UK High Court blocks drone intelligence challenge

AP News
Posted: Dec 21, 2012 7:30 AM

LONDON (AP) — Britain's High Court on Friday blocked a legal bid for an inquiry into the possible role of the country's spy agencies in aiding covert CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's northwest tribal region.

Noor Khan, a 27-year-old whose father was killed by a drone strike in northwest Pakistan in March 2011, had asked the High Court to examine whether Britain intelligence officials assisted the action and whether they may be liable for prosecution.

High Court judges on Friday refused to allow Khan to bring a legal challenge, saying his lawyer's arguments had been an "attempt to shroud" a real goal of getting the court to publicly denounce U.S. drone strikes.

"The real aim is to persuade this court to make a public pronouncement designed to condemn the activities of the United States in North Waziristan, as a step in persuading them to halt such activity," judge Alan Moses said, adding that Khan's lawyer "knows he could not obtain permission overtly for such a purpose."

Law firm Leigh Day & Co., which is representing Khan along with legal aid charity Reprieve, said it was disappointed by the ruling and that Khan planned to appeal.

Khan's lawyers had claimed that civilian staff at Britain's electronic listening agency, GCHQ, could be "secondary parties to murder" for providing "locational intelligence" to the CIA in directing its drone attack program.

The ruling was a victory for the British government, whose lawyers had said that ties between Britain, the U.S. and Pakistan could be jeopardized if a judge granted Khan's request.

Khan's father, Malik Daud Khan, was attending a meeting of local elders in Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, when it was hit by a missile fired from an unmanned drone, killing around 40 people.

Since 2004, CIA drones have targeted suspected militants with missile strikes in the Pakistani tribal regions, killing hundreds of people. The program is controversial because of questions about its legality, the number of civilians it has killed and its impact on Pakistan's sovereignty.


Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at