The threshold for killing someone is lower when you do not have to see those you kill. New leaks reveal the brutality of the US drone programme.

Aslak Storaker
Aslak Storaker editor of the independent website Economic Socialist future. He works as a librarian and has a bachelor's degree in history.

dronesMilitary drones – unmanned aerial vehicles – are increasingly the US’ weapon of choice in the fight against suspected Al Qaida-members. In April 2015, Motherboard Radio published the documentary Dawn of the Killer Robots, which featured an interview with the Pakistani boy Zubair Rehman. He was injured in an American drone attack, and this is his description of the events: «All of a sudden I saw a drone, and heard a noise: ‘Dam dam.’ Then I saw two rockets coming towards us. They hit the ground right in front of us, just where my grandmother was standing. Later I was told that the rocket ripped her to shreds. » Rehman also describes the practise, which we now know, of despatching another rocket attack immediately after the first one – presumably to kill anyone who rush to help the wounded. «I ran as fast as I could to get away from there, » he explains. «Then I heard the second strike: ‘Dam, dam.’ Nine children were injured in that second attack, and some were martyred. » His little sister Nabila explains that she is too scared to leave home now, or to go to school. She is scared of US drone attacks. Simultaneously, the American drone warfare practice is starting to come to light.

Offences. Mid-October, online magazine The Intercept launched a series of reports on the American use of drone attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. The series raise a number of vital moral questions, also for the Norwegian military industry and military power. The background material for the series are secret documents The Intercept were sent by a whistle blower with intimate knowledge of the Obama-administration’s military drone program. The magazine journalist Jeremy Scahill highlights the historic news that the US army has started to kill suspected opponents outside of hostilities. Ever since Gerald Ford was President, the US army has followed a standing order of not committing extrajudicial enemy executions. Obama has avoided the issue by redefining drone attacks with a new agreement entitled «targeted liquidations».

Norwegian industry is heavily involved in US drones.

Officially, these liquidations are only supposed to involve members of Al Qaida and their collaborators in a bid to escape imminent attacks on the USA. However, Scahill shows that US servicemen have stated that they need to use a « more flexible» interpretation of the term «imminent» (John Brennan), and that it would involve «an unacceptable risk for US citizens» to delay the elimination of members of terror groups until there is information on any concrete plans of attack (Eric Holder).  The documents also show that many of those on the death lists, do not belong to international terror networks, but are fighters belonging to local Afghan groups which were formed after the US occupation.

Concealing civilian killings. Another illegal practice linked to these executions, is that the number of civilian killings is revised downwards by classing unidentified murder victims as enemies – despite not being on any suspected terrorist lists. The Intercept refers to documents showing that out of the 155 killed in drone attacks on North Afghanistan between 1st May and 15th September 2012, only 19 were classed as «jackpot», meaning people that the Americans had planned to kill. The other 136 were registered as «enemies killed during hostilities». The publication quotes the investigation’s anonymous whistle-blower, who states: «If there is no evidence that the killed was not a man in the correct age group for warfare, or evidence that the killed was not an illegally hostile fighter, no questions are asked. They are categorised as enemies killed during hostilities. » The Intercept reproduces an interview with scientist Larry Lewis, who has studied the effects of the US’ warfare in Afghanistan. Lewis’ studies show that drone attacks are ten times more likely to kill innocent civilians than manned airplanes. The publication also highlights a particular event in September 2012, whereby 12 civilian Yemeni were killed in a US drone attack, including three children and a pregnant woman. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 3,719 and 5,221 people have been killed by US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia since 2002. Their lowest estimate is that 514 of these were civilians, and at least 183 were children.

Norwegian intelligence. The Intercept are also able to document that the most important way to identify a victim prior to that person being killed by drones, is to track the suspect’s mobile phone SIM-card. In an article in Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende (BT) on the 19th October, writer Frode Bjerkestrand takes hold of this, and poses the question whether Norwegian intelligence gathering of Afghanistan mobile data could have been used by the US to identify who to liquidate. Bjerkestrand indicates that, in November 2013, it was revealed that Norwegian intelligence collected data – and telephone traffic information during its ISAF-task in Afghanistan, which during a given month alone contained metadata originating from 33 million telephone conversations. This information was shared with the US. In BT, we read that Bjerkestrand asked this question to the Norwegian Intelligence Service, but received no reply in time for publishing. Modern Times asked Bjerkestrand to forward the answer he, in the end, received from the Intelligence Service. The reply confirms that the data gathered could have been used in US drone attacks. The Intelligence Service response was: The Intelligence Service contributed to a NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, and has shared the intelligence with the participating nations within the ISAF-collaboration. Intelligence produced by Norwegian units may therefore have formed part of operations which are carried out within the framework of war law and applicable rules of engagement. Such operations may have included the use of weapon-carrying drones. »

Further Norwegian contributions. In April 2014, the Norwegian Peace Association published an overview of the contributions made by the Norwegian weapons industry to the US drone production. Norwegian industry is heavily involved in American drones: The Chemring Nobel factory at Hurum produces, and exports the fuel for the Hellfire-rocket, which is the most frequently used rocket in the current drone wars. Asker’s Prox International has developed a surveillance drone, which they in 2011 agreed to export to the United Kingdom at the value of 200 million dollars. These drones have been used in the war in Afghanistan since 2012. In May 2012, Kongsberg Defence Systems signed a 210 million kroner-contract to deliver the software for NATO’s Global Hawk drones, and through their Svalbard-subsidiary, Svalsat, they supply satellite signals which help navigate US drones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Toten-company Nammo owns a factory in the USA which assist in the development and production of the drone rocket Small Tactical Munition. Kongsberg-based Simicon has also produced its own surveillance drone for export, whilst Sensonor in Horten manufactures gyro components for drones, Eidsvold’s Eidel produces software which can be used in the communication between drone rockets and the transmission central. It leaves an extra bitter taste in the mouth reading about US drone attacks on a Pakistani grandmother or Yemeni child, knowing that it is highly likely that the rocket or drone which killed them, contained a little piece of Norway.

Storaker is a member of Rødt’s International Committee, and a regular contributor to Modern Times. aslakstoraker@yahoo.no.


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