Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Could a Drone Cop Become Obama's Biggest Nightmare?
He's Ben Emmerson, a 49-year old British lawyer and U.N. special rapporteur for human rights and counter-terrorism in which capacity he's embarking on a 5-month enquiry into drone warfare. That could spell problems for the leaders of the one country active in worldwide drone attacks, the United States.
Accountability, Emmerson tells Danger Room in a Monday phone interview, “is the central purpose of the report.” He’s not shying away from the possibility of digging up evidence of “war crimes,” should the facts point in that direction. But despite the Obama administration’s secrecy about the drone strikes to date, he’s optimistic that the world’s foremost users of lethal drone tech will cooperate with him.
In conversation, Emmerson, who’s served as special rapporteur since 2011, doesn’t sound like a drone opponent or a drone skeptic. He sounds more like a drone realist. “Let’s face it, they’re here to stay,” he says, shortly after pausing to charge his cellphone during a trip to New York to prep for his inquiry. “This technology, as I say, is a reality. It is cheap, both in economic terms and in the risk to the lives of the service personnel who are from the sending state.
“And for that reason there are real concerns that because it is so cheap, it can be used with a degree of frequency that other, more risk-based forms of engagement like fixed-wing manned aircraft or helicopters are not,” Emmerson says. “And the result is there’s a perception of the frequency and intensity with which this technology is used is exponentially different, and as a result, there is necessarily a correspondingly greater risk of civilian casualties.”
Emmerson's enquiry comes none too soon. Nations around the world, especially in current hotspots such as east Asia, are rapidly placing orders for, or even developing their own, armed drones. Some have even speculated on an air-to-air drone war between China and Japan as the opening salvo of a larger war between those countries.
It seems all too easy for the White House to order some young man seated in an air-conditioned trailer on some American air base in the southwest to rain Hellfire missiles into some compound in Pakistan or Yemen or, perhaps soon, Mali on the hunch that some bad guy might be there.