Like Jim below I won’t weep over the death of a jihadist who gets his jollies from theocratic state and sex slaves sanctioned by religious tests but I’m not that happy about extra-judicial killings.
When someone is killed by state action “who deserves it” then it is always tempting to convert one’s normative view into a positive statement that the death was lawful. But for me, the legal problem with the killing of Khan is that to invoke Article 51 of the Charter is to perhaps push “self defence” beyond the limits of elasticity.
Article 51 is not a general “licence to kill” terrorists on sight wherever in the world they may be found — a “licence” here meaning something which permits an action which would otherwise be unlawful. Some may say that the UK government should have such a licence to kill; but that is not what the law actually says.For me, this killing prompts various questions. What are the limits of “self-defence” when faced with international terrorism? Is the contention that any preemptive attack can be justified if the target is a terrorist? When does “self-defence” simply merge with a “shoot to kill” policy?
In 1988 the UK government sanctioned the killing of three IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. It must have seemed a good idea to the government at the time; but under scrutiny its account of what happened unravelled. Indeed, the government (and the security and police forces) do not have a great track record when pleading “terrorism” when killing people. There is a good reason why life and death should not depend on the executive’s fiat.The death of an Isis operative does not matter; but what does matter is that a government capable of killing people does not fall into the habit of casual international homicide, believing it just has to shout “self-defence” and “terrorism” so as to get people to nod-along.
If the UK government wants to re-introduce a general “shoot to kill” policy, but one using drones rather than snipers, then it should say so plainly. The UK government should not hide behind legalistic invocations of Article 51. A “licence to kill” is the stuff of spy fiction, not of foreign policy.
Though I have no sympathy with jihadists, thinking they are greatly improved by death, I am sorry for the families:
The Telegraph reports: The father of two British jihadists thought to have been fighting alongside Reyaad Khan, the Isil terrorist killed in an RAF drone strike, has said he fears his sons will be next:
Ahmed Muthana – whose sons Nasser, 20, and 17-year-old Aseel also left their home in Cardiff and travelled to Syria – suggested David Cameron was “right” to order strikes on Isil fighters if they were planning terror attacks in Britain.
But the 57-year-old retired electrical engineer, who came to Britain from Yemen aged 13, said he feared it was only a matter of time before he received the news that his boys had been killed in a targeted drone strike.