The New York Times has this long article about the Noor Khan lawsuit in Britain, in which the son of a man killed in a drone strike in Pakistan has sued the British Foreign Secretary for information about British intellligence support to the US. The article, entitled “Drone Strike Prompts Law Suit, Raising Fears for U.S. Allies,” notes that European governments are growing increasingly uncomfortable about sharing intelligence with the US that might be used in drone strikes: “Many in Brtian’s intelligence community…are now distinctly worried they may face prosecution.”
I had previously described the dismissal of the Noor Khan case here, noting that the British court had relied on the US “Act of State” doctrine. That decision is now on appeal.
I have been warning for several years about the international legal risks posed by the Obama Administration’s heavy reliance on drone strikes, including my Post op-ed in October 2011 entitled “Will Drone Strikes Become Obama’s Guantanamo?” This article was not intended as partisan criticism but rather as a cautionary note, based on my own eight years of experience explaining US counter-terrorism policies.
At the time I wrote it, I thought there was perhaps only a 25% chance that Obama’s drone strikes would become as internationally maligned as Guantanamo, given the preference of human rights groups and European governments to avoid criticising the Obama Administration. But over the last eighteen months, I have seen a crescendo in international criticism, resulting in lawsuits in the US, Britain, and Pakistan, and a potential decrease in intelligence cooperation. This has echoes of the rapid decline in European governmental support for US counterterrorism efforts after 9-11 as national parliaments pressed their governments to distance themselves from unpopular US policies. I would not be surprised if, in the next year, war crimes charges are brought against senior Obama officials in a European country with a universal jurisdiction law. The Administration is increasingly on the back foot internationally in explaining and defending the legal aspects of the drone program. It needs to step up its efforts.