Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Justice for drone strikes?

Since 2004, the US has waged a secret war in Pakistan, targeting the Taliban and Al Qaeda using drones. The attacks have killed at least 2,500 people, almost all of them civilians. Now, the people responsible - former CIA lawyer John Rizzo, who approved the strikes, as well as the civilian operators who pilot the drones and launch the missiles - may face arrest and extradition to Pakistan for the murders they have committed:

The attempt to seek an international arrest warrant for Rizzo is being led by the British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of the campaign group Reprieve, and lawyers in Pakistan. The lawyers are also building cases against other individuals, including drone operators interviewed or photographed during organised press facilities.

A first information report, the first step in seeking a prosecution of Rizzo in Pakistan, will be formally lodged early next week at a police station in the capital, Islamabad, on behalf of relatives of two people killed in drone strikes in 2009. The report will also allege Rizzo should be charged with conspiracy to murder a large number of Pakistani citizens.

Now retired, Rizzo, 63, is being pursued after admitting in an interview with the magazine Newsweek that since 2004 he had approved one drone attack order a month on targets in Pakistan, even though the US is not at war with the country.

The latter is significant. The absence of a formal state of war strips Rizzo and his drone operators of any protection they could claim under the laws of war. The killings are simply murders, and they are simply terrorists. Or, as the US would put it, "unlawful combatants" - though in the event that they ever face trial, it will be before a civilian court, with full appeal rights, rather than a US kangaroo tribunal.

The US, of course, will never extradite. But with international warrants out for their arrest, none of these terrorists will ever be able to travel internationally again, and the pressure will go on the US to stop harbouring them. Its not justice, but its a small step on the way.