British mainstrean media downplays Britain’s role in the latest Yemeni killing

Today, the BBC reports that UN Group of Regional and International Eminent Experts on Yemen will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council next month. It says that the experts believe war crimes may have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.

Yemeni government forces, the Saudi-led coalition backing them, and the rebel Houthi movement have made little effort to minimise civilian casualties and there have been attacks on residential areas in which thousands have died. The warring parties are also accused of arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and recruiting children.

But the BBC failed to mention that the Group of Experts’ report notes that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties. The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.

Yemenis dig graves for children in the wake of the latest air strike

Lest we forget, the remote-sounding Saudi-led coalition is supported by UK arms sales (including cluster bombs manufactured in the UK) and technical assistance.  British military personnel are complicit – deployed in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, giving access to lists of targets.

The Saudi-led coalition struck last Wednesday and Thursday. Following the attacks on Wednesday, four families in northwestern Yemen, who had decided to leave their homes to avoid such danger, were in a vehicle when airstrikes hit again.

Though Britain’s mainstream media fully reported the killings of 9th August, a search finds no reference to those on the 24th.

CNN did full justice to this atrocity, recalling also that earlier this month, a Saudi-led airstrike hit a school bus carrying scores of boys in Yemen. The attack killed 51 people, including 40 children, according to the Health Ministry. CNN has established that the bomb used in that attack was a 500-pound (227 kilogram) MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of the top US defence contractors.

CNN adds: “There have been growing calls in the US Congress for Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, to do more to prevent civilian deaths in Yemen, where three years of conflict have taken a terrible toll”.

The latest news: yesterday, Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent, reports that the Pentagon has issued a warning to Saudi Arabia that it is prepared to reduce military and intelligence support for its campaign against rebels in neighbouring Yemen if the Saudis don’t demonstrate they are attempting to limit civilian deaths in airstrikes – adding “It is not clear if President Donald Trump, who views the Saudis as an essential ally, would agree to a reduction of support”.


But, like the proverbial three monkeys, the failing British government hears, sees and speaks no evil.






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For the record: BAE Chair – like Pontius Pilate – failed to clean his hands

A reader draws attention to an article in the latest CAAT magazine, which opens: “Like any company chairperson, the Chair of BAE System, Roger Carr (right), likes to use the AGM as an opportunity to celebrate the year’s achievements.”

Lizzie Dearden (Independent) summarised the dialogue: BAE Systems does not know whether its weapons are used to commit war crimes, the defence firm’s chairman has admitted while – inconsistently – praising its impeccable record on values.

Sir Roger Carr told shareholders gathered at the company’s annual general meeting they were not complicit in war crimes allegedly committed by Saudi Arabia using BAE-made planes and bombs in Yemen.

Asked whether any of its products were used in an airstrike that recently killed at least 20 people at a wedding, including the bride, he replied: “You don’t know and I don’t know.” Statistics on the appalling pain, death and destruction inflicted on Yemeni citizens and their homes may be read on the CAAT site.

Sir Roger later admitted that BAE Systems equipment “may have been used” by Saudi forces in a military intervention to crush anti-government protests in Bahrain in 2011.

Monitors allege that weapons and aircraft manufactured by BAE Systems have been deployed to kill civilians and violate international law in Yemen, but British exports to Saudi Arabia have continued, with the UK licensing more than £4.6bn worth of arms to the country since the bombing started. “We supply equipment government-to-government to enable the job to be done as seen fit,” Sir Roger said in Farnborough on Thursday. We separate ourselves from the war itself… we’re not involved in any part of prosecuting, planning or executing the war.”

UK’s Uriah Heep-like government says its heart ‘goes out’ to relatives of Yemen’s wedding airstrike victims (20 killed, 40 wounded, April 2018), but refuses to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

While being repeatedly questioned about civilian deaths by supporters of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Sir Roger claimed that BAE Systems hoped for peace in Yemen and other countries, adding: “One death of anybody is one death too many.”

But he later refused a request by the Reverend Matthew Harbage – who once turned down a trainee scheme at BAE Systems after graduating in computer science – for a minute’s silence to commemorate the people killed and injured by his company’s products, then had a protester who accused the firm of being “complicit in the murder of innocents every day” carried out by security guards.

Sir Roger defended Saudi Arabia’s intervention against Houthi rebels in Yemen by claiming the coalition bombing campaign was supported by the UN Security Council, although the body has never explicitly backed military intervention and has issued several warnings over violations of international law. He argued that Saudi Arabia needed to protect itself from Houthi missile attacks, adding that Yemen “may breed difficulty as all wars do but the greater difficulty is to let the infection spread and do nothing about it”.

Sir Roger (left) insisted that BAE Systems staff do not load weapons on to planes themselves but are involved in service, maintenance and training. “It is only at that level we draw the line, the use of that equipment is for others,” he added.

“We are not an aggressive company. We don’t conduct wars, we manufacture equipment in order to ensure that those who protect and serve us are equipped appropriately and hope that having given that equipment it will avoid others being aggressors.”

Matthew Harbage said BAE Systems could not “abdicate all responsibility” and Andrew Smith, who attended the AGM with other members of CAAT, said BAE Systems’ weapons made it an “active participant” in any atrocities committed in the conflicts where they are used:

“BAE’s arms have played a central role in the bombardment of Yemen, Carr and his colleagues cannot simply abdicate themselves of responsibility for the destruction that has been caused. If BAE is actually interested in stopping the terrible consequences of war, then the least it could do is put procedures in place to monitor the use of its weapons and ensure that they aren’t being used against civilian targets”.

He added: “The reason that BAE doesn’t know if its weapons were used in the bombing of the wedding in Yemen is because it doesn’t want to know. Its entire business model is based on perpetual war. To ask questions or to take any kind of moral stance would be to jeopardise its position as a major arms exporter.”


BAE is supplying Saudi Arabia with aircraft that are bombing Yemen. Many will agree with the understated comment: ”We at CAAT don’t think that is much if an achievement”.

In May, two Court of Appeal judges, Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Flaux, granted permission for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to appeal against a High Court judgment which allows the UK Government to continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.





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The Ministry of Defence 1: MPs fear Britain is violating national and international law?

Lizzie Dearden reported (17th July) that a two-year probe by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones, chaired by Professor Michael Clarke, the former director-general of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), revealed:

• that the number of operations facilitated by the UK in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia has been growing without any public scrutiny
• growing evidence that Britain is taking on military commitments to assist allies without parliament’s authorisation
• and concluded that the current government does not consider parliamentary approval necessary when providing assistance to allies.

Their report said the inquiry has found that the support provided by the UK constitutes the provision of material assistance to a state that appears to be violating international law.

Because the use of force outside conflicts in which Britain is directly involved is not protected by combatant immunity, British servicemen and women could be prosecuted for killing civilians in drone strikes and risk becoming complicit in alleged war crimes committed by the US. The link to the report, ‘The UK’s use of Armed Drones: Working with Partners’ can be found on this page.

The British government’s claims of responsibility for only one civilian death were called “ridiculous” by Professor Clarke. He added: “They don’t look for evidence and they don’t try to look for evidence.”




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The Ministry of Defence 2: Watchkeeper drone – delays, escalating costs and test flight crashes

The BBC reported on 20th July that the MoD’s Watchkeeper programme, which aims to provide the Army with a surveillance drone, designed to provide “vital intelligence gathering and surveillance for the British Army”, has faced a series of major setbacks and delays.

As part of an £847m deal, contracts were awarded in 2005 to buy 54 UAVs to be in service by 2010, but many have remained in storage and there is a shortage of flight crews.

At least four Watchkeeper army drones  being tested in Cardigan Bay have been damaged beyond repair, with each one costing almost £6m each. The MoD said it is “too early” to say whether a fifth drone, which crashed near a school in Ceredigion last month, is salvageable. If all five are beyond repair, it brings total losses to almost £30m. Four of the drones have crashed in Aberporth so far, either on land or in the sea.

One of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was badly damaged and broken into pieces when it crashed in a field near Penparc School on 13 June.

Ceredigion MP Ben Lake has called for the Watchkeeper’s flight path to be diverted away from the school. “There have been significant concerns,” he said. “A lot of people have raised them with me, a lot of parents in particular. “They are concerned because they are aware of a number of accidents now with these drones and are asking how safe are they, if they’re flying close to the school.”

Meanwhile costs escalate: Watchkeeper is now expected to cost at least £1.1bn, against an initial estimate of £800m.





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Harry Patch: ‘organised murder’ – civilian slaughter by our special friend, with our help

June 1st

The Pentagon has told Congress it estimates that nearly 500 civilians were killed as a result of US military actions in the first year of the Trump administration. According to CNN: “(The Department of Defense) assesses that there are credible reports of approximately 499 civilians killed and approximately 169 civilians injured during 2017” as a result of military operations in Iraq and Syria targeting ISIS, operations in Afghanistan targeting the Taliban and ISIS, and operations in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS.

20th June

According to interviews and an analysis of open-source data by The Intercept, the US has conducted approximately 550 drone strikes in Libya since 2011, more than in Somalia, Yemen, or Pakistan. During a four-month span in 2016, there were approximately 300 drone strikes in Libya, according to U.S. officials. That’s seven times more than the 42 confirmed U.S. drone attacks in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan in 2016, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Libyan attacks have continued under the Trump administration, with the latest U.S. drone strike occurring last week about 50 miles southeast of the town of Bani Walid.

30th June

NatoWatch reports that, though during the air war in July 2011, then NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that the alliance had “no confirmed information” about possible civilian casualties as a result of its bombing, Libyan officials claimed that the alliance’s airstrikes killed more than 1,100 people’  These claims were regularly discredited in the Western media as propaganda, but NATO’s claim of a civilian casualty-free campaign was contradicted by a number of credible media reports of NATO attacks that killed or injured civilians

In Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), from 2006 until it ceased combat operations and was disbanded in December 2014, had become increasingly involved in more intensive combat operations and gradually relied on airpower in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The result was large numbers of civilian casualties and intense criticism of US and NATO forces by Afghan political leaders and the general public. Since 2015, the air campaign against the Taliban and other extremist groups has been continued by US and Afghan forces.

Changes to US rules of engagement in Afghanistan have made it easier for US forces to carry out airstrikes against the Taliban, with a resulting spike in civilian casualties.

Business Insider records that during the Trump administration an unprecedented 20,650 bombs have been dropped on seven countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria) and there has been a large increase in the numbers of civilians being killed.

NatoWatch finds it disappointing that a ‘values-based alliance’ doesn’t appear to take its responsibility for potential civilian casualties from air power more seriously: “As a blueprint for allied nations as they build and deploy air and space capabilities, the joint strategy document ought to have emphasised the requirement under international law to thoroughly investigate any killing of civilians and it should have committed the alliance to introducing a casualty recording mechanism that is open, transparent and available to public scrutiny”.

Absolutists will agree with the late Harry Patch:





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Running amok? Donald Trump facilitates civilian drone deaths & continues attacks in seven countries ‘and elsewhere’

The NGO CAGE, which campaigns against discriminatory state policies and advocates observance of due process and the rule of law, reminds readers that in October 2017, US President Donald Trump replaced the Obama rules pertaining to drone strikes with his own ‘rules’ called the “Principles, Standards, and Procedures,” or PSPs.

It reports that according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) these laws “make it easier to kill more people in more places outside recognized battlefields, posing grave risks of death and injury to civilians”:

“They do this by eliminating the requirement that a person must present a “continuing, imminent” threat to the United States before being targeted for killing. There is also no longer a high-level vetting process required for each individual strike. This means strikes can be okayed by other officials of lower rank. This means there are fewer lines of command to follow in the event of deaths, less chance of objectivity, and less likelihood of accountability”.

The current US administration has adopted a more secretive approach to drone strikes

It has denied requests for information or, as in October 2017, halted the reporting of strikes to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism and other NGOs that document drone casualties. Last month, the US Air Force, according to the Bureau, “ordered an overhaul of its public affairs operations aimed at preventing the release of information deemed sensitive”. This is all being done, naturally, for the sake of “practicing sound operational security”.

Case histories

In August last year, a US drone strike near the Somalian town of Jilib killed seven civilians. They were all from the same family and they included women and children. The family was not a prominent (read ‘wealthy’) one, so they had no recourse to justice.

Initially it made local newspapers and pictures of the human remains were circulated on Somali media. Now this information is unavailable.

A local online news report acknowledges the civilian deaths but does not mention the cause as an American drone strike. Rather the ‘planes’ were ‘unidentified’. CENTCOM, the central point for US ‘operations’ in Africa, released a PR, claiming – in contrast to the local media reports – that those killed were al-Shabaab militants. Local officials echoed their paymasters with slightly less severity and insisted those killed were ‘extremists’.

In the same month Reuters reported that Somali government officials said 10 men and boys killed in a joint U.S.-Somali raid were civilians and blood money will be paid to the families. U.S. Africa Command confirmed the presence of U.S. troops in the raid, carried out under the expanded powers that Donald Trump granted to U.S. troops in Somalia in March.  “The 10 people were civilians. They were killed accidentally… The government and relatives will discuss about compensation. We send condolence to the families,” said lawmaker Mohamed Ahmed Abtidon at a public funeral held for the 10, who were killed in a raid in Bariire village on Friday.

Hina Shamsi(right), Director of the ACLU National Security Project, writes: “Now, the Trump administration is killing people in multiple countries, with strikes taking place at a virtually unprecedented rate—in some countries the number has doubled or tripled in Trump’s first year in office.

The U.S. is conducting strikes in recognized wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, but also in operations governed by the secret rules whose public release our new lawsuit demands — those conducted outside “areas of active hostilities” in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Untold, officially unrecognized numbers of civilians have died and continue to die at increasing rates. Most strikes take place in majority-Muslim countries, and most of the civilians killed are brown or Black.”

In such areas, people live in poverty, hunger and a state of perpetual terror wrought by a US-led ‘war’. CAGE observes, “as a result, for some, the lure of fighting back through violent groups (‘blowback’)will be too strong to resist”.

The Washington Post agrees: “Human rights organizations and even some former U.S. military commanders argue that drone strikes inadvertently increase terrorism by exerting a “blowback” effect. Their logic is simple. Drone strikes kill more innocent civilians than terrorists, which radicalizes affected populations and motivates them to join terrorist groups to retaliate against the United States”. CAGE also believes that: “Until we have a global acknowledgement at government level that all lives are equal and precious, and all countries have the right to govern themselves in a manner they see most fit for their people, we – the population of the world – will continue to witness ongoing and increasing cycles of violence”.

CAGE calls for an end to extrajudicial killings by drone or otherwise, in favour of a dialogue-based approach to end violence and full accountability for war crimes for all perpetrators of civilian deaths and terror, adding:

“The people of Somalia and other countries around the world deserve nothing less”.





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Government’s covert military commitments are damaging public trust

Mark Shapiro, a reader living in California, draws attention to the work of Emily Knowles, leading the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme.

She reflects that one of the major warnings from the Iraq Inquiry was that public trust in politics had been damaged through misrepresentation of facts by the government.

Yet RWP’s research suggests that there is a rising trend of secretive military commitments in areas where the UK is not considered to be at war.

A precedent has been set for the use of armed drones to carry out targeted strikes in regions where parliament has not authorised military engagement.

Read on here.






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