May 3, 2012
Last Friday, the Human Rights Working Group and the Graduate Student Organization sponsored a discussion which focused on the University's role in drone research and production. These drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are flown by both the U.S. military and the CIA. The Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL), a defense contractor and University-affiliated research center, has contributed to the production of the General Atomics Reaper and Predator drones used by the CIA. Because most of the research is classified, little is known about APL's actual involvement in making the combat drones.
This page commends the Human Rights Working Group and the Graduate Student Organization for calling attention to this topical and salient issue. We would also like to express our concerns about the work APL is doing to help produce these drones.
This page must stress that it does not object to the progress APL has made in helping to help keep our nation secure and our troops safe. We do, however, object to APL's involvement with General Atomics, contributing to the production of these aerial combat drones used by the CIA in covert operations abroad.
We are particularly concerned about this link between Hopkins and the CIA's drone strikes for a number of reasons.
First of all, the legality of these drone strikes is dubious at best. Many international law experts have claimed that drone strikes in countries where there are no recognized conflicts, such as in Pakistan and Yemen, violate international law and accepted standards of morality. These claims are validated when one considers the fact that civilians are often killed in each strike. We believe it to be particularly troubling that a University-affiliated organization is involved in possible international violations.
This page is also concerned about the secrecy of drones and, until recently, their lack of official government acknowledgement. The U.S. government never publicly acknowledges when the strikes occur, and when they do the strike sites are often closed off to the public. APL's contract with General Atomics is also under wraps. While we realize that the government needs to keep specific information classified, this goes against the open nature of universities, including affiliated organizations like the APL.
Considering the negative consequences of drone warfare, this page believes that APL be more transparent with and reconsider the extent of its involvement in the production of drones. As a University-affiliated organization, it should be able to have a civil and constructive open discussion about the exact role that the APL plays in our foreign policy.