Cameron’s original justification for drone strikes in Syria, killing two British nationals, was that the “targets” were an “imminent threat” to UK security. He needed to explain contravention of a 2013 House of Commons vote outlawing military action in Syria.
Cameron said he had seen intelligence that both Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin were in touch with others in the UK who planned to launch attacks to coincide with the VE Day anniversary, 8 May 2015. But the drone strikes which killed them did not occur until 21 August 2015...
Then a letter from the British ambassador to the UN Security Council emerged in which it is claimed the strike was part of “collective self defence of Iraq” — the UK Parliament has agreed to air strikes on Iraq and against Daesh targets.
The ambassador states that Article 51 of the UN charter justifies the attack because: “This airstrike was a necessary and proportionate exercise of the individual right of self-defence of the United Kingdom.”
And goes on, “As reported in our letter of 25 November 2014, Isil [Isis] is engaged in an ongoing armed attack against Iraq, and therefore action against Isil in Syria is lawful in the collective self-defence of Iraq.”
Reprieve, the human rights group which obtained the letter, has said evidence that an attack on the UK was imminent did not stand up; additional justification had been added to bolster the Government’s case.
The justification is based on the so-called Caroline Test. In 1837 an incursion by British troops into the US from Canada to sink a boat carrying supplies to anti-colonial established the basis by which force can be used if there is an imminent threat, and peaceful means are not available.
Following 9/11, the US attempted to redefine what “imminence” means. A memo leaked in 2011 following the killing of a US national (in Yemen) said it did “not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”
This gives a far wider scope for “targeted killings” or assassinations as they could be more accurately called. Now the UK is moving toward the US’s looser definition. That would give more power to military intelligence and remove public scrutiny.
The killing of Daesh fighters may not be something to mourn, but the manner and scope of the powers which have been used to intervene is of great concern. The so-called “kill list” used by the US to target individuals is more about revenge and military prowess than defeating the growth of Daesh.
The labour movement should oppose any attempt to give further power to the secret state.