President Obama's killer drone program is about to come under scrutiny from the UN Human Rights Council, announced Ben Emmerson QC, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, during a speech delivered yesterday at Harvard University Law School. Emmerson reported that a dedicated investigative unit will be set up in Geneva to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in so-called "targeted" counter-terrorism operations.
Emmerson's colleague on the Human Rights Council, South African lawyer Christoph Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudical killings, issued a report, last summer, sharply critical of the U.S. drone program, and warned that war crimes may have been committed in the process of carrying it out. At that time, the U.S. representative on the council refused to answer the special rapporteur's concerns about the legality and the secrecy of the program, and, indeed, the Obama Administration's attitude has long been that no one, including the American population, has a right to know anything about it, except what the Administration decides to say about it.
Emmerson particularly blasted the U.S. position behind the campaign, the idea that we can target anyone anywhere in the world whom we deem to be a threat. "The global war paradigm has done immense damage to a previously shared international consensus on the legal framework underlying both international human rights law and international humanitarian law," he said. "It has also given a spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations." Emmerson noted that it has been "alleged that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Christof Heyns has described such attacks, if they prove to have happened, as war crimes. I would endorse that view."
Emmerson delivered his speech just as the Washington Post was publishing a detailed account of the growth of the U.S. base in Djibouti, East Africa, known as Camp Lemonnier. Camp Lemonnier, initially established as a temporary base of operations in 2002, has become the infrastructure of Obama's intended permanent targeted killing campaign in Africa and Southwest Asia. Through contract and other documents published on the web or acquired through public records requests, the Post article describes a very busy base, not only for drone operations, but also for manned reconnaissance and even a squadron of F-15E fighter bombers that were deployed there in October 2011. Two unnamed former defense officials told the Post that the F-15s have been used to fly combat sorties over Yemen, "an undeclared development in the growing war against al-Qaeda forces there." Runways and taxiways are being expanded, and new facilities are being built to accommodate the increased traffic from this burgeoning, largely secret campaign. Lemonnier, in fact, is the centerpiece of a network of at least half-a-dozen bases in Africa, that have been set up to fight growing al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups which, though the Post doesn't say so, have grown as the direct result of the U.S. regime-change policy in Libya and other places.