UK military personel carrying out drone strikes ‘could be vulnerable to a charge of murder,’ Labour MP Harriet Harman said yesterday.
Harman chairs the cross-party Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights who published a report yesterday examining the legality of UK drone strikes. Two UK citizens were killed in Syria last year by an RAF drone attack.
Legal charity Reprieve warned yesterday that 25% of those killed in drone strikes are civilians. The Tory government has conceded that a ‘hit list’ of names of several ‘British jihadis’ has been drawn up. Harman said: ‘When there is a planned killing in cold blood, they have to be sure that they are complying with the law.’
On August 21st last year 21-year-old Cardiff born Reyaad Khan was killed by an RAF drone in what has been described as a ‘targeted assassination’. Referring to the killing of Khan, Harman said: ‘He was targeted on a list. The government have said that they are going to be doing more of these possibly if they feel it is necessary in say Libya, or Yemen and Somalia and if they are going to do that there needs to be some independent check afterwards.
‘There is a committee called the Intelligence and Security Committee which actually is security cleared, so it can look at secret information, to say “Was the Intelligence Service right? Was this the right person that they actually did kill? Was it necessary?”
‘If our military kill somebody abroad then actually they could still be vulnerable to a charge of murder, unless they have a proper legal defence. And I think that we need that independent check, because if you are taking a life, if the state is taking a life, even to protect lives it is a serious matter.’
Jennifer Gibson is a lawyer from Reprieve who represents families who have been killed by drone attacks. She gave evidence to the committee which was used in their report. Gibson said: ‘The confusion around the legal framework has led to potentially as many as 25% of those killed being civilians, killed without any accountability.
‘It has created massive amounts of resentment on the ground in the countries where these strikes are going on. You now have US generals coming out – General Michael Flynn just last year – saying that the programme is a failed strategy.’
Referring to US airstrikes she added: ‘The basis and strength of the intelligence has been proven to be very weak. They were willing to take strikes on weak or non-existent intelligence where they were killing people they did not even know, what or who they were on the ground.
‘They were basing their strikes on “signatures”, which are effectively patterns of behaviour. One of the leaks from inside the CIA, was that at one point the CIA director of the operation used to see three men in a field doing jumping jacks and he would think it was a terrorist training camp and take a strike.’
The MoD issued the following statement yesterday: ‘We are clear that where we identify a direct and imminent threat to the UK we will take lawful action to address it and report to Parliament after we have done so.’