First UK Legal Challenge to CIA Drones Reaches Court of Appeal

December 5th, 2013 - by admin

Jack Serle / The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – 2013-12-05 15:49:51

LONDON (December 4, 2013) — An unprecedented attempt to discover if British officials are complicit in the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan reached the Court of Appeal this week.

The case is brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani tribesman whose father was among over 40 civilians killed in a March 2011 drone strike.

Khan’s lawyers are attempting to get English courts to examine whether UK officials at GCHQ share information about targets in Pakistan with the CIA, and whether this could therefore make British spies complicit in murder or war crimes.

The case has been brought against the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who is responsible for GCHQ.

The British government has consistently refused to confirm or deny whether it does share such intelligence.

Khan is represented by Leigh Day & Co and the case is backed by legal charity Reprieve. In March 2012 Khan launched judicial review proceedings, but after a two-day hearing in October 2012, High Court judges refused to order such a review.

At that stage, Lord Justice Moses ruled that the aim of the case was actually to try to stop US drone strikes. He said: ‘The claimant cannot demonstrate that his application will avoid, during the course of the hearing and in the judgment, giving a clear impression that it is the United States’ conduct in North Waziristan which is also on trial.’

If the court was forced to consider whether US drone strikes were legal it could ‘imperil relations’ between the US and UK, Moses ruled.But this week Khan’s lawyers argued against this decision before three senior judges in the Court of Appeal.

They argued they were not seeking to show ‘the actions of the United States or its agents are criminal,’ adding that those who launch the strikes on Pakistan are beyond the jurisdiction of English courts. Khan’s barrister Martin Chamberlain QC said: ‘The criminality of agents of the United States is a matter for their law or Pakistan’s.’

Chamberlain told the Court of Appeal that allowing the judicial review to proceed would not damage UK-US relations. A week before the High Court case, the government lodged an application to stop Khan’s claim being heard as it is ‘injurious to public interest,’ using a document called a public interest immunity (PII) certificate. Before the case could continue, there would have to be a fresh hearing in which a court would appoint special advocates, hearing arguments for and against the application in secret.

Chamberlain added that at present the facts around the UK involvement in US drone strikes, and US drone strikes themselves are not clear. But he argued that the fact that the government, in the form of the Foreign Secretary William Hague who is responsible for GCHQ, has lodged a PII suggests there are things Hague knows ‘that he does not wish to disclose.’

Barristers for Hague argued that if the case was to go ahead the court would be unable to avoid ‘examining the conduct and action’ of the US. This would ‘cut a swathe’ through UK intelligence-sharing with the US.

Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve, said: ‘Drones that killed Noor Khan’s father — and have killed hundreds more civilians in Pakistan — are the US’ weapon of choice in their illegal ‘war on terror.’ The UK government is wilfully refusing to reveal whether and how they facilitate this secret war. Fear that our friends in the US will be annoyed is nothing like an acceptable excuse for continuing to keep these details under wraps.’

The judgment will be handed down at a future date.

Evidence in British Court Contradicts CIA Drone Claims
Chris Woods/ The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

LONDON (April 24, 2012) — A major case in the British High Court has revealed fresh evidence of civilian deaths during a notorious CIA drone strike in Pakistan last year. Sworn witness testimonies reveal in graphic detail how the village of Datta Khel burned for hours after the attack. Many of the dozens killed had to be buried in pieces.

Legal proceedings were begun in London recently against British Foreign Secretary William Hague, over possible British complicity in CIA drone strikes.

Britain’s GCHQ — its secret monitoring and surveillance agency — is reported to have provided ‘locational evidence’ to US authorities for use in drone strikes, a move which is reportedly illegal in the United Kingdom.

Sworn Affidavits
The High Court case focuses in particular on a CIA drone strike in March 2011 which killed up to 53 people.

Sworn affidavits presented in court and seen by the Bureau offer extensive new details of a strike the CIA still apparently claims ‘killed no non-combatants.’

Ahmed Jan is a tribal elder in North Waziristan. On March 17 2011 he was attending a gathering with other village elders, to discuss a mining dispute.

‘We were in the middle of our discussion when the missile hit and I was thrown about 24 feet from where I was sitting. I was knocked unconscious and when I awoke I saw many individuals who were dead or injured,’ he says in his affidavit.

Most of those who died in Datta Khel village that day were civilians. The Bureau has so far identified by name 24 of those killed, whilst Associated Press recently reported that it has the names of 42 civilians who died that day.

Pakistan’s president, prime minister and army chief all condemned the Datta Khel attack. A recent Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times quoted Brigadier Abdullah Dogar, who commanded Pakistani military forces in the area at the time.

“We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting, we’d got the request ten days earlier. It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga — they have their people attending — but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?”

Yet the US intelligence community has consistently denied that any civilians died.

Last year an anonymous US official told the New York Times: ‘The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ [Al Qaeda] -linked militants, were killed.’

The sworn affidavits seen by the Bureau offer a very different perspective. Imran Khan’s father Ismail was another of the elders who died that day. Imran says of his father: ‘He always did the right thing for the community and the tribe. He opposed terrorism and militancy and was not himself in any way connected to these things.’

Khalil Khan’s late father Hajji Babat was a local policeman who was ‘not an enemy of the United States of America or any other country.’ His son describes in his affidavit how he rushed back to his village to find his father dead, the bus station and surrounding buildings still burning six hours after the drone strike.

And Fateh Khan, who once worked for British Telecom, lost his 25-year old nephew Din Mohammed in the CIA attack. He reports that his nephew’s body had to be buried in pieces, and that ‘he left behind four children, all of whom now live in my house. His eldest child is currently only five years old.’

‘Absolute Lie’
The most senior tribal elder to die that day was Daud Khan. Initially he was claimed to have been a senior Taliban figure. His son Noor told the Bureau that this was ‘an absolute lie.’

‘My father was not a militant but an elder who was working day and night for his people. There have been many children who have been killed in drone strikes. I ask the US if they think those children were militants and combatants and dangerous enough to be killed in such a manner?’

The CIA declined to comment when asked whether it still believed it had killed no ‘non-combatants’ in Pakistan since May 2010, or that no civilians died in Datta Khel last year.

In London, legal campaigners are seeking a judicial review in the High Court — a process by which senior judges can question and even overturn any government policy on aiding US drone strikes.

The case is being brought by legal charity Reprieve, and by the Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which focuses on civilian victims of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

The British government is understood to have firmly challenged the grounds of the case on a number of fronts.

Related stories:
GCHQ intel sharing for drone strikes may be ‘accessory to murder’
High court rejects first UK challenge to CIA’s drone campaign

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