Britain’s controversial deployment of US-built Reaper drones in Afghanistan will come under scrutiny in court this week in a closed hearing that will see a UK-based drone operator give evidence for the first time.
The two-day hearing starts in London on Monday. It is expected to include testimony from a UK-based drone operator with “1,000 hours of Reaper experience supporting UK and coalition activities”. He will speak on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Tom Watson, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group examining drones, will also give evidence.
The appeal to the Information Commissioner, filed by Chris Cole of the campaign group Drone Wars, comes after numerous Freedom of Information requests relating to Britain’s role in drone warfare were allegedly refused by the MoD. Mr Cole aims to challenge that stance, claiming public interest.
Campaigners hope to gain clarity on the precise date and location of strikes launched by UK-controlled Reapers and the number of weapons fired each year – as well as the numbers of people killed or injured.
Britain is under mounting pressure to clarify its position on drones. In April, it emerged that crew at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire had assumed control of armed Reaper drones flying over Afghanistan. Previously, all UAV missions over Afghanistan had been operated from Creech air force base in Nevada.
Kat Craig, a human rights lawyer at Reprieve, said: “The Government’s excessive secrecy over drones has to stop: in particular, their on-going refusal to come clean with the public over the support they provide for the CIA’s illegal drone campaign.”