Britain could investigate spy role in drone strikes
LONDON — Ties between Britain, the United States and Pakistan could be jeopardized if a judge grants a request for a court inquiry into the possible role of United Kingdom spy agencies in aiding covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's northwest tribal region, a government lawyer told Britain's High Court on Thursday.
James Eadie, lawyer for Britain's Foreign Office, insisted that intelligence sharing between Britain and the United States — under strain by previous disclosures made in London courtrooms — and links between Washington and Pakistan would all potentially be cast into doubt.
Noor Khan, a 27-year-old whose father was killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan in March 2011, has asked Britain's High Court to examine whether U.K. intelligence officials assisted the action and may be liable for prosecution.
His legal advisers want a judge to determine whether Britain's secret eavesdropping agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, has passed location data to guide CIA drones, and whether the United Kingdom has agreed to a secret policy of assistance to the program of targeting militants.
“Adjudicating on the claim plainly would have significant impact on the conduct of the United Kingdom's relations with both the United States and Pakistan,” Eadie told a three-day hearing at the High Court. “It would also be likely to have such an impact on relations between the United States and Pakistan. That impact would be felt in an acutely controversial, sensitive and important context.”
Since 2004, CIA drones have targeted suspected militants with missile strikes in the Pakistani tribal regions, killing hundreds of people. The program is controversial because of questions about its legality, the number of civilians it has killed and its impact on Pakistan's sovereignty.
Khan's father, Malik Daud Khan, was attending a meeting of local elders in Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, when it was hit by a missile fired from an unmanned drone, killing around 40 people.
British officials have not commented publicly on their policy toward CIA drone strikes. U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the covert program.
Pakistani officials have urged the United States to halt its program and instead relay intelligence gathered by the pilotless aircraft to Pakistani jets and ground forces so that they can target militants themselves.
Kat Craig, legal director of the Reprieve charity, which is representing Khan, said her client “merely wishes to know what role the British intelligence services play in this game of one-sided Russian roulette.”
“He is calling for the veil of secrecy around Britain's drones policy to be lifted so that he can keep his community safe. We share his concerns about the lack of accountability, and the morality of the U.K. being dragged into an illegal attack on a country with whom we are not at war,” Craig said.