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Foreign fallout from U.S. drone attacks

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By Nat Hentoff
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

A lawsuit in Britain is causing mounting anxiety among intelligence agents there and in other countries who have aided the CIA.

Noor Khan, a British citizen, filed the lawsuit. He is the son of a Pakistani tribal elder, Malik Daud Khan, who was killed in a CIA drone attack in 2011. The charge is that by passing intelligence to U.S. officials, which is then used in drone attacks, these allies of ours become “secondary partners to murder.”

Partners to murder?

President Barack Obama and his legal team, including his nominee to direct the CIA, John Brennan (who directs these assaults by Hellfire missiles), deny any such characterization of America discarding its values.

But a carefully documented New York Times story last month shows us why this drone strike has caused such outrage within Pakistan and made intelligence officials aiding the CIA in other countries fearful:

“More than 40 civilians (including Malik Daud Khan) had been killed when the Americans (guiding the drones from afar) mistook a tribal council gathering for a meeting of militants.”

According to the CIA and President Obama's “kill list,” so-called militants can often be deemed terrorists and blasted apart as such.

So now, as reported by The Times: “In light of Mr. Khan's lawsuit and the potential for others, operatives across the British intelligence agencies are concerned that if they share information (with the CIA), they could be ‘punished by the judiciary for something the executive ordered them to do,' said the person with knowledge of internal discussions.”

“'They are willing to go the last mile, but they don't want to go to prison for it,'” the person said.

What's the attitude of the British government? According to The New York Times: “For the government's part, one senior official said it ‘would just like the issue to go away.'”

As of this writing, The New York Times notes, “Judges in Britain have yet to decide whether to hear the case ... (They initially declined, but are considering an appeal that was lodged in January.)”

British intelligence agents are apprehensively waiting to know whether — and where — they will have to find lawyers to defend them against serious violations of their national and international laws.

To put this discomfiture in fearful context, “The case,” says The Times, “has put a spotlight on international intelligence-sharing agreements that have long been praised by officials as vital links in the global fight against terrorist groups, but that rights advocates criticize as a way for Britain and other European countries to reap the benefits of the contentious drone program without its political costs.”

In this country, the political costs to Barack Obama have been less than meager. But in Italy and elsewhere, members of intelligence agencies are in trouble for having been helpful to the CIA in American kidnappings and renditions of terrorism suspects to be tortured in other obliging countries. And under Obama, secret renditions continue.

No matter happens to those in Britain who are “secondary partners to murder,” what about the Americans who authorized it? It's long past time We The People began to do something about that.

Nat Hentoff is an authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.

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