Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith on the ‘Drone Age’

Ahead of the world premiere of Drones, Baby, Drones, Clive Stafford Smith (director of human rights organisation Reprieve) speaks about the use of drones in modern warfare.

I am Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and I’ve been talking about Drones for days – (with a laugh in his voice) I’m claiming that I coined the phrase the Drone Age, like the Stone Age.

We know [that there are regular Tuesday targeting meetings at the White House] as a matter a fact;  as they said it and they boasted about it. They said how it happened, the President of the US sits there, and they have a power point display where he is shown the pictures of who they might want to kill this week and he, much like Nero, he does a yea and nay with his thumb.

It is certainly true that the CIA has its own Drone programme, [the Pentagon and the CIA] both operate on the border between Afghanistan and Waziristan. According to what they’ve released, the military which is supposedly more open, not very open but more open, has a code of conduct which is fairly specific.  The CIA has no such oversight whatsoever, has no code of conduct, and President Obama waived the rules for the CIA so if you are doing something that is totally illegal, as opposed to just pretty illegal, than the rules are much looser, and you can do worse things.

In terms of criminal law [the U.S.] has a line of defence : they are the ones who prosecute themselves; so as long as they have established the rules that they can’t be prosecuted – they are okay.  So the US has not signed on [to] the International Criminal Court  so we cannot prosecute them there, and the Attorney General who has signed off on this whole process in the first place, that all this is legal, is not going to prosecute people for what they did in America – so there is simply no way that these people are likely to get prosecuted there.

The Drones programme is utterly counter-productive; so for an example according to recent figures we have, for every HVT – high value target- they target they never get them first time. There is one chap they have targeted 17 times -you know a cat has nine lives, this guy has 17. On average they kill 9 innocent children for each person they target – now I have got  an eight year old – so you can imagine what that does to these communities, to kill all these children. There was this intelligence officer who said, in 2004, that for every Guantanamo prisoner we have provoked 10 people to want to kill us. It is way more than that in the context of Drones, for every 1 we have killed we have provoked a whole community.  

We studied one particular group of people, for the whole figure of those they were targeting, it was 1437 people they had killed in an effort to target 47 people, and among those there were scores and scores of kids – that was in 2014 – that study was primarily in Wazaristan.

[In terms of compensation] if you are in Afghanistan, a real war zone, then there is a methodology, then they have a way that they calculate it. My favourite example from that is that if you are a cow in Afghanistan and you get killed you get 300 dollars – if you are a human being in Pakistan you get nothing.

What we are talking about is the unrecognised problems about how Drones reduce the threshold at which we are willing to go to war.

So it is one thing to send troops in where an American or British person might come home in a body bag, I don’t want that, but that makes you pause before you do it, it is another thing to send in an F16, [a pilot like] Gary Powers might get captured, then it is a huge international incident, but when you are talking only about a drone you can sit in Creech air force base in Nevada, and play your video games with your cup coffee and do things the other side of the world with absolutely zero possibility that any Americans are going to get hurt. I don’t want Americans to get hurt, but at the same time that means that people say “Drones baby Drones” when they are asked about [the future of] warfare.

The British do have a kill list – they have announced they have a kill list. Theirs’ is bizarrely very very different in concept to the Americans. The British kill list is almost uniquely focused on British nationals which is odd – the Americans are very leery about killing Americans, because they have constitutional rights – the British are only  killing British people. the British are focused exclusively on propagandists [ like Mohammed Emwazi – Jihadi John]. If you look at the British list it is focused entirely on your column inches in a tabloid newspaper, and it is relatively small and they follow a process where they sanction you at the UN first. What the British have done with the next 4 targets they have – is they have listed them  in the UN sanctioned  target list and you know these are the people that they are now targeting to kill.

GCHQ is intimately involved all around the world with the Americans. So we are not pushing the button of the hellfire missile all the time but we are part of the Mafia of killing people in all sorts of places – the Brits are up to their necks in all of this.

Drones, Baby, Drones plays from 2-26 November, in a production directed by Nicolas Kent and Mehmet Ergen. Tickets start at just £10. Read more & book now »