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FACTDROP: UK accoused of 'assisting' covered CIA drone strikes


UK accoused of 'assisting' covered CIA drone strikes

Πηγή: Channel 4 News
March 12 2012

Lawyers working for human rights group Reprieve launch formal proceedings against the government over claims the UK is "helping" the US carry out covert drone strikes in Pakistan.

London-based charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day & Co. are filing papers to the high court claiming that civilian staff at GCHQ, Britain's chief electronic listening post, could be liable as "secondary parties to murder" for providing "locational intelligence" to the CIA's drone programme in Pakistan.

The two groups are acting on behalf of Noor Khan, 27, a Pakistani whose father was killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan in March 2011 while attending a gathering of elders. More than 40 other people were killed in that attack, they said.

Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who is acting on behalf of victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan, toldChannel 4 News he hopes the legal challenge will lead to "accountability and transparency in the drone programme and eventaully help victim families seek justice".

He explained: "Noor Khan is one of our clients here in Pakistan and with Reprieve's help we have been able to instruct Leigh Day to file in UK."

Reprieve, which has previously worked on behalf of Guantanamo Bay inmates, urged the British government to offer more clarity about its role - if any - in US drone strikes.

"What has the government got to hide? If they're not supplying information as part of the CIA's illegal drone war, why not tell us?" Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said.

The Foreign Office and GCHQ declined to comment on the legal action. British officials have never commented publicly on US drone activity.

Since 2004, CIA drones have targeted suspected militants with missile strikes in the Pakistani tribal regions, killing hundreds of people. The programme is controversial because of questions about its legality, the number of civilians it has killed, and its impact on Pakistan's sovereignty.

US officials do not publicly acknowledge the covert drone programme but they have said privately that the strikes harm very few innocents and are key to weakening al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

Leigh Day & Co. claim that GCHQ staff may be guilty of war crimes by passing along detailed intelligence to a drone programme that violates international humanitarian law.

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