FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drones, Murder and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: the Cases of Reyaad Khan and Abdul Raqib Amin

Photo by Debra Sweet | CC BY 2.0

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is 70 this year. But you wouldn’t know it from the impact it’s had on human lives. For example, Donald Trump has sharply increased drone attacks, especially in Yemen and Somalia, with virtual silence from Western media. Article 11 of the UDHR states: “(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

As I document in my new book Human Wrongs (Iff Books), the alleged terror suspects blown apart by drone operators are not even charged let alone given the chance to plead their innocence in a national or international court: and that’s quite apart from the women, children and babies (“collateral damage”) that happen to be nearby when the Hellfire missiles are launched.

In Britain, the age-old common law, presumption of innocence, faced a slight setback in the so-called “war on terror.” Since US drone operators murdered Afghan civilians in the first-ever lethal drone strike in 2002 (followed by Yeminis in the same year), the US has murdered about 2,500 people with drones alone. Providing targeting information and communications links, the UK plays a significant role, all in violation of the principles of the UDHR.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Execution, Philip Alston, writes: “A State killing is legal only if it is required to protect life (making lethal force proportionate) and there is no other means, such as capture or nonlethal incapacitation, of preventing that threat to life (making lethal force necessary).” So, a person in Afghanistan, for example, cannot be lawfully slain by a British drone operator on the pretence that the person is about to pose an imminent threat to the UK, unless for instance the person is about to give an order over the phone let’s say to, for instance, a terror cell in Briton, instructing it to detonate a bomb. Needless to say, this is a ludicrous scenario in the real-world.

Murdering Its Own

The British state murdering “its own people” is nothing new. In the 1970s, the Ministry of Defence waged a dirty war in Northern Ireland. Units from the Military Reaction Force (MRF) murdered Protestants and Catholics as a part of strategy of tension. Northern Irish persons murdered and/or shot by MRF operatives include:Patrick McVeigh (shot in the back), John and Gerry Conway (travelling to a fruit stall), Aiden McAloon and Eugene Devlin (travelling in a taxi), Joe Smith, Hugh Kenny, Patrick Murray and Tommy Shaw (drive-by shootings) and Daniel Rooney and Brendan Brennan (walking on a road).

The British government does in fact possess the proverbial license to kill. It is a “license” granted to itself and one not grounded in international law. Targeted killings (murder) hitherto depended on the authorization of the Secretary of State. The Intelligence Services Act 1994, Section 7(1), frees intelligence operatives from liability in acts of killing abroad, “if the act is one which is authorised to be done by virtue of an authorisation given by the Secretary of State.”

In the case of Reyaad Khan and Abdul Raqib Amin, the killings were not carried out by MI6 (which is covered by the Intelligence Services Act 1994), but by the Royal Air Force. In 2015, the government started murdering Britons allegedly suspected of involvement in terrorism, making no attempt to apprehend them and put them on trial, as international law requires.

In August 2015, Reyaad Khan and Abdul Raqib Amin, were travelling in a vehicle in Raqqa, Syria. RAF drone operators ended their lives. Then-PM David Cameron told Parliament that Khan was the target (murdered) and Amin was killed alongside him (manslaughter). A third unidentified, alleged Islamic State fighter was killed with them, though the third person was not “identified as a UK national.” By implication, the third person’s life is not important, hence no details emerged.

Cameron claimed the killings were “an act of self-defence,” because Khan was: “involved in actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations.”

But Cameron also revealed that Khan was nota threat to the UK: “there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria.” If Cameron is to be believed, Khan was issuing instructions to terror cells in the UK. But if this is the case, it therefore becomes a matter for the British police.

Changing Stories

The pretext for the murder was later changed by the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, who wrote that the killings were somehow justified in the “collective self-defence” of Iraq, where Briton is supposedly helping the government to defeat ISIS. The trouble is that Khan was not in Iraq when he was killed. Inverting international legal norms, Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, “who authorised the lethal drone strike” (Press and Journal), appealed to Article 51 of the UN Charter, the right of collective and/or individual self-defence. Attorney General Jeremy Wright’s advice has not been published, indicating that the killings are violations of domestic and international law.

It later transpired that the RAF is working its way through a “kill list” of alleged British terror suspects fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Both jets and drones are used; the latter are controlled by operators in RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. “When we know where they are we kill them,” said a Ministry of Defence spokesperson. The “kill list” revelations prompted Lord Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to co-sign a letter to PM May, calling for the release of the government’s Intelligence and Security Committee report into the murder of Reyaad Khan and names of other targeted suspects.

Lucy Powell MP and Kirsten Oswald MP, both co-chairs of the informal All-Party Parliamentary Group, called for a debate on Britain’s use of targeted murder. Defence Secretary Fallon who authorized the murder of Khan claimed that by February 2017, 85 Britons had been killed in Syria, but it wasn’t clear if this meant as part of the RAF’s kill list.

More articles by:

Dr. T. J. Coles is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research and the author of several books, including Voices for Peace (with Noam Chomsky and others) and the forthcoming Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (both Clairview Books).

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail