25 August 2020
Five years after an RAF Reaper drone flying over Syria launched a missile that killed three people, including the Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan, Chris Cole of Drone Wars looks at the ways in which the government has been able to stymie transparency of the UK's drone warfare programme. Without public knowledge of the what the government is doing, Cole argues, "decisions that are hugely costly and damaging" will be made over and over again with no accountability.
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"Five years ago today (21 August 2015), an RAF Reaper drone operating over Syria launched a missile at a vehicle travelling along a dusty road in Raqqa, killing its three occupants including the target of the strike, 21-year old Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan. The targeted killing caused a storm of controversy when then PM David Cameron reported it to parliament three weeks later. The government had not only for the first time launched a lethal strike in a country in which it was not at war, but had also defied a resolution supporting use of force in Iraq though specifically ruling it out in Syria. The government insisted that the operation was necessary as Khan was instigating and encouraging terror attacks in the UK.
The Joint Human Rights Committee (JHRC) and the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), supposed heavyweights in the area of parliamentary scrutiny launched inquiries, the former looking at the policy and legal issues and the latter at intelligence aspects. Both, however, were seriously hamstrung by ministers and officials failing to provide crucial details or answer straightforward questions...
The government’s tactics worked. Despite the findings of the JHRC, investigation of ‘kill lists’ and UK targeted killings virtually disappeared even amid further reports of such targeted killings. The government felt so confident that it wasn’t long before ministers felt able to talk up a policy of eliminating all UK members of ISIS.
Five years after the UK’s first drone targeted killing, MPs and peers need to step up and demand to know where Britain’s drones are operating and exactly what they are doing. Please take a few minutes to write to your MP asking them to push for greater transparency on the use of drones using this draft letter."
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