At what point does the legitimate self-defence become an extra-judicial murder?
That seems to be the question of the day, with predictably opposing views
The justification came in the simple form of they were planning to kill civilians in the UK and hence in the age old strategy of getting your digs in early, they were killed using the medium of an RAF Reaper. This is not dissimilar to Operation Flavius in 1988, Gibraltar, but obviously without the unmanned aircraft and Hellfire missile thing!
It is an interesting debate with many nuanced views in amongst the froth; what does Article 51 of the UN Charter say, what does international law say about anticipatory self defence, what is the definition of self-defence anyway and what amount of transparency is appropriate but at the end of the day, it comes down to a simple matter of right and wrong. They are not there to hand out food to the needy and they are not there to further their study in Quranic scripture, but they are there to fight with and for an organisation that sees no problems with beheading children, killing civilians with mustard gas, raping and enslaving women, throwing homosexuals off tall buildings, boiling prisoners alive and generally debasing what it means to be a human being. They were also plotting to carry out acts of terror in the UK. In that, they forfeit their right to leniency, they gave up their right to be treated with human decency, planted their flags firmly in the wrong camp and in a nutshell, got what was coming to them.
It was proportionate and necessary.
They want to play in a game that allows them to rape women and kill civilians, fine, but they have to understand the game they play has very harsh offside rules.
Where the government seem to be failing is in their efforts to provide legal cover for the people involved. I can see the decision to not publish the legal advice has logic and merit for the short term but longer term, the UK needs to have a clear and unambiguous interpretation of the legal landscape, if necessary, through specific provision in UK law, similar to the US ‘Authorisation of Military Force’ provisions made in the USA.
This provision should be confirmed by Parliament on a regular basis or lapse, but it needs clarity because one thing is certain, as an estimated 700 British nationals have joined Islamic terror groups in Syria, we can’t just bumble along on a case by case basis or saying the only ones we will target are the ones plotting VE day atrocities.
This places far too much emphasis on ‘intelligence’ with all the weight of Iraqi WMD ‘intelligence’ bearing down on each case.
Stripping them of citizenship so we can look the other way whilst America does our dirty work, as some have suggested, seems a rather underhand way of avoiding responsibility and facing up to the unpalatable facts.
So I think we should simply state that any British citizen fighting for ISIS is a clear threat to the UK and act accordingly.
Another question arises, should we exploit this capability?
By demonstrating that we can kill individuals we show that we have an effective intelligence machine backed up with the means to exploit that intelligence. We should be ruthlessly exploiting the psychological value of this capability with careful information operations designed to nurture the feelings of vulnerability. Let ISIS expend energy on trying to figure out how, let them worry about picking up the radio or sending a Tweet, let them understand that no matter where they are, they are being watched. Let’s see a YouTube video showing their last moments with the direct message that ‘it could be you’. Guile, cunning, Twitter and YouTube are powerful allies, especially when they have a big brother with wings. Making it known to other nationalities that hanging around with British members of ISIS might not be conducive to a long life might also have value.
This capability should also be used to incite those there to come home.
Now I know this might not be a popular sentiment and there is a very good argument for, without being shy about the word, killing them in Syria and Iraq rather than worrying about them back home; but, they will be a source of intelligence and maybe some of them can be used to educate and prevent others doing the same.
With a carefully designed and closely managed return and deradicalisation programme, driven by the threat of targetted execution and the pull of some return to normal life in the UK, aided and abetted by their families, some, but not all, of the British ISIS fighters can be peeled away put to work in this long war.
And make no mistake, this is a long war that is going to play out over decades and all of the Middle East and much of Africa.
So let’s be clear, we should make it a public policy position backed up with law; if you are a British member of ISIS, expect a door knock from Mr Reaper, but there are alternatives.
Carrot and Stick.
Finally, lost in all the hype is the fact that some very brave men and women will have been involved, maybe time to share a thought for them as well.