Ministers who order drone killings SHOULD face murder charges

An RAF drone. Confusion over the legal framework for strikes outside warzones exposes pilots through to ministers to ‘criminal prosecution’ [Image: Cpl Steve Bain ABIPP/PA].

An RAF drone. Confusion over the legal framework for strikes outside warzones exposes pilots through to ministers to ‘criminal prosecution’ [Image: Cpl Steve Bain ABIPP/PA].

The most telling part of this story is where it states the Crown Prosecution Service is “highly unlikely” to pursue a criminal prosecution for murder or complicity in murder relating to drone strikes. Why not?

Look at the case quoted – the killing of Reyaad Khan. Were we at war with Syria? No. Was there evidence that this individual had committed crimes against the UK that justified such a strike? No.

Doesn’t that make it a murder case?

We don’t prosecute people for crimes they haven’t committed yet. We should not, therefore, kill people for them, either.

The JCHR seems happy to collude with the Conservative Government on this matter though – instead of taking a hard line against such crimes, its members seem keen to establish a legal excuse and allow the killings to continue.

Not in my name, please.

British drone pilots, intelligence officers and ministers could face murder charges if the government does not clarify its policies on targeted killing, a parliamentary committee has warned.

Confusion over the precise legal justification exposes frontline personnel and all those involved in decisions to launch lethal attacks outside warzones to “criminal prosecution for murder or complicity in murder”, according to a report by the joint committee on human rights (JCHR).

Although the Crown Prosecution Service is highly unlikely to pursue such a case in the UK, other nations might do so, for example if their citizens were killed abroad, its MPs and peers caution.

“We owe it to all those involved in the chain of command for such uses of lethal force to provide them with absolute clarity about the circumstances in which they will have a defence against any possible future criminal prosecution, including those which might originate from outside the UK,” says the committee, chaired by the former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman MP.

The committee launched its inquiry after David Cameron announced that UK drones had targeted and killed a 21-year-old Briton Reyaad Khan in Syria last August.

Cameron described the strike on Khan as a “new departure”, explaining that this was the first time in modern times that the UK had used a drone to kill someone in a country where it was not at war.

While the UK government denies it has a “targeted killing policy”, the committee notes the phrase “sounds uncomfortably close to assassination” and that Britain does have “a policy to use lethal force abroad outside armed conflict for counter-terrorism purposes”.

Questions remain about the legal basis for such killings. The government refused to answer detailed queries about “important aspects” of the legal framework, and provided differing explanations to parliament and to the UN, says the committee.

Source: UK drone strikes ‘could leave all those involved facing murder charges’ | Politics | The Guardian


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9 thoughts on “Ministers who order drone killings SHOULD face murder charges

  1. Besquipedalian

    Compare Pope Innocent in 1136 banning the use of the crossbow in Eurpoean warfare. A new weapon demands new terms of useage in the topsy-turvy world of warfare.
    The drone falls into this category. It has been possible for many years now to anonymously slaughter people in their thousands from as many miles away; the ‘blame’ can be conveniently disipated. But now it possible for one man to aim at another fellow on the other side of the globe and kill him with ease.
    This,therefore, is no different from a (far braver!) politician nipping round to a mosque and meteing out ‘justice’ with a pistol to an apparently undesireable cleric.
    It is therefore, totally inaceptable.

  2. David Woods

    It should be the ministers being charged!
    The drone pilot is following the orders given, as are the officers!
    Those giving the order; the PM and the Defence Minister are the ones guilty!
    It is Murder!

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      “We have considered carefully the nuances and, in some cases, contradictions and inconsistencies in the Government’s account of its policy, which have given rise to confusion, in particular, in relation to whether or not the strike in Syria on 21 August was part of an armed conflict in which the UK was already involved at the time of the strike. This matters because the UK has never previously had an explicit policy of using lethal force abroad outside an area of armed conflict. The Government says that it has not adopted a policy of targeted killing. However, as we make clear in this Chapter, our inquiry has established that it is the Government’s policy to use lethal force abroad, even outside of armed conflict, against individuals suspected of planning an imminent terrorist attack against the UK, when there is no other way of preventing the attack.”

      How do they know an attack is going to happen? How do they know there’s no other way to prevent it? The drone strike on August 21 was against one man in Syria. How does that equate with stopping an attack on British soil? What about the “contradictions” in the government’s position? Doesn’t their existence indicate that we have a government prepared to commit illegal acts and then say anything in order to cover them up?

      I note that the UK has never previously had a policy of targeted killing.

      I note also, with reference to a separate – but currently topical – issue, that Israel is one of the other countries that does.

      The report states that the drone strike was in accordance with an established constitutional convention that the government must report to Parliament if it has taken such an action in circumstances in which it was not appropriate to seek Parliament’s prior approval. But there is no indication of any evidence to support the claims made against Reyaad Khan.

      “Although the Government says that it does not have a “targeted killing policy”, it is clear that the Government does have a policy to use lethal force abroad outside armed conflict for counter-terrorism purposes. We understand why the Government does not want to call its policy a “targeted killing policy”. In our view, however, it is important to recognise that the Government’s policy on the use of lethal force outside of areas of armed conflict does contemplate the possibility of pre-identified individuals91 being killed by the State to prevent a terrorist attack.”

      That’s assassination.

  3. Phil Lee

    The CPS might not, but could a sympathetic magistrate indict if furnished with “informations”? Make it public enough, and any attempt by the CPS to take over the case and drop it would be seen for the conspiracy to pervert the course of justice that it would undoubtedly be.
    And it could only add to the charge sheet for when we finally get this corrupt regime in front of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
    Incidentally although I have some sympathy with the military personnel involved, “only following orders” is a long discredited defence.
    No member of the armed forces can be made to follow illegal orders, such as those to commit murder. It is their difficult duty to query if those orders are legal if they are in any doubt whatsoever, and illegality of the orders would be a complete defence to any military charges that might be brought against them. Any order to kill, when not on the battlefield, is dubious at best, and it is quite justifiable for those involved to demand clear rules of engagement and clarification of the chain of command through which those have come before following them.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’ve never heard of a magistrate doing such a thing. I don’t think they have that facility.

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