Top judge: 'use of drones intolerable'

Unmanned weapons are condemned by Lord Bingham as 'beyond the pale'

The use of unmanned drones as weapons of war in conflicts around the world has been called into question by one of Britain's most senior judges. Lord Bingham, until last year the senior law lord, said that some weapons were so "cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance".

In an interview with the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Lord Bingham compared drones, which have killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza, with cluster bombs and landmines.

His comments are bound to intensify calls for new international rules to protect civilian populations from arbitrary attacks launched by the pilotless craft.

Lord Bingham asked in the interview, which addressed the issue of the state being bound by the rule of law: "Are there, for example, and this goes to conflict, not post-conflict situations, weapons that ought to be outlawed? From time to time in the history of international law various weapons have been thought to be so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance. I think cluster bombs and landmines are the most recent examples.

"It may be – I'm not expressing a view – that unmanned drones that fall on a house full of civilians is a weapon the international community should decide should not be used."

Drones have become an important weapon against the Taliban in the remote mountainous borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Britain has said it plans to use drones as weapons. The Army already deploys them to gather battlefield intelligence. Last month the US admitted to 26 civilian deaths in a series of drone attacks that took place in May. In those attacks Afghan officials put the death toll at 140, significantly higher than the US claims.

Last week Israel was accused of using missile-firing drones to unlawfully kill at least 29 Palestinian civilians during the Gaza Strip war.

Despite having advanced surveillance equipment, drone operators failed to exercise proper caution "as required by the laws of war" in verifying their targets were combatants, said Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group, in a 39-page report. It described six alleged strikes by remote-controlled aircraft.

Israel has a fleet of spy drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but refuses to confirm or deny widespread beliefs that some of the aircraft also carry weapons.

International lawyers also argue that air strikes using drones are state-sanctioned assassinations where the targeted suspected terrorist has no opportunity to defend the case against him.

Last month US drone aircraft killed at least 45 Pakistani Taliban militants in south Waziristan when it fired missiles at the funeral of an insurgent commander who was killed earlier that day.

In a reference to the detention under the Terrorism Act of 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang, who heckled Jack Straw at the Labour Party conference in 2005, Lord Bingham, a former lord chief justice and master of the rolls, called on states to use anti-terror powers proportionately. He said: "Again, we probably agree that powers should be exercised for the purposes for which they were conferred in the first place, and therefore a source of obvious concern – and this would be multiplied worldwide – [would be] if a power enacted to counter terrorism is used to arrest a heckler at a party conference."

Last year in his first major speech since his retirement as the senior law lord, Lord Bingham disputed the legality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK and allies. He said that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was "a serious violation of international law", and he accused Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante".

Remote-controlled death: Unmanned aircraft

*The Predator, and its successor, the Raptor, is a remote-controlled aircraft system which first came into use in 1995. It can be deployed for reconnaissance and missile attack. The air-strike version is armed with two Hellfire missiles and has been deployed over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq and Yemen.

It is estimated that 300 people have been killed in at least 30 drone strikes since August 2008. During the initial phases of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, a number of older Predators were stripped down and used as decoys to test the Iraqi air defences. Britain has been employing a reconnaissance version since 2006.Sometimes drones and their remote operators make mistakes and kill innocent civilians.

Two years ago a Predator fired a missile into a wedding party in Afghanistan, killing at least 30 civilians, including children. But they have proved successful in the war against al-Qai'da and the Taliban, who have both lost high-ranking leaders to the unmanned aircraft.

High-profile victims include Hamza Rabia and Abu Laith al-Libi. They have also killed Mohammed Atef, reputedly al-Qai'da's chief of military operations, and several of the group's most experienced explosives and biological weapons specialists.

Suggested Topics
News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits