UK High Court hears Pakistan drone killing case


By Robert Stevens 

The High Court in London is considering a request for a full judicial inquiry into the alleged role of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spying operation in aiding drone strikes by the US Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan’s northwest region. The court is scheduled to reach a decision before the end of the year.

The case has been brought by Noor Khan, a 27-year-old from Waziristan in Pakistan, whose father was killed by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missile strike in Datta Khel town center, northwest Pakistan on March 17, 2011. Khan is calling on the court to look into whether UK intelligence officials provided assistance in the killing of his father and if they are liable for prosecution.

The court heard in a two day hearing last week how Khan’s father, Malik Daud Khan, was chairing a peaceful jirga (tribal assembly) meeting to discuss chromite mining rights in North Waziristan when he was among at least 42 people killed by several missile strikes. Among the others killed at what was effectively a government-sponsored meeting were five members of the local police force and a child. Some 35 government-appointed tribal leaders, known as maliks, were also present. According to a Pakistani military commander in North Waziristan, the maliks had even taken care to alert the local military post of the planned jirga ten days earlier.

Malik Daud Khan and those killed in that act of savagery are a small fraction of the thousands killed in US drone attacks over the last decade. Speaking on behalf of Noor Khan, lawyer Martin Chamberlain told the court that the British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) had reported that by August last year, 2,347 people had been killed in UAV attacks in Pakistan, of which at least 392 were civilians and 175 children.

Chamberlain said, “The participation of a UK intelligence official in US drone strikes, by passing intelligence, may amount to the offence of encouraging or assisting murder.”

He said Khan was seeking a declaration by the courts that such intelligence-sharing is unlawful. He added that even though no GCHQ official would be able to mount a defence of combat immunity, there was no wish, on the claimants’ part, to convict any individual of a criminal offence.

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