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Drones may be useful, but governments need more transparency, says UN investigator

March 12th, 2014
03:53 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

On a spring day nearly three years ago, the tribal elders of Datta Khel, a village in North Waziristan, Pakistan – the so-called Tribal Areas – were gathering for a meeting.

It was the second day of community discussion about the distribution of many thousands of dollars of mining rights.

[/owa/]At 10:45 on the second day of the Jirga, a remotely piloted drone released a missile, or missiles, that struck one of two group of elders, killing upwards of 43 civilians.

That is just one of many allegations contained in a new report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who has spent more than two years investigating the use of drones.

“This was one of the most notorious headline incidents, which caused a great deal of outrage in the Fatah region and provoked very hostile reaction from the Pakistani government,” Emmerson told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

Case 1 – Datta Khel from stmkr on Vimeo.

“We’re still working for the transparency that is required with an incident like this.”

America uses drones more than other country, and President Obama more than his predecessors - mostly in secret.

Emmerson is trying to bring some accountability to bear with a report that seeks to put a human face on the costs of what many deride as ‘remote-control war.’

The report focuses on two aspects, he told Amanpour: Substantiating the many allegations of civilians deaths as a result of drone strikes, and examining the legal regime for their use.

In fact, he starts his report on a relatively positive note, quoting the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer.

“[A]ny weapon that makes it possible to carry out more precise attacks, and helps avoid or minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects, should be given preference over weapons that do not,” he wrote.

By increasing “situational awareness,” Emmerson told Amanpour, drones can certainly help commanders reduce civilian casualties.

“What we do know is that the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel – the three states that use this technology – routinely carry out their own post-strike analysis and investigation in any case where there is any suggestion that civilians may have been killed.”

What he believes needs to be done is to make those reports public.

His report cites a rare example in which such an incident report was made public, after the killing of nearly 23 civilians in a military helicopter strike on pick-up trucks in Afghanistan; the intelligence behind that strike was reportedly provided by drone operators who erred.

“It’s pretty much the only case in which the post-investigation report has been made public, where clear errors were made by the Predator crew that were responsible for targeting the individuals concerned, and where ISAF [International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan] itself made recommendations for punishments to be administered in relation to those who have fallen short of their professional obligations.”

He believes those punishments were carried out.

That case, he said, should be a “benchmark” of transparency – an object lesson in the way America should respond to such incidents.

To the credit of the new director of the CIA, Emmerson said that, “There hasn’t been a single allegation of a civilian casualty in Pakistan since John Brennan became director of the CIA.”

Brennan’s CIA is currently embroiled in a scandal over allegations by a U.S. Senator that the spy agency hacked into Congress’ computers used for an investigation into harsh interrogation methods used by the CIA.

The scandal would be completely moot, Emmerson said, if the U.S. administration released that investigation.

“I’ve been calling since March of last year – when I prepared a report for the Human Rights Council on rendition, secret detention, and torture – that it is the obligation of the U.S. Administration, President Obama, who has been sitting on this report now for very many, many months, to make it public as quickly as possible.”


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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Ben

    OBL was living in Pakistan like a normal civilian – hiding in plain sight. Pakistani government and military claimed for years that OBL was not in Pakistan. It is clear that Pakistanis routinely lie about hiding terrorists. Therefore, drone strikes are a legitimate tool to destroy terrorists in Pakistan. If Pakistanis are unhappy about it, they can stop hiding terrorists. Use of drones in Pakistan saves thousands of innocent lives elsewhere.

    March 12, 2014 at 10:39 am | Reply
    • Ahmad

      There are no terrorists in Pakistan. Pakistan government did not know that OBL lived there. Drones violate sovereignty of Pakistan.

      March 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Reply
      • Ben

        @Akmed – OBL spoke Arabic. He did not speak your Pakistani language. There is no way he could have lived in Pakistan for nearly a decade without support from local Muslims like you. Who did Pakistani government punish for supporting OBL so far? The Pakistani government did not even arrest a single local Muslim for supporting OBL. Why? – because Pakistani government were complicit in hiding the mass murderer called Bin Laden.

        March 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm |
  2. Ellis Sonatchi

    Regarding war in general:

    No war is pretty
    People are going to die
    There’ll be blood on the hands
    Of a man, woman and child

    Blood in the liquid form
    Or the scars on the mind
    No war is pretty
    People are going to die

    The fighting of the battles
    Is the middle of the fight
    As opposed to the bargaining’s
    Or bombs in the night.

    Tanks and tanks aero planes
    Submarines on the seas
    No war is pretty
    Death for you and me

    First go the brothers
    Laying dead on the land
    Mothers crying, sisters sighing
    All of them wondering why

    No war is pretty
    civil or another land

    No war is pretty
    Whose drone was that?

    March 12, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Reply

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