Unaccountable targeted killings? Cameron shot down for withholding drone intelligence

© Reuters
Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticized by MPs after revealing the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) would not be allowed to see information used to justify drone strikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria.

Former Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman said the PM was hampering the work of the committee by refusing to allow it access to intelligence.

The criticism came during a security and intelligence questions session in the House of Commons, when Tory chairman of the Treasury Select Committee Andrew Tyrie asked Cameron whether the intelligence committee would be given information on targeted killings by drones.

Cameron refused, saying it was the job of the committee to examine intelligence, not military affairs, and that he could not guarantee Tyrie’s requests.

Tyrie argued the ultimate jurisdiction still lies with the secretary of state and that the committee’s work could be “rendered meaningless” if it is denied access to military information.

Harman, who chairs Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, said it was “unacceptable” for the prime minister to attempt to hide information from the committee, citing the killing of British citizen Reyaad Khan as an example of his failure to provide information. 

Khan was killed by a British drone strike in Syria during 2015.

“The prime minister sought to give the impression today that he is allowing the ISC to scrutinize the targeted killing of Reyaad Khan in Syria in August. But under questioning from the liaison committee chair, Andrew Tyrie MP, he was forced to admit he is not allowing this scrutiny. It’s not acceptable that he is clearly frustrating the scrutiny work of the ISC who he appointed and who are all security-cleared,” Harman said.

Following the hearing, Tyrie said he believes the committee will be unable to do its job, and urged the PM to reconsider and permit access to such information.

“Unless he permits this, the ISC will be incapable of providing reassurance to Parliament and the public that the strikes were both necessary and proportionate.”

Kat Craig, legal director at international human rights organization Reprieve, said Cameron must be more transparent.

“Despite the prime minister’s assurances to the contrary, the UK’s targeted killing program is entirely ambiguous and shrouded in secrecy. Just because it may take a bit of effort to formulate a policy [on providing intelligence], it does not mean the government can wholesale refuse to do so. In fact, the government is under a legal obligation to formulate and publish a clear and unambiguous policy, especially when we’re talking about state killing.

“Moreover, the prime minister’s refusals to share vital information with the ISC raises the disturbing possibility that – much like the controversial US drone program – UK targeted killing may be beyond accountability and oversight.”