Jim Lobe On Drone Legality

(IPS) – While welcoming an initial effort by the administration of President Barack Obama to offer a legal justification for drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists overseas, human rights groups say critical questions remain unanswered.

In an address to an international law group last week, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh insisted that such operations were being conducted in full compliance with international law.

“The U.S. is in armed conflict with al Qaeda as well as the Taliban and associated forces in response to the horrific acts of 9/11 and may use force consistent with its right to self-defence under international law,” he said. “…(I)ndividuals who are part of such armed groups are belligerents and, therefore, lawful targets under international law.”

Moreover, he went on, “U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war,” which require limiting attacks to military objectives and that the damage caused to civilians by those attacks would not be excessive.

While right-wing commentators expressed satisfaction with Koh’s evocation of the “right to self-defence” – the same justification used by President George W. Bush – human rights groups were circumspect.

“We are encouraged that the administration has taken the legal surrounding drone strikes seriously,” said Jonathan Manes of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “While this was an important and positive first step, a number of controversial questions were left unanswered.”

“We still don’t know what criteria the government uses to determine that a civilian is acting like a fighter, and can therefore be killed, and… whether there are any geographical limits on where drone strikes can be used to target and kill individuals,” he told IPS.

“He didn’t really say anything that we took issue with,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), who also complained about the lack of details.

“But it still leaves unanswered the question of how far the war paradigm he’s talking about extends. Will it extend beyond, say, ungoverned areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen? Because you don’t want to leave a legal theory out there that could be exploited by a country like Russia or China to knock off its political enemies on the streets of a foreign city,” he added.

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Hmmm….while we have concerns about the Death Star we are pleased with Governor Obama’s efforts (so much more charming than that awful Governor Dubya Tarkin) to address the difficult legal issues regarding his blowing up planets program… Interestingly Amnesty International, the only non US founded organisation, is the most critical, it’s a heady brew that imperialism-

Tom Parker of Amnesty International was more scathing about Koh’s position, suggesting that it was one more concession – along with indefinite detention and special military tribunals for suspected terrorists – to the framework created by Bush’s “global war on terror”.

“The big issue is where the war is and whether it’s a war, and we couldn’t disagree more strongly as to the tenor of Koh’s comments,” he said. “It goes back to the idea of an unbounded global war on terror where terror is hardly defined at all.”

Obama Kills 140 Civilians For Every Alleged Al Qaeda Target

Bush killed 49 per target, comes to something when that becomes the good old days…

PESHAWAR: Of the 44 predator strikes carried out by US drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan over the past 12 months, only five were able to hit their actual targets, killing five key Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but at the cost of over 700 innocent civilians.

Over 700 killed in 44 drone strikes in 2009

According to the statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities, the Afghanistan-based US drones killed 708 people in 44 predator attacks targeting the tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009.

For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die.

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Testing & Spying, New Drone In Afghanistan

Always heartwarming to see how war is used as a laboratory for testing and deploying new technology of domination, plus note the spying issue, the enemy in Afghanistan do not possess good -if any- radar, so what are stealth drones for if not to test and spy on other bordering nations.

The US Air Force on Tuesday confirmed for the first time that it is flying a stealth unmanned aircraft known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” a drone spotted in photos and shrouded in secrecy.

The RQ-170 Sentinel is being developed by Lockheed Martin and is designed “to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces,” the air force said in a brief statement.

The “RQ” prefix for the aircraft indicates an unarmed drone, unlike the “MQ” designation used for Predator and Reaper aircraft equipped with missiles and precision-guided bombs.

Aviation experts dubbed the drone the “Beast of Kandahar” after photographs emerged earlier this year showing the mysterious aircraft in southern Afghanistan in 2007.

The image suggested a drone with a radar-evading stealth-like design, resembling a smaller version of a B-2 bomber.

The air force said the aircraft came out of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works,” also known as Advanced Development Programs, in California — the home of sophisticated and often secret defense projects including the U-2 spy plane, the F-22 fighter jet and the F-117 Nighthawk.

The photo of the drone in Afghanistan has raised questions about why the United States would be operating a stealth unmanned aircraft in a country where insurgents have no radar systems, prompting speculation Washington was using the drones for possible spying missions in neighboring Iran or Pakistan.

The United States has carried out an extensive bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using the Predator and larger Reaper drones.

The RQ-170 is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, home of the F-117 stealth fighter when the program’s existence was secret — and falls under Air Combat Command’s 432d Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. At Kandahar, the Sentinel was seen operating out of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ hangar. The RQ-170 designation is similar to that of the F-117 — a correct prefix, but out of sequence to avoid obvious guesses of a program’s existence. Technically, the RQ designation denotes an unarmed aircraft rather than the MQ prefix applied to the armed Predator and Reaper UAVs. The USAF phrase, “Support to forward deployed combat forces,” when combined with observed details, suggest a moderate degree of stealth (including a blunt leading edge, simple nozzle and overwing sensor pods) and that the Sentinel is a tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design.