What is Britain's role in the CIA's illegal drone campaign?

The death of two British nationals in Pakistan raises serious questions about UK complicity.

In the latest casualties from America's hidden war in Pakistan, two British nationals have reportedly been killed by drone missiles.

According to their friends and familiy, Ibrahim Adam and Mohammed Azmir died in a single strike in Waziristan at least three months ago. Both men were suspected of terrorist activity -- Adam had absconded from a control order (yet was still able to leave Britain and enter Pakistan; there is a separate issue), while Azmir's assets were frozen by the Treasury last year as he was suspected of funding terror.

The death of two men already known to UK authorities raises serious questions about the role that the British intelligence services is playing in the CIA's secret war. If Britain provided information about the men's whereabouts to the CIA, it is complicit in this illegal campaign.

The US does not formally acknowledge its drone campaign, but it is thought that it has launched more than 300 strikes since 2004, killing at least 2,000 people. It is near impossible to gain statistics on civilian deaths, although the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has made a decent attempt, finding that at least 392 civilians, including 175 children could be among the dead. The anecdotal evidence certainly disputes the official line that drone attacks keep collateral damage to a minimum. In this week's NS (available on newsstands now) Jemima Khan reports from a conference in Islamabad about the huge human cost:

Barack Obama has argued that the use of drone technology is the best way of targeting militants while minimising civilian casualties. Under his administration, the use of drones has increased tenfold -- it is easier to eliminate terrorist suspects than to detain them. Yet an official US statement claimed there have been no "non-combatant deaths" as a result.

The delegates, tribal elders, the families of victims of drone strikes and Tariq had come from Waziristan to dispute that. They descended on Islamabad -- a riot of beige, with biblical beards -- armed with gruesome photographs of women and children blown to pieces among debris and missile parts stamped with serial numbers and the US flag.

At the conference, Samiullah Jan, 17, just out of college, was represented only by his ID card, retrieved from the rubble of his home. Another teenager, a 16-year-old boy called Saadullah, hobbled in on prosthetic limbs: he had lost his legs and his sight two years earlier. "I used to dream of being a doctor" he told us. "Now I can't even go to school. I'm not even human."

The campaign is illegal, unaccountable, and having a devastating effect on already anti-US public sentiment in Pakistan. A poll for al-Jazeera in August 2009 showed that 67 per cent of respondents "oppose drone attacks by the United States against the Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan". A poll in October for the International Republican Institute found that 73 per cent of respondents opposed US military incursions into the tribal areas, while a recent Pew poll found that 97 per cent viewed the attacks negatively.

The campaign has been spurred on and stepped up, in part, because of high profile "successes", like the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the former Taliban commander in Pakistan. But targeted killings should not be the first recourse of a country purporting to uphold human rights and the rule of law. Britain has serious questions to answer about its complicity.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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