US justifies drone hits by citing Blair defence of Iraq war
Published 06/02/2013 | 04:00
A DEFENCE of Britain's role in the war on terrorism given by Tony Blair's government after the invasion of Iraq is secretly being used by the Obama administration to help justify its drone campaign against al-Qa'ida.
In a classified memo which argues that its so-called "targeted killing" campaign is legal, the US cites remarks made in 2004 by Lord Goldsmith, then Mr Blair's attorney general, on why Britain's right to defend itself should include taking pre-emptive military action.
"It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack," Lord Goldsmith said at the time.
His 2004 comments are being used by Mr Obama's justice department to build an argument that the US is entitled to kill Americans who are "senior operational leaders" of al-Qa'ida or "an associated force", even when there is no evidence they are actively plotting to attack.
The document, which was published by NBC News, discloses some of the long-awaited and secret legal reasoning for Mr Obama's use of unmanned drones to kill al-Qa'ida terrorist suspects who are also US citizens, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric who was killed in Yemen in September 2011.
The "white paper" was given to the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees by the administration last summer on condition that it not be made public.
The committees are investigating the drone campaign, which was only recently acknowledged in public by senior US officials. The attacks on American citizens, who have constitutional rights to a fair trial on criminal charges, has provoked criticism from human rights campaigners. The memo sets out a three-part test for strikes against US citizens: that a suspect must pose an "imminent" threat; that his capture must be "infeasible" and that the strike conforms to "law of war principles". In what is likely to be one of its most contentious passages, however, the memo makes an expansive case for what constitutes an "imminent" threat against America, at one stage citing Lord Goldsmith's 2004 comments.
"The condition that an operational leader present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," it states.
Before his death, Awlaki, who was born and educated in the US, was linked to numerous terrorist plots, including the so-called "pants bomber", who attempted to bring down an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. (© Daily Telegraph London)