Pakistan Security Civilian Staff Face War Crimes Charge Over Drone Strikes in Pakistan
Civilian staff at GCHQ risk being prosecuted for war crimes as a result of a legal action being launched tomorrow over the alleged use of British intelligence in the CIA’s “targeted killing” programme.
Human rights lawyers will issue proceedings saying that employees at the UK intelligence agency who assist the US in directing drone attacks in Pakistan could be liable as “secondary parties to murder” and that any UK guidance allowing the passing of information to the CIA for use in the strikes is unlawful.
Pakistan has previously condemned the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty, amid concern that the use of US drones contravenes international humanitarian law. Hundreds of innocent civilians are thought to have been killed as a result of drone attacks.
Questions are also mounting over the role of British officials in assisting the CIA’s targeting of alleged militants in Pakistan. Reports suggest that GCHQ, the intelligence agency for which the foreign secretary, William Hague, is responsible, provides “locational intelligence” to the US.
The legal action, brought by the law firm Leigh Day & Co and the legal action charity Reprieve, is directed against Hague on behalf of Noor Khan, whose father was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan last year.
Malik Daud Khan was presiding over a peaceful council of tribal elders in the North Waziristan tribal area when a missile was fired from a drone, believed to have been CIA-operated. Khan was one of more than 40 people killed.
The attack has intensified scrutiny over the levels of complicity between the UK and US over drone strikes. Reports have quoted GCHQ sources as justifying their forwarding of intelligence to the US as being in “strict accordance” with the law, a claim contested by lawyers.
The issuing of legal proceedings at the high court tomorrow challenges the lawfulness of such alleged complicity, arguing that “there is also a significant risk that GCHQ officers may be guilty of conduct ancillary to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes, both of which are statutory offences under the International Criminal Court Act, 2001”.
Only individuals entitled to immunity from ordinary criminal law in respect of armed attacks are considered under international law as “lawful combatants” participating in an “international armed conflict”, according to the legal papers.