UK drone strikes: ‘No legal basis for killing Brits overseas’

Annie Machon
Annie Machon is a former intel­li­gence officer for MI5, the UK Secur­ity Ser­vice, who resigned in the late 1990s to blow the whistle on the spies’ incom­pet­ence and crimes with her ex-partner, David Shayler. Draw­ing on her var­ied exper­i­ences, she is now a pub­lic speaker, writer, media pun­dit, inter­na­tional tour and event organ­iser, polit­ical cam­paigner, and PR con­sult­ant. She is also now the Dir­ector of LEAP, Europe. She has a rare per­spect­ive both on the inner work­ings of gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and the media, as well as the wider implic­a­tions for the need for increased open­ness and account­ab­il­ity in both pub­lic and private sectors.
There's no legal basis for using UK's unmanned drone program to target individuals, said former MI5 agent Annie Machon. She adds there is no proper accountability for killing Britons abroad, just the say so of intelligence agencies.

UK drone strikes could leave “all those involved facing murder charges” according to a parliamentary cross-party commission which is now demanding a clearer legal basis for the attacks from the government.

RT: We're seeing official calls for tighter regulation to legally protect those responsible for drone attacks. Is this a step in the right direction?

Annie Machon: It’s a step that should have been taken many years ago when we started the war on terror. Legally, looking at it, it appears that with no parliamentary debate and parliamentary mandate the UK prime minister has effectively reinstituted the death penalty which the UK abolished in [1965], but now apparently on the say-so of intelligence agencies allows UK citizens to be murdered from the skies with no proper accountability, no oversight and no democratic rule. That is a very dangerous path to go down. Also it is very interesting to read the justifications for the use of this lethal force. The government has said that they are acting in self-defense and that these terrorists offer an imminent and real threat to national security, the national integrity of the UK and therefore deserve to be assassinated. This rather confirms what peace campaigners and human rights lawyers have been saying for over a decade - which is that the only legal justification a country can have to carry out wars or attacks of aggression is legally if they are under imminent threat. However, a few years back looking at the justification of the war in Iraq, the “humanitarian aid” in Libya and our interventions in Syria, they have not to date been using those legal arguments. But now when the personnel and the military might possibly be under legal threat they are beginning to use the correct legal arguments.

RT: Do these concerns by lawmakers suggest the UK plans more drone strikes abroad?

AM: …Unfortunately, for the UK and for the personnel who are actually carrying out these acts, the UK is in a very different legal position to the US. The US has something called the National Defense Authorization Act which was ratified in 2012, which allows and gives exemption to the military personnel to carry out this sort of drone attack internationally with no due process. The victims are selected and signed off on the CIA kill-list - which is signed every Tuesday morning by the president of the US. And those carrying out these attacks from the US military are given legal immunity. Plus the US has not fully ratified, fully signed up to the International Criminal Court. So, these people cannot internationally be tried for war crimes. However, the UK has signed up to these legalities and the UK has not put in place any equivalent to the NDAA. What we have is a government ordering these strikes to be carried out by our military, targeted by our intelligence agencies without offering them a proper legal framework within which to do it with proper accountability and proper legal defense if such things ever came to court. That it is a terrible tragedy for people who have been killed during drone strikes, of course, but it is also a delegation of duty in terms of protecting those who are legitimately working to protect our national security – the military and intelligence agencies in the UK.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.