Skip to main content

Cameron follows Obama’s footsteps in drone assassinations of citizens

What legally qualifies the assassination of a British citizen on foreign soil without due process?

The world will remember George W. Bush and Tony Blair for spearheading the “War on Terror” and illegally invading Iraq, which led to the destabilisation that gave birth to the Islamic State (IS) group. However, there appears to be a difference of opinion regarding the legacy President Barack Obama will leave. On the one hand, he is criticised by the warmongering hawks and neocons for being weak in his handling of matters in the Middle East, and bullied by Russia in Ukraine, while others have dubbed him Obomber” for institutionalising the use of Predator drones to eliminate “terrorists”. The thousands of innocent men, women and children killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia has led to heavy criticisms and strong condemnations by human rights groups over Obama’s use of drones.

Strangely, it was not the “collateral damage” caused by a drone strike that killed an entire family at a wedding in Afghanistan that sparked international outrage. It was only after the extrajudicial murder of the prominent al-Qaeda linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman Awlaki - both American citizens - that raised public concerns over the indiscriminate use of drones to kill Americans without any due process. A number of advocacy groups, lawyers and journalists highlighted that murdering US citizens without a fair trial contravened the American constitution, which the Obama administration bypassed with the use of a congressional act that negated the protection of US citizenship.

Blair followed Bush, Cameron follows Obama

Jihadist groups from across the Muslim world have cited Obama’s use of drones as a continuation of Bush’s war against Islam. If Obama thought that by using drones as an alternative to ground invasion would make him more “compassionate” in the eyes of the global Muslim community than his predecessor, then he was definitely mistaken.

When Prime Minister David Cameron announced on 7 September that he authorised an RAF drone strike against British citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin for plotting attacks on British soil, despite the UK not having the authority to carry out strikes in Syria - he too was grossly mistaken if he assumed this would make him less bloodthirsty than Blair.

In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference last month, Cameron defended his decision for approving the assassination of the two Britons without trial, stating that as a leader there was “no time to debate” but to “make decisions only”. This one-line justification must have been a “Tory nuance” of the British value of the “rule of law,” which the attendees of the conference exclusively understood. Cameron’s muscular approach to enforcing British values under the new Counter-Extremism strategy comes amid the Tories' failed attempts to scrap the Human Rights Act. If this endeavour is successful in the near future, the assassination of British citizens fighting with IS or any other militant group will be made easier due to the side-lining of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). To add to the contradictory conception and application of justice was the fact that Britain celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta this year - the nation’s holy grail of rights and freedoms for all, even dissenters and enemies of the state.

If Home Secretary Theresa May’s liking for secret courts with secret evidence was a worrying indication of where this country is heading, then I suppose many could argue that secret assassinations of Britons without trial is a steady drift towards an illiberal state, which pays mere lip service to the values of freedom, liberty and the rule of law.

The question Britons should be asking, irrelevant of faith or ideological affiliation, is what legally qualifies the assassination of a British citizen on foreign soil without due process? This is a very important question, which if left unanswered, can be life threatening to political dissenters of all persuasions in the years to come - not just “Islamists”.  

America’s ‘poodle’

The embarrassing reality is that Britain for the best part of half a century has become a certified “poodle” of the US, and the War on Terror cemented the fact that successive British prime ministers lacked the fortitude to abstain from joining the US’s imperialistic escapades in the Muslim world.

Just as Blair willingly followed Bush into invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Cameron did exactly the same with Obama in carrying out air strikes in Iraq against IS, with the full intention of doing so in Syria, until he lost the vote in the House of Commons. Just as Obama utilised drones to assassinate Awlaki, a few years later, Cameron followed suit in the extrajudicial murder of two of his own citizens.

Britain has been losing the battle of hearts and minds against “Islamism” since the inception of the War on Terror. Millions of pounds have been poured into counter-extremism initiatives over the past 14 years. But this has failed to provide the response to 7/7 that the UK wanted, and efforts focused further upstream have also largely failed. The government’s Prevent strategy claims to have one overarching goal: dissuading young British Muslims from supporting terrorism against Britain. At face value for the ordinary uninformed laymen, that approach seems reasonable, but in reality, Prevent has been widely shunned as “divisive,” “draconian” and “toxic”.

This country’s invasion of sovereign states under false pretexts of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and harbouring terrorists, embarking on “regime changes” in the Middle East to impose its own conception of democracy, its unequivocal support for the state of Israel and brutal secular dictators in the Arab world, and its selective “humanitarian interventionism” are merely the tip of the iceberg, which has nullified the UK from having any real moral high ground in telling the rest of the “developing world” how to behave.

The threat IS poses to the UK does not remotely compare to that of the IRA in previous years, or that of militant secular separatist groups to the whole of Europe. Therefore, the measures taken to address it must be proportionate and fact-based - not those of unadulterated disregard for the rule of law and the very rights and freedoms Britain arrogantly lectures to the rest of the world. 

- Dilly Hussain is the deputy editor of British Muslim news site 5Pillars. He also writes for the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, and contributes to the Foreign Policy Journal and Ceasefire Magazine. He regularly appears on Islam Channel, Russia Today, and BBC TV and radio discussing Middle East and North African politics, British foreign policy, Islamophobia and the war on terror. Find him on Twitter @dillyhussain88

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.  

Photo: British Prime Minister David Cameron meets pilots, engineers and logistic support staff in front of a Tornado GR4 at RAF Akrotiri base (AFP)

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.