British intelligence officers accused of murder over drone attacks in Pakistan

Family that lost father in Waziristan missile strike launches claim in the High Court

British intelligence officers could be guilty of encouraging murder, or even war crimes, by supplying information to the CIA for drone attacks, it was claimed today.

The assertion that GCHQ officers could be complicit in the killing of civilians in Pakistan was made at the beginning of a two day hearing brought by lawyers for Noor Khan, whose father was killed in an attack by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in March 2011.

Malik Daud Khan, the High Court was told, had been attending a peaceful commercial jirga to discuss chromite mining rights in North Waziristan when he was among up to 50 people killed by a missile strike.

The poverty stricken community now lived in terror of the drones that “hover” over their skies day and night, Mr Khan, 27, said in a statement to the court, with tribal elders fearful of gathering together lest they become a target.

“The mothers and wives plead with the men to not congregate together for fear that they will be targeted. They do not want to lose any more of their husbands, sons, brothers, and nephews,” he wrote, adding: “The younger generation has been especially affected. The children almost all suffer from mental illness and live in constant fear of the drone. The children no longer attend school and because of the constant humming of the drones they’ve become mental patients.”

Lawyers for Mr Khan are challenging Foreign Secretary William Hague to clarify the British Government's position on sharing intelligence with the CIA – a matter it says it will neither confirm nor deny – and challenge the lawfulness of such cooperation.

During a two day permission hearing seeking a judicial review into the matter, Martin Chamberlain – for Mr Khan – quoted the Bureau Investigative Journalism as saying 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.

While the British government has refused to confirm any involvement in the UAV strikes, Mr Chamberlain read from press reports, quoting GCHQ sources as saying the agency was “proud” of the work it had done with the Americans and it was in “strict accordance” with the law.

While insisting that the application did not seek to “embarrass” the US administration or question the lawfulness of the attacks, he said it questioned the legality of UK officers sharing information on individuals and whether that made them “a secondary party to murder”.

Mr Chamberlain said he would not seek to claim that CIA officers – as American citizens – were committing any crime under English law, but that: “Participation by UK officers in US drone strikes by passing on locational intelligence may amount to an offence of encouraging or assisting murder as a matter of English domestic law.”

According to domestic law a UK national who assists a foreigner to murder overseas can be tried in England, he said, even if the foreign national cannot.

He continued: “We say the offence of murder is triable in England where the defendant is a subject of Her Majesty even where the killing takes place abroad.”

“The only persons entitled to immunity from domestic criminal law in respect of armed attacks are those regarded under international law as 'lawful combatants' participating in an 'international armed conflict',” Mr Chamberlain said, claiming that civilian GCHQ officers could not be considered combatants while there was no acknowledged international armed conflict in Pakistan.

The barrister added that while his primary argument was that they could be breaching domestic law, an alternative was to consider whether they were in violation of international humanitarian law and, therefore, guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Lawyers for the Foreign Secretary will argue that the case raises issues relating to sovereign foreign states that cannot be determined by the English courts and, therefore, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Simon should not give permission for it to go to a full hearing.

They argue that the case invites the court into “territory of extreme sensitivity” concerning military operations and the activities of the intelligence services in both the UK and the US. It would be against the public interest for the Foreign Secretary to confirm or deny any alleged activities, they argue, adding: “It would be prejudicial to the national interest for the Government even to explain its understanding of the legal position”.

They also say that adjudicating on Mr Khan's claim would plainly have a “significant impact” on the conduct of the UK's relations with the US and Pakistan in an “acutely controversial, sensitive and important” context, and also impact on relations between the US and Pakistan. The hearing continues today.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick