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Challenge to UK Role in Deadly Drone Attacks in Pakistan Blocked by High Court
'Cloud of Secrecy' over Britain's complicity in US drone program
Britain's High Court has blocked a challenge by a Pakistani man seeking an inquiry into the possible role of British spies in aiding "unlawful ... immoral" CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.
The decision creates "a cloud of secrecy" in the UK, according to one member of Parliament, about whether that country's spy agency is complicit with the US drone program.
The High Court ruled that 27-year-old Noor Khan—whose father was killed, along with nearly 50 others, in a CIA drone attack in northwest Pakistan in March 2011—may not bring a full legal challenge over whether British intelligence officials assisted the strike, and whether they could be liable for prosecution, the Associated Press reports.
Kat Craig, legal director of the British campaign group Reprieve which has assisted in the case, said the British intelligence services's cooperation with the CIA drone program in Pakistan is both illegal and immoral. "We are killing innocent civilians and children," she said. "That doesn't make us safer and some may well argue that places us in greater danger."
Khan's lawyers had claimed that the UK's intelligence agency, GCHQ, could be "secondary parties to murder" and could be committing war crimes if they provided "locational assistance" to the CIA in directing its drone attacks.
"There’s a well known, well acknowledged drone programme, there’s a list of people the CIA wants to target as part of that drone programme," Khan’s barrister, Martin Chamberlain, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. "A GCHQ officer comes into information about the location of a person and passes it to the CIA officer, we say there’s a very real chance of a crime being committed."
Khan told the BBC that since the attack, he and his community have lived in constant fear of the machines they hear passing overhead, not knowing when, where or why the next attack will happen.
In a strange bit of logic, the court Judges argued that the challenge was an "attempt to shroud" the true goal of the judicial process, which judge Alan Moses said was to coerce the court into publicly denouncing drone strikes by the US.
"The real aim is to persuade this court to make a public pronouncement designed to condemn the activities of the United States in North Waziristan, as a step in persuading them to halt such activity," Moses said, adding that Khan's lawyer "knows he could not obtain permission overtly for such a purpose."
For their part—and made clear by the court filings and public statements, however—Khan's lawyers made clear their "goal" was to attain justice for his family and others and receive clarification on the role of the British government in a highly controversial affront to international and moral law.
The British government has neither confirmed nor denied any role in assisting with the operations against al-Qaeda, the BBC reports. But in 2010, the Sunday Times quoted "insiders" who claimed GCHQ has better interception networks than the CIA in south Asia, and had shared information about the locations of al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan," the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.
But MP Rehman Chisti, though he has asked about drones repeatedly in Parliament, has received no answers. Chisti said:
There is a cloud of secrecy in terms of the basic answers we want. What is the policy? What are the criteria? What are the circumstances? What are the rules in which drones are operated?
The inference I draw from the government not answering [these questions] is that the government is sharing intelligence with the United States because, if it wasn't, it could quite easily say.
Khan and his lawyers plan to appeal the High Court's decision.