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UN calls on US to reveal drone program -

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UN calls on US to reveal drone program

Shane McLeod reported this story on Friday, October 30, 2009 12:25:00

SHANE MCLEOD: In Pakistan they're being nicknamed "wasps" - unmanned drones increasingly being used
by the United States in its ongoing campaign against terrorist and insurgent groups in South Asia.

The drones armed with missiles are being used to kill individual terrorists but there's growing
evidence that the drones are killing more people than just their intended targets.

Australian lawyer Philip Alston is calling on the US to explain the legal basis for its use of the
drones. He's the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

Philip Alston warns that increasing use of the drones without explanation will undermine US efforts
to control terrorism and international military law.

PHILIP ALSTON: This year so far in Pakistan we've seen at least one a week being used and the
indications are that they'll be used much more frequently.

The difficulty is that a missile like this is obviously able to kill a significant number of
people. It therefore looks very much like what used to be called a targeted assassination.

It's legal if it is done in conformity with the rules of the law of armed conflict but that imposes
a burden on the US to make every effort to very clearly identify a target who is a combatant or at
least a civilian who is actually taking part in the hostilities and then to take a range of
measures to make sure that innocent civilians are not killed in, by way of collateral damage.

SHANE MCLEOD: So to be clear, your concern would be if these are being used outside of the
military, by the CIA, without the controls that would go with them being used in a military
conflict.

PHILIP ALSTON: Yes. That's it essentially.

SHANE MCLEOD: The US has said it has a framework to deal with these legal concerns. Isn't that
enough given that it does seem to be being used as part of a covert program?

PHILIP ALSTON: The problem with that is that if we took it seriously we would simply give a free
pass to any covert program.

That means that when Russia, China, any other country you like comes back and says: Yes, our
intelligence agency is operating this big program to kill people but you can rest assured, don't
worry my friend, this is all being done in accordance with international law.

We would probably scoff and say: We don't believe it for a minute and unless you gave us some
details it's just not credible.

Now I'm afraid the same sort of rule has to apply to the US. People in Pakistan who certainly
perceive according to local press reports that these missiles are killing large numbers of
civilians are not going to be reassured by bland statements that international law is being
complied with.

It's going to be necessary for the US to take some good faith measures to try to open up parts of
the program. I'm a realist. I know that you don't expect the CIA to suddenly come clean and give
full public accounting.

But it's also quite inappropriate for the US to give the running of a very major program like this
which is killing significant numbers of people to the CIA and still try to maintain its record of,
almost unblemished record of no accountability.

SHANE MCLEOD: How would you go about it then? What level of detail do you think needs to be
provided to justify a program like this?

PHILIP ALSTON: It depends very much initially on the US domestic political system. A starting point
by American standards would be for the CIA to have to account in considerable detail to the
Intelligence Committee of the Senate, for example, or the Joint Intelligence Committee.

But there'd also have to be more in order to reassure the international community that there really
are some sort of checks and balances on this program.

SHANE MCLEOD: That's the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions,
Philip Alston.