Human rights lawyer Jennifer Gibson, Reprieve tackling the government on drones (Image, Reprieve)
The Joint Committee on Human Rights will today hear serious concerns over the government’s new policy of targeted killings.
Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at human rights organization Reprieve, will give evidence today as part of the Committee’s inquiry into the government’s new programme of targeting killings, or so-called ‘kill policy’. The existence of the apparent policy emerged in September this year, when the Prime Minister announced that he had “some months ago” authorised strikes in Syria, without the knowledge of MPs or the public. At the time, the Prime Minister stressed that the policy was not limited to Syria, and that he would be prepared to take strikes in Libya and elsewhere.
The government has to date rebuffed questions on the scope of the kill policy, and has refused to reveal the legal basis for the strikes. Asked in September by MPs if his advice to the government was ‘case-by-case’ or in reference to a ‘blanket’ policy, Attorney General Jeremy Wright replied “nice try.” He added that there was a need to rethink what ‘imminence’ means, an issue that has generated controversy in the US, after it emerged the Obama administration had stretched the word beyond its original meaning to excuse an expanded programme of drone killings.
The UK decision has raised concerns that the government has shifted to a US-style policy of strikes in countries where the UK is not at war. Covert US drone strikes in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan have killed hundreds of civilians, and senior members of the US military have questioned their effectiveness. Army General Stanley McChrystal, former head of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command, told the BBC last year that the US’ policy of strikes “seems like a panacea to the messiness of war [but] is not that at all.” He added that the strikes cause a “tremendous amount of resentment” in countries such as Yemen.
Recent research by Reprieve, which assists the civilian victims of drone strikes, has found that US strikes killed some 1,147 people in attempts to kill 41 individuals – leaving the original target unharmed in many cases.
Several MPs are mounting a legal challenge to the government’s policy.
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve, said: “Three months ago, the Prime Minister took the extraordinary step of granting himself the power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world, in secret and without due process. Since then, he has refused to answer even basic questions about this huge shift in British policy – a shift that looks eerily like the US’s own failed drone programme.
“The Human Rights Committee inquiry is a welcome and much-needed ray of light on this new policy. The Government must urgently answer vital questions about the legal basis for such action, the scope of these new powers, and whether sufficient safeguards are in place. Equally importantly, the Government must answer why it has seemingly adopted wholesale a US policy even senior US generals are calling counterproductive and a ‘failed strategy.’ Given what’s at stake, ‘trust us’ simply doesn’t cut it.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”