- Britain’s shame: supplying components enabling Turkey to bomb its own citizens
- Israeli air strikes on eastern Syria add 57 to the 380,000+ killed during the Syrian conflict
- Seek accountability for the deaths of the innocent men, women and children unwittingly caught up in wars the west has chosen to fight
Geoff on Seek accountability for the de… admin on About admin on Britain’s role in the de…
An article released by Agence France-Presse in Beirut and circulated to the world-wide media earlier this montd, said that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that Israeli air strikes on eastern Syria killed 57 Syrian army forces and allied Iran-backed fighters.
An Israeli army spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by AFP. Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.
Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers which revealed the US government had lied to the American public about the Vietnam war, had warned that Donald Trump and Israel could increase attacks against Iran and its regional allies in the final days of the US president’s tenure. Trump’s administration had given unprecedented US support to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Nicholas Heras, of the Institute of the Study of War said that in the dying days of the Trump administration, Netanyahu had been trying to do as much damage as possible to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Syria before Biden took office.
The war in Syria has killed more than 387,000 people and displaced millions.
Above: typical of the destruction wrought by coalition air strikes
July – December 2020
After taking the UK government to court over its arms sales to the Saudis, the latest CAAT newsletter (Issue 258 Winter 2020) recalls that in July 2020 the Government said that it had made the required assessment as to “whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of IHL in the past, during the Yemen conflict” and its conclusion is that these are ‘isolated incidents’.
Liz Truss MP, secretary of state for international trade, announced that weapon sales to Saudi Arabia would resume despite concerns over the potential for further atrocities in Yemen.
Lawyers representing CAAT wrote to the UK government seeking urgent answers on this decision and began to consider further legal action.
Bill Briggs reported in August that twenty children had been killed in Yemen since the UK government resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia. There was an escalation in violence this year, with civilian casualties trebling from May to June, according to the Yemen Data Project.
Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Amid food shortages and a complete breakdown of the economy in Yemen, children are being massacred and war crimes have undoubtedly been committed by both sides.
In September, Sky News reported on a potential war crime in northern Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the US and Britain.
In Alex Crawford’s detailed and illustrated account of evidence given by eye-witnesses to a team visiting Yemen, several incidents were reported. In one, nine people died – six of them were children. There were no men amongst the dead or injured and only three survivors – a young mother (right) who was breastfeeding her baby son and a teenage boy.
A coalition spokesman said they were investigating whether this was an “accidental loss of civilian life” whilst targeting Houthi leaders and fighters.
Human rights investigators building up a dossier of potential war crimes have got details of at least 500 attacks by the coalition where civilians have been the victims. Amongst them are five different attacks which they say they’ve linked to the British authorities or British companies.
The September United Nations report said countries arming parties involved in the conflict could be “aiding and assisting” war crimes
The report accused parties to the conflict of “a consistent pattern of harm to civilians” and “documented patterns of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law” over the course of the war. It found that Houthi militia and support from the UK and others “may amount to ‘aiding and assisting’ internationally wrongful acts in contravention of international law.”
In October a second legal challenge was mounted by CAAT; the campaigners filed for a judicial review of the UK government’s decision to renew arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Read more here.
And when G20 leaders gathered online at the end of November for their annual summit, incredibly, it was hosted by Saudi Arabia, the country that is arguably more responsible for the world’s worst humanitarian crisis than any other.
Over the past five and a half years Saudi Arabia has bombed school buses, funerals and hospitals in Yemen. As the result of this brutal war between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi militia, four out of five Yemenis now urgently need humanitarian assistance.
Bill Nighy wrote an article in the Times in November (paywall)
On the 3rd of December a UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen briefed the UN Security Council. “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land” – urged an end to impunity in a conflict with no clean hands, and the referral by the UN Security Council of the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.
Gill Hurle of MAW has forwarded news of this event.
——– Forwarded Message from Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK ——–
We are holding an online event ‘Drone Warfare: Today, Tomorrow, Forever?’ to examine the use of armed drones and where campaigners should be focusing their efforts over the coming years.
We are delighted to be joined by:
* Aditi Gupta of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones
* Rachel Stohl from the Washington-based Stimson Center
* Ella Knight of Amnesty International
* Elke Schwarz from Queen Mary’s, University of London
who will address a number of issues including increasing proliferation, autonomy and civilian harm.
Please do join us on 27 October at 7pm. For more details and to book a free tickets please see: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/drone-warfare-today-tomorrow-forever-tickets-124296689745
Chris Cole, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Drone Wars UK, Peace House, 19 Paradise Street, Oxford OX1 1LD
Whereas this Airstrikes site has just reported on drone killings and latterly on airstrikes, the Drone Wars site analyses in detail the impact and (im)morality of the use of armed drones.
Summarised here are some of the points made in detail on a page on the Drone Wars website
Lowering the threshold for the use of force
Politicians know that the public do not like to see young men and women sent overseas to fight in wars which often have remote and unclear aims. Potential TV footage of grieving families awaiting funeral corteges (opposite, casualties in Afghanistan) has been a definite restraint on political leaders weighing up the option of military intervention.
Take away that potential political cost, however, by using unmanned systems, and it makes it much easier – perhaps too easy – for politicians to opt for a quick, short-term ‘fix’ of ‘taking out the bad guys’ rather than engaging in the often difficult and long-term work of solving the root causes of conflicts through diplomatic and political means.
Transferring the risk and cost of war from soldiers to civilians
Despite claims of the defence industry and advocates of drone warfare, it is simply not possible to know precisely what is happening on the ground from thousands of miles away. While the UK claims, for example, that only one civilian was killed in the thousands of British air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, journalist and casualty recording organisations have reported thousands of deaths in Coalition airstrikes.
The use of ‘targeted killing’
Legal scholars define targeted killing (undertaken by United States, Israel and the UK) as the deliberate, premeditated killing of selected individuals by a state who are not in their custody. Where the Law of War applies, targeted killing of combatants may be legal, but where war has not been declared it may only be used to save human life that is in imminent danger.
In 2016 The Joint Human Rights Committee released a report into the use of armed drones for targeted killing which focussed on the wider legal issues around the policy of targeted killing, not the individual cases which have shocked many.
Philip Alston the former Special Rapporteur on extra judicial killing suggested that the physical distance between those operating armed drones and the target makes that act of killing much easier. The physical distance induces a kind of psychological ‘distancing’, though it is widely reported that some drone pilots are suffering from post-traumatic stress from having to see the results of their strikes.
The myth of ‘precision’
Drones permit, we are told, pin-point accurate air strikes that kill the target while leaving the innocent untouched. The reality is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed accurate airstrike. Even under test conditions, only 50% of weapons are expected to hit within their ‘circular error of probability’.
Ushering in permanent war?
Drones are enabling states to carry out attacks with seemingly little reference to international law norms. US law professor Rosa Brooks argued in a disturbing article in Foreign Policy that ‘there’s no such thing as peacetime’ anymore. “Since 9/11,” she writes “it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war.”
As Drone Wars concludes: “The slide towards forever war must be rejected and resisted. It is incumbent on us all, citizen, politician, military officer, to work towards global peace and security, not permanent warfare”.
Further reading on the Drone Wars website:
As long ago as 2003, Ian Traynor reported in The privatisation of war’ that when the unmanned Predator drones, Global Hawks, and B-2 stealth bombers went into action, their weapons systems were operated and maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies.
Information recently uncovered by Drone Wars researcher Peter Burt, contained in data sheets attached to the annual report of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) confirms that private contractors embedded with UK forces still operate armed British drones at the beginning and end of their mission.
At no point do the civilian pilots operate the weapons or surveillance equipment on the aircraft
Dominic Nicholls, defence and security correspondent, reports that an RAF spokesman said: “Fully trained and security cleared contractors are being used to launch and recover UK Reaper aircraft, however, it is highly trained Royal Air Force aircrew who continue to control the operational mission and weapons.”
Shortages of Royal Air Force personnel are relieved by contractors
Nicholls reported last year that a freedom of information request has shown that hundreds of fast jet and helicopter pilots across all three services have been ‘grounded’ for years waiting for courses. The crisis in the Military Flying Training System (MFTS) has been caused by MoD uncertainty over the total number of pilots required, compounded by outsourcing the training to Ascent, a partnership between Babcock International and Lockheed Martin.
According to the IPA report: “A contract for crews for the Reaper Launch and Recovery Element based at the deployed location (known as UK1) will take effect in June 2020. This will allow up to seven RAF crews (21 people) to be relieved from the forward deployed location and return to home units, boosting the numbers of crews available for mission control towards the 45 that will be needed for transition to Protector Drones”.
Cost and image: other reasons for employing mercenaries
Washington-based Defense One adds another reason for employing mercenaries produced by Government Executive Media Group, points out that it is far more cost-effective for a country to use private security contractors and social-media campaigns instead of deploying troops and risking the backlash that would come domestically and internationally.
These issues are explored more fully on a sister site in “ ‘Mercenaries Unleashed’? Hundreds of unregulated British companies operate around the globe”.
In the UK Defence Journal, George Allison reviews a new report on armed drones and targeted killing for the UN Human Rights Council produced by Agnes Callamard (right), the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
She outlined recommendations to address this issue in the report she presented on July 10th at the Human Rights Council, warning: “The mere existence of armed drones does not justify their indiscriminate deployment. However, to date, there are no robust standards governing drones’ development, proliferation, export, or capability for use of force. No transparency. No effective oversight. No accountability”.
An article by Chris Cole points out that the report addresses what has now become a real problem here in the UK with the refusal of our government to detail where it is now deploying armed drones – the absence of transparency and accountability (see for example: ‘Ministers refuse to reveal target of new RAF killer drone missions‘)
Agnes Callamard said that while deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects such as schools, hospitals and ambulances in Afghanistan, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Yemen and Libya show the tragic disregard of the most essential humanitarian principles, the consequences of targeted killings by armed drones have been relatively neglected by states and institutions.
In 2013, then Special Rapporteur Christoff Heyns warned that ‘the expansive use of armed drones by the first States to acquire them, if not challenged, can do structural damage to the cornerstones of international security and set precedents that undermine the protection of life across the globe in the longer term’ “.
Seven years later, Ms Callamard says that the world has now entered what has been called the “second drone age”
Against this backdrop the report seeks to update previous findings:
- interrogating the reasons for drones’ proliferation and the legal implications of their promises;
- questioning the legal bases upon which their use is founded and legitimized;
- and identifying the mechanisms and institutions (or lack thereof) to regulate drones’ use and respond to targeted killings.
A vast array of State and non-State actors are now deploying ever more advanced drone technologies making their use an international security issue and raising key questions about protection of the right to life in conflicts and so-called peace situations.
For the first time, in January 2020, a State armed drone killed a high-level official of a foreign state on the territory of a third one – a significant development and an escalation.
The report contains findings applicable to all forms of targeted killings, including targeted killings carried out by conventional means – e.g. Special Operations Forces. General Soleimani’s targeted killing in January 2020 is analysed in Annex One.
It is the first known incident in which a State invoked self-defence as a justification for an attack against a State-actor, in the territory of another state, thus implicating the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. The report finds that by killing General Soleimani on Iraqi soil without first obtaining Iraq’s consent, the US violated the territorial integrity of Iraq.
The New York Times reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the U.S. rejected her report and “opinions”: “Ms. Callamard’s conclusions are spurious. The strike that killed Gen. Soleimani was in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”
Fox News presents a videoed summary quoting the report and Pompeo’s reaction.
Agnes Callamard ends by saying that this heavy toll of unlawful deaths and arbitrary killings, reveals the serious failures of national and international institutions mandated to protect human rights, democracy, peace and security and makes a number of recommendations which may be read in the report here: https://lnkd.in/dwbDMi6.
The New European asks: “What might Trump do with a new generation of autonomous drones in a second term, with no fear of censure by voters or sanction by other arms of the US government?”
Its journalists, Fred Harter and Giles Whittell, point out that there are there no internationally agreed rules to stay his hand, or those of other contenders in the AI-driven arms race – Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia and the UK anyone else’s. They focus on the June experiment undertsken from Fort Benning a US army base in Georgia.
In his first two years in office Donald Trump authorised more than 240 strikes and last year he rescinded an executive order signed by Obama that required the CIA to publish an annual total of civilian drone strike casualties in non-combat zones.
CNN now reports that the Senate passed an Iran War Powers resolution on Thursday 13th February aiming to rein in his ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval.
The President had warned the Senate not to green-light the measure on Wednesday, tweeting that “it is very important for our country’s security that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution,” and adding, “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day.” The White House also issued a veto threat against it.
The resolution “directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.” It includes a provision stating that no part of the resolution “shall be construed to prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.”
The resolution – prime mover Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia – won bipartisan support. Several Republican senators, including Lee, Paul and Collins, signed on as co-sponsors. The vote was 55-45. Eight Republicans voted in favour.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who warned two years ago that Congress would have to give approval before more troops could be sent to Afghanistan, said that the Senate is sending a warning to the White House that even if the President vetoes the measure:
“It sends a shot across his bow . . .”
Seek accountability for the deaths of service personnel AND of the innocent men, women and children unwittingly caught up in wars the west has chosen to fight
For many years, ordinary men, women and children, at work at home and at school or in hospital are being killed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and other countries, ignored by the mainstream ‘news’ media which prefers to feed the public with trivia about the Royal family and celebrities often featured in the Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’ (short section, right).
Ten years ago AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH described the statistics for civilian deaths caused by pro-Government forces in Afghanistan as ‘simply appalling’:
“UN figures show that between January 2006-October 2009 2,139 civilians died in such circumstances (which is over 50% of the total killed by insurgents during the same period!). The number injured by NATO and its allies is not recorded, though it is likely to considerably outweigh the numbers of those killed”.
The author, Steve Beauchampé, pointed out that whilst fatalities and injuries amongst NATO forces are assiduously compiled and regularly reported in the British media, the coalition does not appear concerned enough to monitor the number of civilians they kill.
These deaths and injuries are ‘diminished and dismissed as collateral damage, the inevitable consequences of war’.
Many are killed by missile strikes; weapons launched from fighter planes, or increasingly from unmanned ‘Drone’ aircraft, the person who terminated or shattered their lives being safely ensconced in front of a computer screen in a US military base 8,000 miles away in Nevada, never seeing or hearing their mutilated victims or the effects of their actions, driving home to their family once their working day is over.
Nowhere is the description of the management of modern warfare better illustrated than in Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright’s account of his two months spent with US Marines during the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 shows graphically how there are both competent and incompetent soldiers at all levels of the military hierarchy. Some were fearless and heroic, a credit to their country, some were way out of their depth, yet their judgments often meant the difference between life and death for those Iraqi civilians they encountered.
In Iraq as a whole, a substantial number of civilians (more than the current total for Afghanistan) perished at the hands of the very people who claimed to be their liberators.
Yet it seems few people of importance or influence in the west take the situation anything like seriously enough – certainly not politicians, newspaper editors nor radio or television news producers. Indeed one of the US’s first acts after invading Iraq was to arrange for the interim government they installed to grant immunity from prosecution for American military personnel for atrocities, including:
- families executed in cars when the driver failed to stop quickly enough at checkpoints;
- wedding parties blown up following inaccurate intelligence reports,
- houses, bomb shelters, educational establishments and even hospitals blasted to kingdom come
Civilian casualties are always high in military conflicts (usually higher than those suffered by the armed forces) and NATO‘s record is no worse than that of other armies in this regard. But there must be a line of accountability, especially in a world where those responsible for the killings claim such technical superiority and absolute moral authority.
If we can hold inquiries and apportion blame over the deaths of British service personnel then the least we can do is seek accountability for the killings by NATO forces of those innocent men, women and children unwittingly caught up in wars that the west chose to fight.
Or do their lives count for less?