In November we recorded news of Living under drones, a study published in September by Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law. Nine months of research found that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed far more people than the United States has acknowledged.
MPs on the Commons Defence Select Committee are to investigate the sharing of intelligence and deployment of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Afghanistan as part of a two-year inquiry into the military’s use of lethal force.
In October The Guardian reported that the United Nations is to set up a dedicated investigations unit in Geneva early next year to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in so-called “targeted” counter-terrorism operations.
Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, in a speech to Harvard law school announced: “Together with my colleague Christof Heyns, [the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings], I will be launching an investigation unit within the special procedures of the [UN] Human Rights Council to inquire into individual drone attacks.” He warned that some US drone strikes in Pakistan may amount to war crimes:
“[It is] alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns … has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view.”
Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, earlier agreed that drone pilots could – in theory – be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur, because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense:
“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause . . . But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”