— Drone Wars (@Drone_Wars_UK) April 27, 2017
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has criticised the Government for refusing to disclose information about the intelligence behind a 2015 UK drone strike in Syria, calling the lack of Parliamentary scrutiny “profoundly disappointing.”
In a report released this morning, the chair of the Committee – Conservative MP and former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve – said that ISC’s attempts to scrutinise the decision to take strikes had been hampered by the Government’s refusal to provide key information.
The Committee was “denied sight of the key Ministerial submission” relating to the strike, said Mr Grieve. He added that “this failure to provide what we consider to be relevant documents is profoundly disappointing.” He said: “Oversight depends on primary evidence: the Government should open up the ministerial decision making process to scrutiny on matters of such seriousness.”
The Committee also said it was prevented from looking into US strikes that appear to have been taken with UK support. Other evidence has recently emerged of UK involvement in the US programme, including the presence of UK personnel in US bases, and UK intelligence support for the selection of US targets in countries such as Yemen.
US strikes have killed hundreds of civilians in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, where the US is not formally at war. The strikes are generally considered to violate international law.
“David Cameron announced in 2015 that the UK was pursuing a policy of lethal strikes outside of warzones, emulating a failed US model that has killed civilians and done little to make the world safer. The former Prime Minister called this a ‘new departure’ for Britain – and yet, as this report shows, the Government continues to block Parliament and the public from meaningful debate about it. This lack of oversight over such serious issues is completely unacceptable – ministers must urgently submit the UK’s kill policy to proper public scrutiny.” Kate Higham – Assassinations Project Lead at Reprieve
This case is significant as it represents the first instance of the UK government independently conducting a military strike outside of a defined war zone without consulting the Parliament ISC. The House of Commons have passed bills in favour of assisting US coalition strikes in Syria, as well as continuing military action in Iraq and Afghanistan in what was supposed to be the winding-down of The War on Terror initiated by Tony Blair’s administration. However, unilateral strikes in Syria, a state with which the UK is not technically at war, have never been put to a vote in Parliament.
The government justified the strike by claiming that the target, British citizen Reyaad Khan, represented an ‘imminent threat’ to the UK and therefore needed to be assassinated without seeking Parliamentary oversight.
In the report that was printed last month, almost two years after the strike took place, the ISC agreed that Khan presented a ‘very serious threat to the UK’. However, they believe that they were denied necessary information to judge whether the threat amounted to an ‘imminent armed attack’ against the UK, which would legally allow the strike to take place without Parliamentary approval.
They were left ‘profoundly disappointed’ with the government’s lack of cooperation in producing their report.
The ISC recognise that the ‘self-defence’ model used to justify the attack was ‘subjective’ – a grey area. This uncertainty necessitates a comprehensive report that uncompromisingly lays all the facts bare, but instead officials met with closed doors and red tape that killed the chance of a proper investigation.
The consequences of conducting an assassination without democratic oversight are grave; the consequence of not being allowed a sweeping review of the facts afterwards is the suspicion that we are sleepwalking towards tyranny.
David Cameron at the time called the successful strike a ‘new departure’ in the way the UK deals with pre-emptive defence. Unfortunately, this departure is away from transparency and the authority of our elected representatives in Parliament and towards lawless disregard of due process.
A just war cannot be fought in secret, behind each of our backs.
See the ISC report below:
Leak of Nations | Drone Wars