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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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.