Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?
“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is—practically if not legally—feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”
Today (Aug. 21), Quartz reports that in a second open letter a group of specialists from 26 nations, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, as well as other leaders in robotics and artificial-intelligence companies, called for the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.
In recent years Musk has repeatedly warned against the dangers of AI, donating millions to fund research that ensures artificial intelligence will be used for good, not evil. He joined other tech luminaries in establishing OpenAI, a nonprofit with the same goal in mind and part of his donation went to create the Future of Life Institute.
“As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations . . .
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
The first meeting for the UN’s recently established Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems is now planned for November. It was to be held today, but was cancelled, the letter notes, “due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN.”
Critics have argued for years that UN action on autonomous weapons is taking too long.
The UK and the US have increased investment on robotic and autonomous systems by committing to a joint programme (announced by UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne and US Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, right).
Observers say the UK and US are seeking to protect their heavy investment in these technologies – some directly harmful and others servicing military operations – by ‘watering down’ an agreement so that it only includes emerging technology, meaning that any weapons put into practice while discussions continue are beyond the reach of a ban.
British politicians: stop shouting adjectives, banging drums and dropping bombs (Jenkins) and exert unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement (Corbyn)
“It is a war crime to disable, maim or poison a victim by chemical or biological means, yet it is permissible to blow them to bits. Dropping chlorine evokes howls of horror. Dropping bunker busters does not. Cluster munitions, the most horrible of delayed action weapons, remain in the arsenals of NATO armies”.
Paul (left) wrote: “Fair enough, and of course I agree that the war mongering these last two days, particularly by the BBC, is shocking indeed. But to equate CW with other munitions is to miss the point that they are expressly illegal, and we have to be building up stronger humanitarian law piece by piece and defending strongly those pieces already in place”.
The editor replied: “Yes, I think Jenkins could have made a valid point just by referring to conventional bombs”. After checking on the illegality of cluster bombs she asked Paul, “Did US ever sign this?”
He replied, “No, I don’t think the US is a signatory. It certainly hasn’t ratified” and continued:
“I was on Russia Today yesterday saying that the best response for the Russians now would be to strengthen their call for a UN Security Council meeting and present all the evidence they have that the chemical weapons attack was not a Syrian air force one … or to come up with further evidence for their current explanation.
“The worst aspect of the cruise missile attack was the way it by-passed the UN Security Council and was illegal and is a major step in the direction of unilateralism and flagrant use of force.
“There are plenty of conspiracy theories going around, but the consequences are that Russia will no longer tolerate US aircraft over Syria and will strengthen the S300-400 systems that appear to have shot a majority of the 59 cruise missiles out of the sky.
“… and I see that Russia is sending its own missile destroyer into the Med today”.
Will parliament stand firm again?
*The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) works to address security challenges by building confidence in a shared, sustainable security agenda. We work in both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, with a specific expert focus on the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East.
Post truth: ‘for the birds’ ?
With thanks to Tom Rigby (above) – known for his effective advocacy on behalf of farmers poisoned by use of government-required organophosphate sheep dips (latest reference) – who often offers worthwhile Twitter feeds. Today one led to a rare challenge to the widespread acceptance of assertions that we live in a “post-truth” world.
He links to an article by Robert Fisk (‘always worth reading’) who bluntly asserts: “We do not live in a “post-truth” world, neither in the Middle East nor in the West – nor in Russia, for that matter. We live in a world of lies. And we always have lived in a world of lies”.
Rune Møller Stahl’s PhD fellow at University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science and Bue Rübner Hansen is a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark explore the subject in Jacobin: a voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics and culture.
Stahl and Hansen use the term ‘liberals’ in a way that needs further definition.
Far removed from the admirable political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality, an online search (including Wiki) offers the explanation that Liberal writers start from the belief that economic liberalism’s values — the right to private property, the valorization of self-interest, and formal freedom without material equality — best describe human nature.
To explain what happened in the United Kingdom and the United States this year these writers all agree that voters and politicians increasingly deny facts, manipulate the truth, and prefer emotion to expertise .They ask how voters could defy the warnings of so many pundits, wonks, and fact-checkers?
Almost unanimously, they answered that we live in an age characterized by post-factual politics and noted that, pushed by major media organizations like Forbes and the New York Times, “post-truth” recently became Oxford Dictionaries’ new word of the year.
Stahl and Hansen sardonically observe that the liberal media don’t seem to know how we entered this post-fact world or when the factual age, which must have preceded it, ended, asking “Was it in the 2000s, when the whole world debated imaginary weapons of mass destruction before being conned into war?”
Historical points made in Jacobin:
- In the 1990s centrist technocrats like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair ‘pioneered . . . a false progressivism that was premised on profitability and stopped short of any proposal the political center might object to, no matter how just’.
- The right-wing fringe led by Fox News, conspiracy theorists, and televangelists remained marginal until 9/11/01 threw the United States — liberal and conservative alike — into a patriotic mass hysteria that culminated in two poorly planned wars.
- But historical events started calling liberal truths into question. The 2008 financial crash revealed the failure of liberal economics. Occupy and Black Lives Matter threw light on structural problems that triangulation and managerialism not only can’t address but refuse to.
In sum, they end that it’s time to stop blaming (the current version of) fake news and realize why so many believe it: the simple reason is that the mainstream of the political class have squandered people’s trust, by not having their best interests at heart. Stahl and Hansen believe that only a democratic revival will challenge authoritarianism and liberal managerialism and combat the regressives who now run their country – and ours.
Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen in March. The Obama administration is supporting the Saudi-led air war with intelligence, air refueling operations and expediting weapons deliveries and other crucial support.
Today a Moseley reader draws our attention to the news reported by the Guardian that – eager to follow suit – David Cameron has extolled the ‘defence’ products made by BAE Systems and assured the company that every effort would be made by the UK government to support the selling of their equipment to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries.
According to a BBC report, Houthis – aka Shiite Muslim rebels – are seeking change from weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, unemployment, high food prices, limited social services and large-scale displacement.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.
Death and destruction: the fruits of Saudi, UK, USA labour