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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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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