As UK Follows US Model of 'Droning Its Own,' Condemnations Follow

October 8, 2020 0 By PENTICTONLAWYERS

Human rights advocates and legal experts are raising alarms in the wake of Monday’s admission by Prime Minister David Cameron that missiles fired from a UK-operated drone were used to assassinate two British nationals the government claims were fighting on behalf of the Islamic State (or ISIS) in Syria several weeks ago.

“Make no mistake – what we are seeing is the failed U.S. model of secret strikes being copied wholesale by the British government.” —Kat Craig, Reprieve

Though the United States has been widely criticized for the extrajudicial killing of its citizens on foreign soil in recent years, the killing of Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin during an airstrike near the Syrian city of Raqqa on August 21 is the first instance in which the UK has knowingly (or admittedly) executed its own citizens in the course of what it calls an “anti-terrorism” overseas operation.

As the Guardian‘s Ewen MacAskill reports, last month’s “attack was carried out by a Reaper drone flown from a base in the Middle East but controlled by a British crew either operating at RAF Waddington or from the US air base at Creech in Nevada. The Ministry of Defence never confirms the location.”

Addressing Parliament on Monday, Cameron justified the attack by saying there “was no alternative” to the airstrike and that the men targeted “were involved in actively recruiting [ISIS] sympathizers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the West including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this Summer.” Cameron told Parliament the “intention” of the two men was “the murder of British citizens” which was why “on this occasion we ourselves took action.”

Putting the admission in context, MacAskill adds:

According to MacAskill’s reporting, the attack was “against a particular individual: Khan” and “was not aimed at Amin: it was just his misfortune he was in the vehicle with him. A third victim killed in the attack was also a member of ISIS but was not British.”

Cameron argued the attack was “entirely legal” and that the government was exercising its “right to self-defense” by ordering the strike.

Phillipe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, however, told the BBC’s Today program that Cameron’s line of argument represented a “new direction” for the UK, which had previously treated cases like this as matters for criminal rather than international law. Now, Sands explained, the “warlike paradigm” of the U.S. military has been adopted by Cameron’s Conservative-led government and the Royal Air Force (RAF). “Planning a future attack at some far away place has never been good enough in international law on the use of self-defense,” Sands said. “It has to be imminent and on that we need the evidence.”