Secret CIA drone base revealed in Saudia Arabia

Unmanned drones and secret bases – the future of warfare looks increasingly murky

Secret CIA drone base revealed in Saudia Arabia

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been running a secret base for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past 2 years, the New York Times revealed at the start of this month.

The base has been used by the Obama administration to conduct a campaign of assassination strikes into neighboring Yemen, a hotbed of Islamic terrorism. It was from this as yet unnamed base which the drone attacks that killed US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his son in September 2011 were launched.

Code of silence

Until now, the information had been kept under wraps through an informal agreement between US news agencies not to report on the story. The New York Times broke its silence on Tuesday the 6th, disclosing the location of the secret base.

Saudi Arabia has previously denied reports of cooperation with the US. The Saudi Government are yet to respond to the revelations, which are problematic because of the unpopularity of US military bases in the predominately Muslim Gulf Kingdom.

US military bases abroad

The existence of a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia shouldn’t come as a huge shock. The US has a long and troubled history of running military bases on foreign soil, at present maintaining over 1,000 worldwide. And those are only the ones we know about.

Areas which host US bases are often plagued by problems such as high levels of crime committed by serving troops. Bases create tension and resentment in surrounding communities, which damages international relations.

Besides drone strikes, US bases have also been implicated in unlawful detention, illegal interrogations and forced rendition – not pretty stuff. There a growing feeling that US bases are doing more harm than good for America’s international security.

Keeping military bases secret complicated matters even more – with no knowledge of their operation or purpose, transparency and therefore accountability becomes non-existent.

Unmanned warfare: the decade of the drone

The rise of the drone as a weapon of war has only made this worse. Since 2001 and the War On Terror the use of unmanned drones for combat purposes has risen dramatically. So too has the controversy surrounding them.

The US Government maintains that drone strikes are essential for national security. White House spokesman Jay Carney has defended the drone policy, claiming that these “these strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise.”

It’s also certainly true that drone strikes are effective way of ‘eliminating’ hard to reach targets, while removing any danger to troops. A good thing, surely?

But the truth is much more complex.

Innocent until proven guilty?

Critics argue that drone strikes ignore ‘due process’ and amount to execution without trial. The criteria by which the US Administration determines its ‘kill list’ is not clear enough, even when it comes to American citizens in Al Qaeda.  The target must be an ‘immediate threat’ and cannot be apprehended alive. These conditions are interpreted very broadly – not really good enough when dealing with peoples lives.

Collateral damage

Another problem is the high level of civilian casualties associated with drone attacks– the first drone attack of the Obama administration led to the deaths of dozens of non-combatants including women and children. Pakistan has repeatedly called for the US to reveal more clearly the numbers of civilian deaths that drone strikes cause.

Out of sight, out of mind

Monitoring drone strikes is also a big problem. The need for ‘decisive action’ seems to trump transparency and who is targeted, why and how is often unclear.  Data on outcomes and casualties is often unverified, and sometimes not reported at all.

When launched from secret bases these strikes and the problems they cause are amplified. Ethical, legal and moral issues are totally bypassed in the name of security concerns and national interests.

How legal are drone attacks?

The legality of combat drones is also questionable. Former President George W. Bush deemed the use of drones as legal, but there’s a movement within the US Congress questioning the limits of the policy. What’s more, the use of drones is so new that they’re setting a precedent in international law. Drone strikes still exist in something of a legal gray area. The law is effectively playing catch up with technology of war.

By launching attacks into foreign states on ‘national security’ ground, without their consent, the US comes dangerously close of infringing state sovereignty. Pakistan has been increasingly critical of the policy on these grounds.

One thing is certain – the issue of drones isn’t going away in a hurry. There’s a global arms race raging to build bigger and better drones that’s only going to escalate. While minimizing casualties in the armed forces is obviously a good thing, national governments must make sure that the problems of drone warfare are taken into full account.

BY: Tom Clarke