Thursday, 10 September 2015

Death, by David Cameron

Reyaad Khan, aged 21 from Cardiff, was killed in Syria by a Royal Air Force drone on 21st August. With him were two others including Rakib Amin from Aberdeen, also a UK citizen.

At 15:30 on 7th September, Mr Cameron stood up in the House of Commons, starting his statement in the most cynical way possible: " let me update the House on what we are doing to help address the migration crisis in Europe and, in particular, to help the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Syria." His Britain, he went on to say,  "is a country of extraordinary compassion, always standing up for our values and helping those in need."

Then he dropped the bomb: 

"Today, I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning, Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqa in Syria. In addition to Reyaad Khan, who was the target of the strike, two ISIL associates were also killed, one of whom, Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were ISIL fighters, and I can confirm that there were no civilian casualties.

We took this action because there was no alternative. In this area, there is no Government we can work with; we have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots; and there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria or desist from his desire to murder us at home, so we had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action."

He followed this news with a long statement about the legal justification for this particular death penalty.

What view can we take of this? Government secret services - whether or not they were agent 007 - have long murdered and kidnapped people who represented a threat to their country. Is a knife in the back, or poison in their tea, much different from a missile fired from a "remotely piloted aircraft"? Objectively, so long as other people are not killed in collateral damage, they are not. But Westminster is engaged in a "war on terror" - a deadly tautology - and war has rules designed precisely in order to limit the barbarity of our armed forces. 

These rules are built on historic wars - lines of armed men facing each other across no-man's land.

Today we have remote wars. David Cameron's pen starts the process and an RAF pilot in a bunker in North London ends it, pressing the button that fires the missile from the drone.

Our ethics,  our rules and our laws have not caught up with remote, automated, robot wars where Governments sign the death warrant by decree, in secret and in this case, against the specific will of a Parliament. 

Nor have our geopolitics. Because this new killing - Amnesty International called it a "remote-controlled summary killing from the sky" -  will mean more hatred, not less. More bombings, not less. More refugees to be turned away by Westminster, not less. And that in turn will mean more arms trade by Britain into the Middle East, not less. Meaning more deaths, and more hatred, and thus more arms for eternity.

It is time to break this cycle. To take an ethical stance on robot killing. Above all it is time to stop the arms trade that supplies both sides - the summary killers of Daesh and the summary killers of Westminster.

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