Amnesty International raises a serious accusation, saying deadly US drone attacks in Pakistan are conducted with German help. Experts fear things are actually a lot worse.
The US defends its drone attacks as "precise and effective." But now a report by Amnesty International about the deadly US drone attacks raises serious questions about civilian deaths. It also suggests German intelligence helped provide the US with targeting data.
Even for experts on the issue it's difficult to determine whether the allegations about German involvement are true. German Greens member of parliament Hans-Christian Ströbele said that whenever he requested information on the matter from the government in the past he only ever got evasive answers. "They did, however, say that they do provide information, but not for shoot-to-kill operations. But the government cannot be sure that the information it provides doesn't also get used for such operations."
Marcel Dickow of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) confirmed to DW that it is practically impossible to check whether intelligence provided by a country's secret service is in fact correct. It is in the very nature of such data that the information is classified and will remain so.
According the report, Amnesty found out about the German involvement in the drone strikes from former Pakistani intelligence members.
Dickow still thinks the NGO did the right thing. "Amnesty used that information - and I think they were justified in doing that - in order to show that there is a hidden war, a war that raises many questions with regards to international law. And with regards to Germany being - in part - responsible in light of the international cooperation of intelligence agencies."
International law says that it is illegal for a country to use lethal weapons against another country it is not at war with, said Reiner Braun, head of the German wing of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). He said that the possibility that German intelligence had a part in the US breaking international law illustrates the worldwide extent of spying as revealed through the NSA leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
New legal terrain
The accusations that German agencies had provided information to the US is not new. German Interior Ministry spokesman Jens Teschke confirmed to DW that there have been several lawsuits on the matter, one of them against Jörg Ziercke, head of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). But the courts rejected the cases due to lack of reasonable suspicion, Teschke said.
According to Braun, the ball is now in the court of the German judiciary. In light of the NSA scandal and the possible involvement of German intelligence in the controversial US drone strikes, there was need for a new look at any actions that might be in violation of international law. "So far, courts have dealt with this very selectively and subjectively. I think it's now a question whether this can continue in light of the dimensions the cases have taken."
From a legal perspective, it's an interesting case, says Braun. Judicial accountability could play a role in the current public debate and could in turn be influenced by it. But first and foremost, there's something else that needs to be in the focus, he stresses: "The first aspect is always the human one and every victim is one victim too many."
Drones are unmanned planes. For many experts, their use is therefore an entirely new form of warfare: They are controlled by computers that can be located thousands of kilometers away - but for the targets on the ground they are a very real and immediate danger.
"This leads on to killer robots; armed and autonomously acting robots that we will have in the next 10 to 30 years," Dickow describes the future development. This would raise new legal but also ethical and political questions, he thinks, adding that the public discussion about the US drone attacks in Pakistan could be the trigger for a wider debate on the issue.
A spiral of arms devlopment
The use of drones points to an alarming development. "There are now 12 to 15 countries who have the technology. In ten years it will be 80 countries," Reiner Braun said. And he warns that the retaliation - for instance suicide attacks - will be just as brutal and deadly; only it will be on the ground, locally, far away from those who control the drones.
That's why there has to be a serious effort to get out of the spiral of arms development and violence, he urges. "In our opinion, the crucial step is an anti-drones convention by the United Nations where countries agree to abandon this modern technological warfare."
Ströbele backs this demand and points out that there are already such agreements on cluster bombs and weapons of mass destruction. He says it was crucial not to develop this technology any further - and that applies to possible drones for the German military. "For if you have the option to use a weapon, people will use it - that's the way it has always been with regards to arms."