THE BLOG
24/09/2015 09:26 BST | Updated 24/09/2016 06:12 BST

The Government's Failure to Clearly Spell Out the Kill Policy Is Unlawful and Threatens the Bedrock of British Democracy

On 29 August 2012, a US drone killed Salim ali Jaber and Walid ali Jaber in the village of Khashamir in Yemen. Salem was a local imam who vocally and frequently opposed al Qaeda; Walid was a police officer. They are but two civilian victims of a misguided and secretive US 'targeted killing' programme which has led to the deaths of hundreds of innocents.

Faisal's relatives died because of a secret US kill programme. Their story is relevant to us, here in Britain today, because of the Prime Minister's recent announcement that Britain would be adopting a carbon copy of that programme - giving him the power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world, without oversight or safeguards.

The parallels with the US programme are clear. The US has long used drones to carry out strikes in countries around the world where it is not at war, notably Pakistan and Yemen. As with the UK, the policy of targeted killing outside of warzones was implemented without approval from the legislature, with sign-off only from members of the executive.

Mr Cameron is copying a deeply flawed and patently failed programme. And you needn't take my word on this; there are enough current and former US military officials who say so openly and often. Former head of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, called it a 'failed strategy'. General Stanley McChrystal--a veteran of American ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan--warned it creates 'resentment' towards 'American arrogance'.

Investigation by Reprievefound that as well as the hundreds of civilian victims of US drone strikes, the intelligence is so flawed that in attempts to target 41 alleged 'militants', 1,100 people have been killed. At least 150 of these were children.

This is the programme that Mr Cameron announced two weeks ago he was importing to the UK.

Laws that keep the government in check are specifically designed not for when everything is plain sailing, but for the most difficult of scenarios. When we face great challenges, our values as a society become most important - and most easily jettisoned. Secret policies and untrammelled government power are undemocratic and dangerous. We need clarity and transparency. To date, the government has not come clean on the limits of its Kill Policy. Nor has it disclosed what oversight and safeguards are in place to ensure the policy is executed lawfully. MPs, supported by Reprieve, now have no choice but to threaten legal action to find out anything about this policy, such is its opacity.

The government is under a legal duty to formulate policy clearly. In a democracy, this comes through a full parliamentary debate. Parliament acts as a check and balance on unfettered government power and overreach. This government has deliberately bypassed Parliament, perhaps because it fears that reasonable limits will be placed on its licence to kill. Good governance and the rule of law require the public to be aware of the circumstances in which the government believes it is necessary and lawful to kill. The government's failure to clearly spell out the Kill Policy is unlawful and threatens the bedrock of British democracy.

The 'targeted killing' policy is a seductive one - it promises accuracy and zero civilian casualties. Yet the US experience shows this to be false. We now know that hundreds of innocent civilians - people like Faisal's relatives - have died as a result of misguided and inaccurate attempts on the lives of 'militants.' Worse still, it appears to be counter-productive: in 2012, a Princeton University expert warned that several years of US targeted killings in Yemen had not only failed to reduce Al Qaeda's numbers but had increased them from around 200 to over 1000. And with US military figures now warning their programme has been a failure, the PM's unilateral decision to adopt this model is truly bizarre.

Today's legal action is an attempt to challenge the UK government's apparent desire to go down the same dangerous path as the US, before it is too late. At the very least, Britain owes it to Faisal and the hundreds like him to have a full, open debate before adopting the very policy which has caused him so much grief.

Omran Belhadi is a caseworker at Reprieve