Monday, July 10, 2017

Hidden from the Public: The United Kingdom’s Drone Warfare

The use of armed drones by the United States, both within the conflict zones of Iraq and Syria, and further afield in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, continues to be characterized by minimal public transparency, as the recent report, “Out of the Shadows,” released by Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, makes clear. While a limited amount of information was finally disclosed at the very end of the Obama administration, the legal and policy rules governing the program remain opaque. Detail on individual strikes and casualty figures is lacking, internal CIA decision-making remains highly secretive, and the coverage of accountability procedures in place to respond to unlawful strikes is patchy at best.

The report is a salutary reminder that, despite the wide-ranging armed drone campaign having been in place for well over a decade, and having greatly grown in scope since the rise of ISIL/Daesh, fundamental questions remain as to how strikes are legally justified and how rigorous the U.S. government’s monitoring of these lethal activities really is.

But this lack of transparency regarding the legal and practical considerations underpinning the use of drones is hardly confined to the U.S. The United Kingdom’s participation in drone warfare, both through its own strikes carried out by the U.K.’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and through the U.K.’s involvement in the U.S. program, is also largely hidden from the public.

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