reasonable alternative. We also recognize the challenges faced in trying to address potential threats that are not in a traditional conflict zone yet are also beyond the reach of any law enforcement.

We have read the statements from administration officials – most recently the September talk at Harvard University by counterterrorism advisor John Brennan – which posits the legal basis for the overall use of force but do not clearly provide one for conducting specific targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes. Among the questions raised:

Where does your administration draw the line between lawful and unlawful targeted killings? Are international human rights law considerations taken into account?

John Brennan has argued for a more flexible definition of “imminence” to justify the use of force. Is this in the context of self-defense as provided under the United Nations Charter [article 51] or in the law enforcement context, which requires an imminent threat to life for lethal force to be used?

The administration suggests that targeted killings can be conducted without geographic limits, making the entire world a battlefield. What is different about the US government rationale for targeted killings that would not apply to other countries, such as Russia or China, that assert threats from terrorists?

The US government should clarify fully and publicly its legal rationale for conducting targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes. Your administration has yet to explain clearly where it draws the line between lawful and unlawful targeted killings.

The government should also explain why it believes that its attacks are in conformity with international law and make public information, including video footage, on how particular attacks comply with that standard.

To ensure compliance with international law, the United States should conduct investigations of targeted killings where there is credible evidence of wrongdoing, provide compensation to all victims of illegal strikes, and discipline or prosecute as appropriate those responsible for conducting or ordering unlawful attacks.

We are particularly concerned about the expanded involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the targeted killings program. International humanitarian law does not prohibit intelligence agencies from participating in combat operations during armed conflicts. However, parties to an armed conflict have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and provide redress for victims. Because the US government routinely neither confirms nor denies the CIA’s well-known participation in targeted killings in northern Pakistan and elsewhere, there is no transparency in its operations. In 2009, then-CIA chief Leon Panetta unusually acknowledged the US airstrikes against al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan as being “very effective” because they are “very precise” and “very limited in terms of collateral damage.” However, he also said he would not provide more details, highlighting the government’s unwillingness to divulge information about CIA operations.

The CIA, like all US government agencies, is bound by international human rights and humanitarian law. Unlike the US armed forces, the CIA provides little or no information regarding the training and composition of its drone teams, or the procedures and rules it follows in conducting targeted killings. Nor has the government provided information as to whether the CIA has conducted any investigations into possible international law violations and their outcomes. As a result there is no basis for determining whether the US government is actually meeting its international legal obligations with respect to its targeting operations or providing redress for victims of unlawful attacks. Repeated assertions by senior officials within your administration that all US agencies are operating in compliance with international law – without providing information that would corroborate such claims – are wholly inadequate.

Human Rights Watch believes that so long as the US government cannot demonstrate a readiness to hold the CIA to international legal requirements for accountability and redress, the use of drones in targeted killings should be exclusively within the command responsibility of the US armed forces. This would be consistent with the findings of the independent 9/11 Commission, which in 2004 specifically recommended that “[l]ead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department.”

Such a recommendation has been made more recently by former director of national intelligence Dennis Blair, among others. At the same time, while the US military has a more transparent chain of command and operational procedures, it too needs to ensure compliance with the laws of war, and provide accountability of redress when violations occur.

We again ask you to consider these concerns in light of your own words when you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize: "Even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules ... the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war,” stating, “that is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is the source of our strength." We respectfully urge that you provide the legal framework to uphold these words.

We have enclosed our December 2010 letter and a recent Q&A addressing these issues. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

Cc:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
CIA Director David Petraeus
---
Bold and links added by SPW-blog

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Iowa, occupiers picket a drone factory

From: Salon.com
Dec 5th 2011

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cherry Building in Cedar Rapids’ revitalized New Bohemia neighborhood is a hive of artisans, small businesspeople, entrepreneurs — and soon, space for the assembly of surveillance drones.

It’s the arrival of the latter in the form of AirCover Integrated Solutions Corp. — a Northern California-founded firm— that attracted about 75 protesters Saturday afternoon from Occupy Wall Street movements across Iowa including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Davenport.

The use of U.S.-government drone aircraft to wage war on suspected terrorists and innocent civilians from Pakistan to Gaza has become controversial as civilian deaths have mounted and civil liberties concerns have grown.

The protest lasted about an hour with the only significant verbal confrontations coming between activists and merchants in the 104,000-square-foot building who were upset that the protest coincided with — and disrupted — the annual Very Cherry Holiday Open House.

The Occupy argument: The drones, to be assembled by AirCover, will enable Big Brother to hover over the streets and homes of America, and serve as the handmaidens of death on foreign soil.

James Hill, president of AirCover Solutions, rejected the protesters’ message. In an interview with Salon, Hill insisted that the unmanned drones, soon to be assembled in Iowa, will save the lives of soldiers, police and rescue personnel who can use his company’s devices to enter danger zones remotely without risk of bodily injury.

What’s more, business leaders in Cedar Rapids are eager for the up to 25 tech jobs that Hill says AirCover will bring to this city of 126,000 people. Iowa’s second-largest city is still suffering from the effects of devastating floods in 2008.

The protesters gathered just after 3 p.m. outside the Cherry Building, carrying signs that said, among other things, “Are you listening?” “I want my right to privacy” and “Stop the police state now.”

“It concerns me a whole lot the kind of money that we spend on these kind of military, police state items when we don’t have enough money for our schools — enough money for health,” said Dr. Maureen McCue, who teaches in the public health department at the University of Iowa.

McCue, an Occupy supporter, said the potential abuse of the drone technology is greater than the likelihood it will be trained to peaceful, positive ends.

“These drone issues are completely buried if people don’t make a lot of noise about it,” McCue said.

Another protestor, Dr. Robert Schultes, a doctor in Cedar Rapids, held a sign that said “No Drone Zone.”

He doesn’t trust the remote-control aspect of the drones.

“If they make a mistake they kill a whole bunch of people,” Schultes said.


Read the rest here...

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Hancock 38" Defendants Found Guilty for Bold Army Base Protest Against U.S. Drone Attacks Abroad

From: DemocracyNow.org:

Thirty-one of 38 accused activists were found guilty on Thursday for their role in a protest against U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The activists were arrested on April 22 at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field near Syracuse, New York, after trespassing to protest the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the Guard has remotely flown over Afghanistan since late 2009. The protesters draped themselves in white clothes splattered with blood-red pigment and then staged a "die-in" at the main entrance to the base. They said their act of nonviolent civil disobedience aimed to visualize the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan by drones operated by personnel sitting in front of computers thousands of miles away. The group calls themselves the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters. Following the guilty verdict, four of the activists were sentenced to 15-day terms in prison while a number of others were given fines and community service. We speak to Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general turned outspoken human rights activist, who testified at the trial that the drones violate international law. We’re also joined by Harry Murray, one of the Hancock 38 and a co-defendant in the trial. "Having a drone control center established at Hancock Air Base has really brought the war home to central New York," Murray says. "Having people who are actually killing human beings in Afghanistan working right in Syracuse really makes Syracuse and upstate New York a war zone." Clark says drones are "a weapon of extreme provocation and extreme danger, extreme inaccuracy... International law, I believe, does prohibit the use of drones."

Guests:
Ramsey Clark, lawyer and former U.S. attorney general.

Harry Murray, one of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters and a co-defendant in the trial. He is professor of sociology and anthropology at Nazareth College, where he also serves as director of the peace and justice studies major.

Read the whole interview here...

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