Drone from beneath


The CIA killer drones programme is the death penalty without trial, and the new face of state lawlessness in the name of counter-terrorism. Reprieve is assisting victims' families to seek legal accountability for drone attacks, with the goal of exposing the programme to scrutiny and restoring the rule of law. 


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as drones, have become President Obama’s weapon of choice in the ever-expanding War on Terror. Flown by pilots sitting safely in Nevada, these remotely-piloted aircraft have the ability to hover over communities twenty-four hours a day and to target those below at the mere push of a button.

The CIA drones programme is both the next phase in the so-called ‘War on Terror’ and the death penalty without trial. Reprieve is therefore working to expose and challenge the programme, along with Islamabad lawyer Shahzad Akbar and various international and Pakistani artists and activists.


To date, the United States has used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – all countries against whom it has not declared war. The US’ drones programme is a covert war being carried out by the CIA.

For communities living under drones, life is filled with constant terror. Nobody knows who the next target might be. Armed drones can hand down a death sentence simply because a person exhibited suspicious behaviour. Yet what that behaviour is, the United States refuses to say. Other times, the death sentence comes simply because the person fell within the target demographic: all males aged 18 to 65. According to the United States, these men are not deemed civilians unless they can prove their innocence - posthumously.

The drones, sometimes as many as five or six at a time, constantly circle overhead, terrorising civilian populations, nearly half of whom are children. A recent study carried out in Yemen by clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr Peter Schaapveld, reported severe post-traumatic stress disorder in children living in areas targeted for drone strikes.


The US has used drones to execute without trial some 4700 people – that we know of. The ramifications of the escalating drone age are terrifying for us all – especially, of course, for those communities in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan which are terrorised daily by the presence of drones. The UK government and UK companies are actively complicit in this covert war without any transparency or accountability to you, the British public.

Through investigation, litigation and education, Reprieve is working to bring about transparency and accountability on behalf of those affected by drone strikes. Noor Khan’s father was a Pakistani Tribal elder and mediator for local disputes, he was killed on March 17th 2011 along with approximately 50 others in North Waziristan at a meeting to discuss a dispute over a local chromite mine. Noor was studying for his MA in political science at the time, and is currently taking legal action against the UK government over its intelligence-sharing with the U.S. which facilitated the drone strike that killed his father.

According to a report by Stanford and New York Universities’ Law schools, between 2,562 and 3,325 people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September 2012; between 474 and 881 of those were civilians, and 176 were children. The report states: "Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.

Drones are not just the preserve of the US military – they are already in the skies above you, here in the UK. Annually deployed at the V festival in Staffordshire and soon to be used at the G8 summit, police forces across the UK are increasingly using this technology as a method of surveillance. It’s like a permanently running CCTV camera, recording and storing data; hovering overhead, watching you. Police forces have been reluctant to be open about this use or whether they might at some point in the future arm those drones. We live in a society which is supposed to police by consent but how can we consent to something we know so little about?

The UK Government’s relationship with the use of drones is marred by a lack of transparency and accountability.

Along with Shahzad Akbar’s Pakistani-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights, Reprieve is handling Noor Khan’s legal challenge of the British Government, as well as further legal action against the Pakistani Government in Peshawar’s High court on behalf of the victims of the drone strike in March 2012.

A significant victory was recently had when the Peshawari High Court declared the US guilty of war crimes for its use of drones in North West Pakistan, and ordered the Pakistani government to take a series of steps to stop future strikes. Furthermore, the court held that the U.S. Government is bound to compensate all the victims’ families and that the Pakistani Government should take steps to ensure that this happened immediately.



  • Write directly to your MP and tell him/her you want more transparency on UK drone use and UK support for U.S. drone strikes.

  • Read the stories of some of the victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen (attachments below).
  • Support Reprieve's work by buying a Lush Bugsplat ballistic
  • Follow Reprieve’s Twitter Feed - @ReprieveUK to receive regular updates on drones and anti-drone actions.
  • 'Like' Reprieve on Facebook for regular updates on drones and anti-drone actions.
  • Arrange for an informational talk at your work, school or club and help inform others about the issue.




Drones's case history


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