Ian Cobain / The Guardian & The Associated Press – 2012-10-27 00:57:19
UK Support for US Drones in Pakistan May Be War Crime, Court is Told
Ian Cobain / The Guardian
LONDON (October 23, 2012) — The British government’s support for US drone operations over Pakistan may involve acts of assisting murder or even war crimes, the high court heard on Tuesday.
In the first serious legal challenge in the English courts to the drones campaign, lawyers for a young Pakistani man whose father was killed by a strike from an unmanned aircraft are seeking to have the sharing of UK locational intelligence declared unlawful.
Noor Khan, 27, is said to live in constant fear of a repeat of the attack in North Waziristan in March last year that killed more than 40 other people, who are said to have gathered to discuss a local mining dispute.
The British government has declined to state whether or not its signals intelligence agency GCHQ passes information in support of the CIA drone operations over Pakistan, although the court heard that media reports suggest that it does.
The case opened as the RAF confirmed that it is to double the number of its own drones flying combat and surveillance operations over Afghanistan. The five additional aircraft will be operated from the UK for the first time, rather than the US. The UK’s existing Reaper drones, which are used to target suspected insurgents in Helmand province, have been operated from Creech air force base in Nevada because the RAF has not had the capability to fly them from Britain.
Martin Chamberlain, counsel for Khan, said that a newspaper article in 2010 had reported that GCHQ was using telephone intercepts to provide the US authorities with locational intelligence on leading militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report suggested that the Cheltenham-based agency was proud of this work, which was said to be “in strict accordance with the law”.
On the contrary, Chamberlain said, any GCHQ official who passed locational intelligence to the CIA knowing or believing that it could be used to facilitate a drone strike would be committing a serious criminal offence.
“The participation of a UK intelligence official in US drone strikes, by passing intelligence, may amount to the offence of encouraging or assisting murder,” he said. Alternatively, it could amount to a war crime or a crime against humanity, he added.
Chamberlain said that no GCHQ official would be able to mount a defence of combat immunity, but added that there was no wish in this case to convict any individual of a criminal offence. Rather, Khan was seeking a declaration by the civil courts that such intelligence-sharing is unlawful.
Between June 2004 and September this year, according to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.
With the number of drone strikes increasing sharply under the Obama administration, the London case is one of several being brought by legal activists around the world in an attempt to challenge their legality of the programme.
In Pakistan, lawyers and human rights activists are mounting two separate court claims: one is intended to trigger a criminal investigation into the actions of two former CIA officials, while the second is seeking a declaration that the strikes amount to acts of war, in order to pressurise the Pakistani air force into shooting down drones operating in the country’s airspace.
During the two-day hearing in London, lawyers for Khan are seeking permission for a full judicial review of the lawfulness of any British assistance for the US drone programme.
Lawyers for William Hague, the foreign secretary, say not only that they will neither confirm nor deny any intelligence-sharing activities in support of drone operations, but that it would be “prejudicial to the national interest” for them even to explain their understanding of the legal basis for any such activities.
For Khan and his lawyers to succeed, they say, the court would need to be satisfied that there is no international armed conflict in Pakistan, with the result that anyone involved in drone strikes was not immune from the criminal law, and that there had been no tacit approval for the strikes from the Pakistan government â€“ another matter that the British government will neither confirm nor deny.
The court would also need to consider, and reject, the US government’s own legal position: that drone strikes are acts of self-defence. It would also need to be satisfied that the handing over of intelligence amounted to participation in hostilities.
The government also says that Khan’s claim would have a “significant impact” on the conduct of the UK’s relations with both the US and Pakistan in an “acutely controversial, sensitive and important” area, and also impact on relations between the US and Pakistan.
The case continues.
UK Claims Possible Court Hearing into CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan Would Risk Denting US Ties
LONDON (October 25, 2012) — Ties between Britain, the US and Pakistan could be jeopardized if a judge grants a request for a court inquiry into the possible role of UK spy agencies in aiding covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, a government lawyer told Britain’s High Court on Thursday.
James Eadie, lawyer for Britain’s Foreign Office, insisted that intelligence sharing between Britain and the US — already under strain by previous disclosures made in London courtrooms — and links between Washington and Pakistan would all potentially be cast into doubt.
Noor Khan, a 27-year-old whose father was killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan in March 2011, has asked Britain’s High Court to examine whether UK intelligence officials assisted the action and may be liable for prosecution.
His legal advisers want a judge to determine whether Britain’s secret eavesdropping agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, has passed location data to guide CIA drones, and whether the UK has agreed to a secret policy of assistance to the program of targeting militants.
“Adjudicating on the claim plainly would have significant impact on the conduct of the United Kingdom’s relations with both the United States and Pakistan,” Eadie told a three-day hearing at the High Court. “It would also be likely to have such an impact on relations between the United States and Pakistan. That impact would be felt in an acutely controversial, sensitive and important context.”
Since 2004, CIA drones have targeted suspected militants with missile strikes in the Pakistani tribal regions, killing hundreds of people. The program is controversial because of questions about its legality, the number of civilians it has killed and its impact on Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Khan’s father, Malik Daud Khan, was attending a meeting of local elders in Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, when it was hit by a missile fired from an unmanned drone, killing around 40 people.
British officials have not commented publicly on their policy toward CIA drone strikes. US officials do not publicly acknowledge the covert program.
Pakistani officials have urged the US to halt its program and to instead relay intelligence gathered by the pilotless aircraft to Pakistani jets and ground forces so that they can target militants themselves.
Kat Craig, legal director of the Reprieve charity, which is representing Khan, said that her client “merely wishes to know what role the British intelligence services play in this game of one-sided Russian roulette.”
“He is calling for the veil of secrecy around Britain’s drones policy to be lifted so that he can keep his community safe. We share his concerns about the lack of accountability, and the morality of the UK being dragged into an illegal attack on a country with whom we are not at war,” she said.
Last year, British spy agencies were accused of sharing sensitive information with Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya, leading to the torture or rendition of two Libyan men and their families. The case is now the subject of an inquiry by British police.
Previously, intelligence sharing between Britain and the US was put under strain after a London court made public details of abuse that ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed alleges he suffered at the hands of US intelligence officials. Mohamed had accused the British government of complicity in his alleged torture.
Britain’s Foreign Office said that a decision on whether to grant Khan a hearing is expected to be handed down by the High Court before the year’s end.
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