Steps toward increased transparency

Yesterday the APPG’s researcher attended the launch of a new project from the Every Casualty Counts campaign and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism at Somerset House.  The Naming the Dead project seeks to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.  To date, more than 2500 have been killed yet relatively little is known about the identities and lives of these individuals.  Hamit Dardagan, co-director of the Every Casualty campaign was quoted as saying. ‘Casualty recording is a way of recognising the humanity of people who have been killed, and making not just their death but also the manner of their death part of the public record – which is important if one is to prevent these kinds of deaths happening again.’

The launch, which included a short film and an interesting panel presentation, noted the names of over 550 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan.  Of these, 295 were civilians, including 95 children and two women, and 255 were alleged militants. Subsequent questions and discussion included a consideration of the methodology used to collect the data, the challenges facing local journalists in Pakistan and the politicisation of terms such as combatant.  It was also noted that much more was known about the victims of the covert drone war in Pakistan, undertaken by the CIA, than the victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan, which is part of an established military campaign.

The launch of this campaign is timely.  The lack of transparency about drone strikes has been long highlighted by the APPG, most recently in a submission to the Defence Select Committee’s inquiry into Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use.  The APPG’s researcher also attended this week, as an observer, a two day Information Tribunal hearing, brought by Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK to the refusal by the Ministry of Defence to disclose the province and month of UK drone strikes and by year, how many weapons were released from UK Reapers under daily tasking orders, in other words on a pre-planned basis, and how many were released under dynamic tasking procedures, i.e. while in flight.  A review of the first day’s hearing can be found here and the second day’s hearing, here.  While it was disappointing that much of the MoD’s evidence and argument was heard in closed hearings, the witness statement provided by an RAF Squadron Leader provides some useful information on the MoD’s approach to this issue.  The ruling is expected in a fortnight.

On Monday, a Yemini human rights activist was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act at Gatwick airport.  A Reprieve employee and a member of Yemen’s National Dialogue, he had come to the UK at the invitation of Chatham House for an event on Yemen.  The following day, the United States refused a visa for a Pakistani lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, who was responsible for bringing a key case to the Peshawar High Court on drones, to attend a Congressional Hearing on drones.

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