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December 2013: Front-page story in the Independent and for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Theresa May’s record number of citizenship-stripping orders. By me and Patrick Galey. 
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Exclusive: No way back for Britons who join the Syrian fight, says Theresa May
Secret use of citizenship-stripping powers has been dramatically stepped up as Theresa May moves to prevent the return of dual-nationals who have gone to fight in Syria.
The Home Secretary has far revoked the British citizenship of 20 people this year – more than in her previous two- and-a-half years combined.
She has removed the citizenship of 37 people since May 2010, according to figures collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Critics warned the practice could leave individuals at risk of torture and ill-treatment in their home countries.
Security sources are particularly alarmed because Syria’s proximity to Europe makes it easier for violent UK-based extremists to travel to and from the country.
A former senior Foreign Office official said it was an “open secret” that British nationals fighting in the Syrian civil war were increasingly losing their citizenship.
He told the Bureau: “This [deprivation of citizenship] is happening. There are somewhere between 40 and 240 Brits in Syria, and we are probably not as quick as we should be to strip their citizenship.”
Ms May has the power to terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” or if they have obtained it through fraudulent means.
The Home Office declined to explain the reason for the rise, but it said: “Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.”
Under the British Nationality Act, “deprivation of citizenship orders” can be made without judicial approval and take immediate effect. The only mechanism for fighting the decision is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual was overseas, leaving them stranded abroad facing legal appeals that can take years if they try to return.
If the Home Secretary is acting on “conducive” grounds, the only restriction is that she cannot render a person stateless, effectively meaning an order can only be used against individuals with dual nationality.
Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division, said: “If there is a national security dimension to the stripping of citizenship and if that is something that would be known to the other country of nationality, then that would give rise to concern,” he said. “It’s obviously very important that in looking at these issues the Government complies with its human rights obligations.”
The Home Office has been exploring ways to expand citizenship-stripping powers, which were only invoked five times by the last Labour government, so they can be used even when individuals have no dual nationality and will therefore be made stateless.
Ms May is understood to have discussed plans to boost her powers by inserting an amendment into the Immigration Bill which would allow her to remove the citizenship of British nationals who have renounced their previous citizenship but are accused of acts “ seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK.
In February, the Bureau and The Independent revealed how the Government stepped up use of the orders, employing them 16 times up to late 2012. Latest figures point to a further dramatic escalation. Two of those who lost citizenship, Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, were later killed in drone strikes in Somalia.
Another man, Mahdi Hashi, born in Somalia, lost his citizenship last year and is in prison in New York facing terrorism charges. When his parents approached the Government for help in finding him, they were told he was “no longer a British national and as such has no right to receive consular assistance”.
At least five of those who lost their nationality were born in the UK. Unlike with other counter-terrorism powers, there is no official scrutiny of deprivation of citizenship and no routine official publication of the orders. The Bureau has identified 19 cases, providing detail on why those individuals lost their citizenship. Almost every case has been on national security grounds.
The new Home Office figures, released in a Freedom of Information request, show the citizenship of 20 people was revoked between January and November 2013. Previously, the highest number of cases in a single year was six.
One of the new cases is that of Iraqi-born Hilal al-Jedda, who recently lost his UK nationality for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled an earlier attempt was illegal.
Photo by Shutterstock

December 2013: Front-page story in the Independent and for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Theresa May’s record number of citizenship-stripping orders. By me and Patrick Galey. 

::

Exclusive: No way back for Britons who join the Syrian fight, says Theresa May

Secret use of citizenship-stripping powers has been dramatically stepped up as Theresa May moves to prevent the return of dual-nationals who have gone to fight in Syria.

The Home Secretary has far revoked the British citizenship of 20 people this year – more than in her previous two- and-a-half years combined.

She has removed the citizenship of 37 people since May 2010, according to figures collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Critics warned the practice could leave individuals at risk of torture and ill-treatment in their home countries.

Security sources are particularly alarmed because Syria’s proximity to Europe makes it easier for violent UK-based extremists to travel to and from the country.

A former senior Foreign Office official said it was an “open secret” that British nationals fighting in the Syrian civil war were increasingly losing their citizenship.

He told the Bureau: “This [deprivation of citizenship] is happening. There are somewhere between 40 and 240 Brits in Syria, and we are probably not as quick as we should be to strip their citizenship.”

Ms May has the power to terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” or if they have obtained it through fraudulent means.

The Home Office declined to explain the reason for the rise, but it said: “Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.”

Under the British Nationality Act, “deprivation of citizenship orders” can be made without judicial approval and take immediate effect. The only mechanism for fighting the decision is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual was overseas, leaving them stranded abroad facing legal appeals that can take years if they try to return.

If the Home Secretary is acting on “conducive” grounds, the only restriction is that she cannot render a person stateless, effectively meaning an order can only be used against individuals with dual nationality.

Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division, said: “If there is a national security dimension to the stripping of citizenship and if that is something that would be known to the other country of nationality, then that would give rise to concern,” he said. “It’s obviously very important that in looking at these issues the Government complies with its human rights obligations.”

The Home Office has been exploring ways to expand citizenship-stripping powers, which were only invoked five times by the last Labour government, so they can be used even when individuals have no dual nationality and will therefore be made stateless.

Ms May is understood to have discussed plans to boost her powers by inserting an amendment into the Immigration Bill which would allow her to remove the citizenship of British nationals who have renounced their previous citizenship but are accused of acts “ seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK.

In February, the Bureau and The Independent revealed how the Government stepped up use of the orders, employing them 16 times up to late 2012. Latest figures point to a further dramatic escalation. Two of those who lost citizenship, Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, were later killed in drone strikes in Somalia.

Another man, Mahdi Hashi, born in Somalia, lost his citizenship last year and is in prison in New York facing terrorism charges. When his parents approached the Government for help in finding him, they were told he was “no longer a British national and as such has no right to receive consular assistance”.

At least five of those who lost their nationality were born in the UK. Unlike with other counter-terrorism powers, there is no official scrutiny of deprivation of citizenship and no routine official publication of the orders. The Bureau has identified 19 cases, providing detail on why those individuals lost their citizenship. Almost every case has been on national security grounds.

The new Home Office figures, released in a Freedom of Information request, show the citizenship of 20 people was revoked between January and November 2013. Previously, the highest number of cases in a single year was six.

One of the new cases is that of Iraqi-born Hilal al-Jedda, who recently lost his UK nationality for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled an earlier attempt was illegal.

Photo by Shutterstock

December 19 2013 - A feature for OpenDemocracy and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the UK government’s use of citizenship-stripping, and the people who claim they are being left stateless. 
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No place like home: Examining the UK’s increasing use of ‘medieval exile’
At first glance, the letters are unremarkable: a few typed paragraphs on a single A4 sheet. They’re not even on headed notepaper. But the curly signature at the bottom belongs to one of Britain’s most powerful people: Theresa May, the Home Secretary. And the letter informs the recipient that she, May, has personally decided to terminate their British citizenship.
Since the Coalition entered office in May 2010, at least 20 people have received such letters, as the Home Secretary has seized on a little-known power to deal with those she feels pose a risk to the UK. Her orders take effect immediately, so the letters’ recipients have lost their citizenship even before they’ve opened the envelope.
To issue a deprivation of citizenship order, May must believe someone’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – usually on suspicion of links to terrorism or extremism. The decision is entirely hers: she requires no judicial approval or any other kind of administrative process in advance.
In nearly every known case, the individual was abroad when the letter was sent. With their citizenship removed they were effectively stranded overseas, unable to return to be present at legal appeals – the only means of fighting their case. Human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce compares the power to ‘medieval exile’.

Where the cases are on national security grounds, appeals are heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a tribunal that can hear secret evidence. The appellant often knows only the vaguest outlines of the allegations against them.
Now May is believed to be planning a dramatic expansion of her powers to revoke citizenship by rewriting the law so that she can issue orders even where it will make people stateless, which is currently illegal under the British Nationality Act, and even though Britain is a signatory to international treaties aimed at reducing statelessness.
This would put Britain in uncomfortable company, alongside nations such as Bahrain, which has beencriticised by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for making dissidents stateless. In the US, the government is banned from removing the nationality of its citizens since a Supreme Court ruling in 1967, when judges ruled the US constitution did not allow for ‘fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time.’
By contrast, ‘[T]he current [British] government seems to see being a citizen as just another provisional status that can be taken away if you’re not well-behaved,’ says Dr Helena Wray, an immigration law specialist at Middlesex University.
Revoking nationality is one of the most significant actions the Home Secretary can take against an individual. A deprivation of citizenship order removes all the protections and rights that go with being a British national, cancelling any passports or travel documents and removing the right to live in the UK, or to get consular help when overseas.
The effects can be far-reaching and brutal. In 2012 Mahdi Hashi, a young man from Camden, lost his British citizenship while he was in his native Somalia. He was then secretly detained in Djibouti, east Africa before the US carried out an extraordinary rendition on him, whisking him to a New York jail.
Hashi has spent the past year in solitary confinement, awaiting trial on terrorism offences. When he first went missing his family wrote to the Foreign Office asking for help in finding him. They were told Hashi is ‘no longer a British national, and as such has no right to Consular assistance’.
Two other young Londoners, Bilal al Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, suffered a darker fate, losing their citizenship in 2010 and dying in two US drone strikes a month apart in Somalia last year. Sakr’s father, Gamal Sakr, told the Bureau he believes the removal of his son’s citizenship made him vulnerable. ‘I’ll never stop blaming the British government for what they did to my son,’ he said.
And in a case currently before Siac, the Home Secretary deliberately waited until a Sudanese-born man referred to in court as L1 had left the country before revoking his nationality. In autumn 2009, plans to remove his citizenship that were already ‘at an advanced stage’ were shelved by the Labour government when L1 returned to the UK from overseas. He remained at liberty in the UK for the next 10 months. The following summer, he left the country again, and the Coalition government acted swiftly, revoking his nationality days after he left the country. He claims this is an abuse of the Home Secretary’s powers.
Under the current law, the only block on the Home Secretary using these powers is that she cannot use the orders if they will make an individual stateless. In practice, this means the orders can only be used against citizens with dual nationality, as they will still hold the nationality of another country.
But now, in leaks to the media and parliamentary briefings, the Home Office has signalled its intention to remove this barrier. One suggestion is that May plans to amend the Immigration Bill so she can make people stateless if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the country. The law would apply only to those who are naturalised as UK citizens, rather than those who are born British, the reports and other sources suggest.
Bella Sankey, policy director of Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’
The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr Matthew Gibney, of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, says: ‘For the individual, to be stateless is a recipe for exclusion, precariousness and dispossession… being stateless often means that an individual has no political rights, cannot own property, work lawfully, or access state provided education; statelessness usually makes an individual inescapably vulnerable to deportation because the person lacks any right lawfully to reside in any of the world’s states.’
Many of those whose citizenship has been removed by the British Home Secretary have claimed the actions have left them stateless. The Bureau has identified nine cases where people have argued this in court, and Mohamed Sakr’s parents say that although they come from Egypt, their son did not have an Egyptian passport.
In October, an Iraqi-born man named Hilal al-Jedda won a six-year battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled that he had illegally been made stateless.
Al-Jedda had been detained by British forces in Iraq for three years on suspicion of planning bomb attacks, but was held in military custody and so was never charged. He has claimed he was physically abused while in custody.
His Supreme Court victory is one of two times anyone is known to have successfully challenged removal of citizenship on national security grounds. But rather than return al-Jedda’s passport, May signed a new order revoking his nationality, again preventing him from returning to the UK.
A Vietnam-born former graphic designer, known only as B2, will take his case to the Supreme Court next year to argue that he, too, is stateless following the loss of his British nationality.
Britain is one of 54 signatories to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prohibits making people stateless. The British government reserved the right to make an exception if someone has done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state’ – a tougher test than the one the Home Secretary currently uses to remove citizenship.
Mark Manly, legal coordinator for statelessness at the UNHCR, says: ‘The key words here are ‘seriously’ and ‘vital’. So it’s not just any kind of crime that we’re talking about, but really serious crimes against the core interests of the State. Offences like treason and espionage were what the drafters of the Convention had in mind. If you look at the language of the convention, it’s about conduct – action already taken by the individual.’
When the Labour government first rewrote nationality laws in 2002-03 so it could remove the nationality of terrorism suspects, the threshold the Home Secretary had to meet was the ‘seriously prejudicial’ test – which is more demanding than the current, ‘not conducive to the public good’ test. Then-Home Office minister Angela Eagle told MPs, ‘I want to put on record that we do not want to go round rendering large numbers of people stateless.’
Gibney says: ‘[T]he government assured parliament that there was absolutely nothing sinister about these new powers… Any new powers, Ministers argued, would be used only in exceptional circumstances and deprivation decisions would be subject to an automatic right of appeal, as well as a guarantee that no individual would lose their citizenship if it made them stateless.’
The law was rewritten in 2005-06 so the Home Secretary could act if it was believed that an individual’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – meaning she can act based on what someone might do, rather than something they have done. Debating the change to the law in 2005, then Conservative MP Humfrey Malins called this a ‘watered-down test’, asking, ‘Is deprivation of citizenship to be used instead of a prosecution?’
The Labour government’s promises have proven ‘empty’, Gibney says. ‘[M]ore than two dozen people have lost their citizenship, most since the standard required for deprivation was watered down in 2006.’
He continues: ‘The right to an appeal has been undermined by the fact that many people are stripped of citizenship when they are overseas and thus unable to return to the country; and the Home Secretary has now proposed lifting the bar on stripping citizenship when it makes an individual stateless.
‘The gap between what was promised and what has actually transpired could hardly be more gaping.’
Although the citizenship-stripping cases identified by the Bureau almost all relate to national security, the Home Secretary has used the ‘conducive to the public good’ test elsewhere for far less extreme cases. In June, May decided that Trenton Oldfield, the Australian citizen who disrupted the 2012 Boat Race, should be denied a new visa as his presence in the country was not conducive to the public good – a decision his MP described as ‘disproportionate’. The decision was overturned this month in court.
Born this wayWhen questioned about its citizenship-stripping programme, the Home Office often responds with a boilerplate phrase: ‘Citizenship is a privilege, not a right.’ But at least five of those who have lost their nationality were born in the UK and were entitled to citizenship from birth.
Mohamed Sakr was born in London to parents who moved there from Egypt 35 years ago. Any entitlement to Egyptian nationality was nothing more than an accident of birth. ‘No member of my family ever had an Egyptian passport,’ Mr Sakr told the Bureau. ‘For the kids it never crossed my mind that they would have anything other than their British passports. I know they are British, born British, they are British, and carried their British passports.’
The other British-born men who have claimed to have been made stateless all belong to the same family: a Newcastle-born man referred to in court papers as S1, and his three adult sons, all born in London. S1’s parents moved to the UK from Pakistan in 1958; he was raised in Britain and, after marrying a Pakistani woman in 1984, raised his own family in the UK too. In 2009 the family – including two younger children – moved to Pakistan. Two years later, Theresa May revoked the British nationality of four members of the family.
S1 argued that he had been repeatedly refused a Pakistani passport as the Pakistani authorities said he was not a citizen. He eventually obtained one by lying about his birthplace.
But Siac ruled that even if his Pakistani papers were obtained falsely, they hadn’t prevented him from entering and living in Pakistan, so he is effectively a Pakistani national. He and his family remain in Pakistan as their appeals continue.
Even where people have naturalised as British citizens, rather than being born British, they often came to the UK and gained citizenship at a young age, with many arriving as refugee children.
Bilal al Berjawi, a childhood friend of Mohamed Sakr, came to London from Lebanon with his parents as a baby. Mahdi Hashi, now awaiting trial in New York, moved to Britain with his parents fleeing war in their native Somalia and became a citizen at the age of nine. And B2, the former graphic designer, arrived in the UK aged seven.
These men grew up in the UK. They went to British schools. Their connections to the UK are deep-rooted. Under the proposed changes, others in their situation would be vulnerable to losing their nationality even if it made them stateless, leaving them in legal limbo with no other government to take responsibility for them and no means of claiming the most basic rights.
And where the cases are on national security grounds, they might never learn the detail of what they are supposed to have done to earn their exile.

December 19 2013 - A feature for OpenDemocracy and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the UK government’s use of citizenship-stripping, and the people who claim they are being left stateless. 

::

No place like home: Examining the UK’s increasing use of ‘medieval exile’

At first glance, the letters are unremarkable: a few typed paragraphs on a single A4 sheet. They’re not even on headed notepaper. But the curly signature at the bottom belongs to one of Britain’s most powerful people: Theresa May, the Home Secretary. And the letter informs the recipient that she, May, has personally decided to terminate their British citizenship.

Since the Coalition entered office in May 2010, at least 20 people have received such letters, as the Home Secretary has seized on a little-known power to deal with those she feels pose a risk to the UK. Her orders take effect immediately, so the letters’ recipients have lost their citizenship even before they’ve opened the envelope.

To issue a deprivation of citizenship order, May must believe someone’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – usually on suspicion of links to terrorism or extremism. The decision is entirely hers: she requires no judicial approval or any other kind of administrative process in advance.

In nearly every known case, the individual was abroad when the letter was sent. With their citizenship removed they were effectively stranded overseas, unable to return to be present at legal appeals – the only means of fighting their case. Human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce compares the power to ‘medieval exile’.

Where the cases are on national security grounds, appeals are heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a tribunal that can hear secret evidence. The appellant often knows only the vaguest outlines of the allegations against them.

Now May is believed to be planning a dramatic expansion of her powers to revoke citizenship by rewriting the law so that she can issue orders even where it will make people stateless, which is currently illegal under the British Nationality Act, and even though Britain is a signatory to international treaties aimed at reducing statelessness.

This would put Britain in uncomfortable company, alongside nations such as Bahrain, which has beencriticised by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for making dissidents stateless. In the US, the government is banned from removing the nationality of its citizens since a Supreme Court ruling in 1967, when judges ruled the US constitution did not allow for ‘fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time.’

By contrast, ‘[T]he current [British] government seems to see being a citizen as just another provisional status that can be taken away if you’re not well-behaved,’ says Dr Helena Wray, an immigration law specialist at Middlesex University.

Revoking nationality is one of the most significant actions the Home Secretary can take against an individual. A deprivation of citizenship order removes all the protections and rights that go with being a British national, cancelling any passports or travel documents and removing the right to live in the UK, or to get consular help when overseas.

The effects can be far-reaching and brutal. In 2012 Mahdi Hashi, a young man from Camden, lost his British citizenship while he was in his native Somalia. He was then secretly detained in Djibouti, east Africa before the US carried out an extraordinary rendition on him, whisking him to a New York jail.

Hashi has spent the past year in solitary confinement, awaiting trial on terrorism offences. When he first went missing his family wrote to the Foreign Office asking for help in finding him. They were told Hashi is ‘no longer a British national, and as such has no right to Consular assistance’.

Two other young Londoners, Bilal al Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, suffered a darker fate, losing their citizenship in 2010 and dying in two US drone strikes a month apart in Somalia last year. Sakr’s father, Gamal Sakr, told the Bureau he believes the removal of his son’s citizenship made him vulnerable. ‘I’ll never stop blaming the British government for what they did to my son,’ he said.

And in a case currently before Siac, the Home Secretary deliberately waited until a Sudanese-born man referred to in court as L1 had left the country before revoking his nationality. In autumn 2009, plans to remove his citizenship that were already ‘at an advanced stage’ were shelved by the Labour government when L1 returned to the UK from overseas. He remained at liberty in the UK for the next 10 months. The following summer, he left the country again, and the Coalition government acted swiftly, revoking his nationality days after he left the country. He claims this is an abuse of the Home Secretary’s powers.

Under the current law, the only block on the Home Secretary using these powers is that she cannot use the orders if they will make an individual stateless. In practice, this means the orders can only be used against citizens with dual nationality, as they will still hold the nationality of another country.

But now, in leaks to the media and parliamentary briefings, the Home Office has signalled its intention to remove this barrier. One suggestion is that May plans to amend the Immigration Bill so she can make people stateless if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the country. The law would apply only to those who are naturalised as UK citizens, rather than those who are born British, the reports and other sources suggest.

Bella Sankey, policy director of Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’

The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Dr Matthew Gibney, of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, says: ‘For the individual, to be stateless is a recipe for exclusion, precariousness and dispossession… being stateless often means that an individual has no political rights, cannot own property, work lawfully, or access state provided education; statelessness usually makes an individual inescapably vulnerable to deportation because the person lacks any right lawfully to reside in any of the world’s states.’

Many of those whose citizenship has been removed by the British Home Secretary have claimed the actions have left them stateless. The Bureau has identified nine cases where people have argued this in court, and Mohamed Sakr’s parents say that although they come from Egypt, their son did not have an Egyptian passport.

In October, an Iraqi-born man named Hilal al-Jedda won a six-year battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled that he had illegally been made stateless.

Al-Jedda had been detained by British forces in Iraq for three years on suspicion of planning bomb attacks, but was held in military custody and so was never charged. He has claimed he was physically abused while in custody.

His Supreme Court victory is one of two times anyone is known to have successfully challenged removal of citizenship on national security grounds. But rather than return al-Jedda’s passport, May signed a new order revoking his nationality, again preventing him from returning to the UK.

A Vietnam-born former graphic designer, known only as B2, will take his case to the Supreme Court next year to argue that he, too, is stateless following the loss of his British nationality.

Britain is one of 54 signatories to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prohibits making people stateless. The British government reserved the right to make an exception if someone has done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state’ – a tougher test than the one the Home Secretary currently uses to remove citizenship.

Mark Manly, legal coordinator for statelessness at the UNHCR, says: ‘The key words here are ‘seriously’ and ‘vital’. So it’s not just any kind of crime that we’re talking about, but really serious crimes against the core interests of the State. Offences like treason and espionage were what the drafters of the Convention had in mind. If you look at the language of the convention, it’s about conduct – action already taken by the individual.’

When the Labour government first rewrote nationality laws in 2002-03 so it could remove the nationality of terrorism suspects, the threshold the Home Secretary had to meet was the ‘seriously prejudicial’ test – which is more demanding than the current, ‘not conducive to the public good’ test. Then-Home Office minister Angela Eagle told MPs, ‘I want to put on record that we do not want to go round rendering large numbers of people stateless.’

Gibney says: ‘[T]he government assured parliament that there was absolutely nothing sinister about these new powers… Any new powers, Ministers argued, would be used only in exceptional circumstances and deprivation decisions would be subject to an automatic right of appeal, as well as a guarantee that no individual would lose their citizenship if it made them stateless.’

The law was rewritten in 2005-06 so the Home Secretary could act if it was believed that an individual’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – meaning she can act based on what someone might do, rather than something they have done. Debating the change to the law in 2005, then Conservative MP Humfrey Malins called this a ‘watered-down test’, asking, ‘Is deprivation of citizenship to be used instead of a prosecution?’

The Labour government’s promises have proven ‘empty’, Gibney says. ‘[M]ore than two dozen people have lost their citizenship, most since the standard required for deprivation was watered down in 2006.’

He continues: ‘The right to an appeal has been undermined by the fact that many people are stripped of citizenship when they are overseas and thus unable to return to the country; and the Home Secretary has now proposed lifting the bar on stripping citizenship when it makes an individual stateless.

‘The gap between what was promised and what has actually transpired could hardly be more gaping.’

Although the citizenship-stripping cases identified by the Bureau almost all relate to national security, the Home Secretary has used the ‘conducive to the public good’ test elsewhere for far less extreme cases. In June, May decided that Trenton Oldfield, the Australian citizen who disrupted the 2012 Boat Race, should be denied a new visa as his presence in the country was not conducive to the public good – a decision his MP described as ‘disproportionate’. The decision was overturned this month in court.

Born this way
When questioned about its citizenship-stripping programme, the Home Office often responds with a boilerplate phrase: ‘Citizenship is a privilege, not a right.’ But at least five of those who have lost their nationality were born in the UK and were entitled to citizenship from birth.

Mohamed Sakr was born in London to parents who moved there from Egypt 35 years ago. Any entitlement to Egyptian nationality was nothing more than an accident of birth. ‘No member of my family ever had an Egyptian passport,’ Mr Sakr told the Bureau. ‘For the kids it never crossed my mind that they would have anything other than their British passports. I know they are British, born British, they are British, and carried their British passports.’

The other British-born men who have claimed to have been made stateless all belong to the same family: a Newcastle-born man referred to in court papers as S1, and his three adult sons, all born in London. S1’s parents moved to the UK from Pakistan in 1958; he was raised in Britain and, after marrying a Pakistani woman in 1984, raised his own family in the UK too. In 2009 the family – including two younger children – moved to Pakistan. Two years later, Theresa May revoked the British nationality of four members of the family.

S1 argued that he had been repeatedly refused a Pakistani passport as the Pakistani authorities said he was not a citizen. He eventually obtained one by lying about his birthplace.

But Siac ruled that even if his Pakistani papers were obtained falsely, they hadn’t prevented him from entering and living in Pakistan, so he is effectively a Pakistani national. He and his family remain in Pakistan as their appeals continue.

Even where people have naturalised as British citizens, rather than being born British, they often came to the UK and gained citizenship at a young age, with many arriving as refugee children.

Bilal al Berjawi, a childhood friend of Mohamed Sakr, came to London from Lebanon with his parents as a baby. Mahdi Hashi, now awaiting trial in New York, moved to Britain with his parents fleeing war in their native Somalia and became a citizen at the age of nine. And B2, the former graphic designer, arrived in the UK aged seven.

These men grew up in the UK. They went to British schools. Their connections to the UK are deep-rooted. Under the proposed changes, others in their situation would be vulnerable to losing their nationality even if it made them stateless, leaving them in legal limbo with no other government to take responsibility for them and no means of claiming the most basic rights.

And where the cases are on national security grounds, they might never learn the detail of what they are supposed to have done to earn their exile.

December 2013 - Piece for the Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the Home Secretary’s extraordinary decision to revoke one man’s citizenship again, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled her first attempt was illegal. 
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Home Secretary Theresa May strips man of UK citizenship - for the second time
The Home Secretary has stripped an Iraqi-born man of his British citizenship for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court overturned her first attempt.
In October, Hilal al Jedda won a lengthy court battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled its loss would illegally make him stateless. But now it has emerged that rather than return his passport, on November 1 Theresa May, the Home Secretary, issued a new order revoking his British nationality, meaning he must start the process of legal appeals afresh.
This is the first time the Home Secretary is known to have removed the same person’s citizenship twice, using powers that leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has compared to ‘medieval exile – just as cruel and just as arbitrary.’
Al Jedda’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, said: ‘On 9 October, after nearly six years of litigation, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the Home Secretary unlawfully stripped our client, Mr Al Jedda, of his British citizenship. Rather than accepting the findings of the court, just three weeks later, Theresa May made a fresh order depriving our client of his British citizenship.
‘Mr Al Jedda was given less than an hour’s notice of the deprivation order and has not been provided with any detail of the allegations against him save for the vaguest of references to Islamist extremism, an allegation he flatly denies.’
As the Independent and Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported earlier this year, the Coalition has escalated the use of the Home Secretary’s little-known powers to remove the British nationality of dual citizens, almost always on national security grounds. Current figures show that since coming to power in 2010 the Coalition has revoked the nationality of more than 20 individuals. Under the previous Labour government, the powers were used five times, including the original order against al Jedda.
Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the Home Secretary can remove someone’s citizenship with no warning and no judicial approval in advance where she feels this would be ‘conducive to the public good’. In almost every case identified by the Bureau, the order is issued while the individual is abroad, leaving people unable to return home while they fight appeals that can last years. Two men were later killed by US drones, and another has been a victim of extraordinary rendition to the US, where he is now awaiting trial.
Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, a campaign group that has been in touch with many of those who have been stripped of their citizenship, said: ‘Theresa May’s move is the latest expression of the systematic way in which the UK government has aggressively stripped Muslims in particular of their most basic rights under the guise of the “war on terror”. The fact that the coalition has managed to denude at least twenty Britons of their rights since coming to power three years ago, whilst the previous government managed only five in over a decade, is a real cause for concern.
‘The irony is that we are actually witnessing the ruination of the British legal system, not by foreign terrorists, but by  the very people who claim to preserve the “public good”.’
Isabella Sankey, policy director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’
Al Jedda, who came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 1992, automatically lost his Iraqi nationality under the law of the time when he became a British citizen. In 2004 he was detained by British forces in Iraq and held for three years on suspicion of planning terrorist acts. Because he was held in military detention he was never charged. He has claimed he was ill-treated in British detention.
The then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith took away his British nationality shortly before his release in December 2007. At the time this was a highly unusual step – the orders had only been used twice since the laws were introduced in 2003.
Al Jedda left Iraq using what he claims is a fake passport and went to Turkey, where he has remained during five years of legal appeals. The Home Secretary’s lawyers argued that since he could have re-applied for Iraqi nationality following the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government, it was not her fault if he was made stateless by the removal of his British citizenship.
Supreme Court judges rejected this argument, ruling: ‘The ability of the Secretary of State to assert that the person in question could quickly and easily re-acquire another nationality would create confusion in the application of what should be a straightforward exercise.’
In August, at a late stage in the Supreme Court proceedings, the government attempted to produce evidence that it claimed showed al-Jedda’s Iraqi passport was genuine, but this was rebuffed by the judges.
After the Supreme Court ruled that al Jedda’s British nationality should be restored, a Home Office spokeswoman told the Bureau: ‘We are considering the judgment and our next steps in this case carefully.’
His solicitor, Tessa Gregory, described the case as ‘ill-founded and fallacious’, and said it had ‘cost the public purse dearly’. She added: ‘We hope the Home Secretary will now leave Mr Al Jedda to get on with his life as a British citizen in peace.’
But instead May swiftly issued a new deprivation of citizenship order, alleging al Jedda is associated with Islamic extremists. He is appealing the order.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has the power to remove a person’s UK citizenship where she considers it is conducive to the public good. This individual has lodged an appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to do so in his case and it would not be appropriate to comment further while litigation is ongoing.’
Gregory said: ‘The actions of the Home Secretary in this case beggar belief and are an enormous waste of public funds as we are being forced to litigate matters which have already been determined by the court.’
In November, newspaper reports and a Home Office official suggested that the Home Secretary is planning to change the laws so that she can remove an individual’s nationality even when it will make them stateless. Britain is a signatory to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents this except in cases where someone has been proven to have done something ‘prejudicial to the vital interests’ of a country – a stricter test than that used by the British government.
The Bureau has identified 10 cases in which those who have been stripped of their citizenship have argued that it has made them stateless, including five men who were born in the UK. One of the UK-born men died in a drone strike in Somalia in February 2012; his parents told the Bureau earlier this year they blamed the government for his death. The other four, all members of a single family, continue to appeal against the loss of their nationality.
Image: Shutterstock

December 2013 - Piece for the Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the Home Secretary’s extraordinary decision to revoke one man’s citizenship again, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled her first attempt was illegal. 

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Home Secretary Theresa May strips man of UK citizenship - for the second time

The Home Secretary has stripped an Iraqi-born man of his British citizenship for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court overturned her first attempt.

In October, Hilal al Jedda won a lengthy court battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled its loss would illegally make him stateless. But now it has emerged that rather than return his passport, on November 1 Theresa May, the Home Secretary, issued a new order revoking his British nationality, meaning he must start the process of legal appeals afresh.

This is the first time the Home Secretary is known to have removed the same person’s citizenship twice, using powers that leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has compared to ‘medieval exile – just as cruel and just as arbitrary.’

Al Jedda’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, said: ‘On 9 October, after nearly six years of litigation, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the Home Secretary unlawfully stripped our client, Mr Al Jedda, of his British citizenship. Rather than accepting the findings of the court, just three weeks later, Theresa May made a fresh order depriving our client of his British citizenship.

‘Mr Al Jedda was given less than an hour’s notice of the deprivation order and has not been provided with any detail of the allegations against him save for the vaguest of references to Islamist extremism, an allegation he flatly denies.’

As the Independent and Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported earlier this year, the Coalition has escalated the use of the Home Secretary’s little-known powers to remove the British nationality of dual citizens, almost always on national security grounds. Current figures show that since coming to power in 2010 the Coalition has revoked the nationality of more than 20 individuals. Under the previous Labour government, the powers were used five times, including the original order against al Jedda.

Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the Home Secretary can remove someone’s citizenship with no warning and no judicial approval in advance where she feels this would be ‘conducive to the public good’. In almost every case identified by the Bureau, the order is issued while the individual is abroad, leaving people unable to return home while they fight appeals that can last years. Two men were later killed by US drones, and another has been a victim of extraordinary rendition to the US, where he is now awaiting trial.

Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, a campaign group that has been in touch with many of those who have been stripped of their citizenship, said: ‘Theresa May’s move is the latest expression of the systematic way in which the UK government has aggressively stripped Muslims in particular of their most basic rights under the guise of the “war on terror”. The fact that the coalition has managed to denude at least twenty Britons of their rights since coming to power three years ago, whilst the previous government managed only five in over a decade, is a real cause for concern.

‘The irony is that we are actually witnessing the ruination of the British legal system, not by foreign terrorists, but by  the very people who claim to preserve the “public good”.’

Isabella Sankey, policy director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’

Al Jedda, who came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 1992, automatically lost his Iraqi nationality under the law of the time when he became a British citizen. In 2004 he was detained by British forces in Iraq and held for three years on suspicion of planning terrorist acts. Because he was held in military detention he was never charged. He has claimed he was ill-treated in British detention.

The then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith took away his British nationality shortly before his release in December 2007. At the time this was a highly unusual step – the orders had only been used twice since the laws were introduced in 2003.

Al Jedda left Iraq using what he claims is a fake passport and went to Turkey, where he has remained during five years of legal appeals. The Home Secretary’s lawyers argued that since he could have re-applied for Iraqi nationality following the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government, it was not her fault if he was made stateless by the removal of his British citizenship.

Supreme Court judges rejected this argument, ruling: ‘The ability of the Secretary of State to assert that the person in question could quickly and easily re-acquire another nationality would create confusion in the application of what should be a straightforward exercise.’

In August, at a late stage in the Supreme Court proceedings, the government attempted to produce evidence that it claimed showed al-Jedda’s Iraqi passport was genuine, but this was rebuffed by the judges.

After the Supreme Court ruled that al Jedda’s British nationality should be restored, a Home Office spokeswoman told the Bureau: ‘We are considering the judgment and our next steps in this case carefully.’

His solicitor, Tessa Gregory, described the case as ‘ill-founded and fallacious’, and said it had ‘cost the public purse dearly’. She added: ‘We hope the Home Secretary will now leave Mr Al Jedda to get on with his life as a British citizen in peace.’

But instead May swiftly issued a new deprivation of citizenship order, alleging al Jedda is associated with Islamic extremists. He is appealing the order.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has the power to remove a person’s UK citizenship where she considers it is conducive to the public good. This individual has lodged an appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to do so in his case and it would not be appropriate to comment further while litigation is ongoing.’

Gregory said: ‘The actions of the Home Secretary in this case beggar belief and are an enormous waste of public funds as we are being forced to litigate matters which have already been determined by the court.’

In November, newspaper reports and a Home Office official suggested that the Home Secretary is planning to change the laws so that she can remove an individual’s nationality even when it will make them stateless. Britain is a signatory to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents this except in cases where someone has been proven to have done something ‘prejudicial to the vital interests’ of a country – a stricter test than that used by the British government.

The Bureau has identified 10 cases in which those who have been stripped of their citizenship have argued that it has made them stateless, including five men who were born in the UK. One of the UK-born men died in a drone strike in Somalia in February 2012; his parents told the Bureau earlier this year they blamed the government for his death. The other four, all members of a single family, continue to appeal against the loss of their nationality.

Image: Shutterstock

November 21 2013 - Report for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
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CIA drone strikes outside Pakistan’s tribal regions

A CIA drone strike hit a religious school in Hangu, Pakistan before dawn today, killing at least six and injuring several more. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in the ‘settled’ areas beyond Pakistan’s tribal regions.
The Bureau has logged reports of over 370 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Almost every one of these has taken place in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the semi-autonomous mountainous region bordering Afghanistan where large numbers of militant groups shelter alongside a civilian population.
According to the Bureau’s research, three drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007.
Today’s strike hit a madrassa (religious school) in a village named Tal near the town of Hangu, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), close to FATA. Residents described seeing drones circling in the area for days beforehand.
The madrassa was reportedly a mud building of 15 rooms though the missiles reportedly only hit one room. Around 80 students escaped unharmed, the Washington Post reported. The building was reportedly used by refugees. However a Haqqani source told AFP it was also ‘a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones.’
Abdullah Khan of the Conflict Monitoring Center, a Pakistani research body, pointed out that the attack was part of a series of strikes this year targeting the Haqqani Network, a militant group that frequently attacks US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In September, an attack in North Waziristan killed Sangeen Zadran, a commander who was described as ‘running the show’, who was also shadow governor of Paktika province in Afghanistan.
Khan added: ‘This can be classed as one of the most significant drone attacks this year. Ahmad Jan was in the shadow government of Paktika province – he headed the shadow finance ministry. These are big names in Afghanistan; his killing will have impact.’
Jan was said to have been in his 60s. He was said to be a senior Haqqani commander, its second-in-command according to one report, and its spiritual leader. He was not the only alleged militant killed – as many as five others, all reportedly senior Haqqani commanders, died in the attack.
The attack came the day after prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told parliament the US had assured Pakistan it would suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban. The Pakistani government is currently attempting to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Mansur Mahsud of the FATA Research Center told the Bureau: ‘Yesterday Nawaz Sharif’s foreign minister gave a statement saying it would not carry out drone strikes during talks between militants and the government, and the very next day a drone strike took place in the settled area. It will increase tension and anger in Pakistan against America.’
Khan added that the strike would raise fears of drones striking targets even further afield. ‘If the Pakistani government doesn’t come up with some reaction to this, the next target will be Quetta, the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban,’ he said. ‘They have said they think Mullah Omar [leader of the Afghan Taliban] is there.’
Additional reporting by Jack Serle
Photo: Department of Defense

November 21 2013 - Report for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

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CIA drone strikes outside Pakistan’s tribal regions

A CIA drone strike hit a religious school in Hangu, Pakistan before dawn today, killing at least six and injuring several more. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in the ‘settled’ areas beyond Pakistan’s tribal regions.

The Bureau has logged reports of over 370 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Almost every one of these has taken place in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the semi-autonomous mountainous region bordering Afghanistan where large numbers of militant groups shelter alongside a civilian population.

According to the Bureau’s research, three drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007.

Today’s strike hit a madrassa (religious school) in a village named Tal near the town of Hangu, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), close to FATA. Residents described seeing drones circling in the area for days beforehand.

The madrassa was reportedly a mud building of 15 rooms though the missiles reportedly only hit one room. Around 80 students escaped unharmed, the Washington Post reported. The building was reportedly used by refugees. However a Haqqani source told AFP it was also ‘a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones.’

Abdullah Khan of the Conflict Monitoring Center, a Pakistani research body, pointed out that the attack was part of a series of strikes this year targeting the Haqqani Network, a militant group that frequently attacks US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In September, an attack in North Waziristan killed Sangeen Zadran, a commander who was described as ‘running the show’, who was also shadow governor of Paktika province in Afghanistan.

Khan added: ‘This can be classed as one of the most significant drone attacks this year. Ahmad Jan was in the shadow government of Paktika province – he headed the shadow finance ministry. These are big names in Afghanistan; his killing will have impact.’

Jan was said to have been in his 60s. He was said to be a senior Haqqani commander, its second-in-command according to one report, and its spiritual leader. He was not the only alleged militant killed – as many as five others, all reportedly senior Haqqani commanders, died in the attack.

The attack came the day after prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told parliament the US had assured Pakistan it would suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban. The Pakistani government is currently attempting to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Mansur Mahsud of the FATA Research Center told the Bureau: ‘Yesterday Nawaz Sharif’s foreign minister gave a statement saying it would not carry out drone strikes during talks between militants and the government, and the very next day a drone strike took place in the settled area. It will increase tension and anger in Pakistan against America.’

Khan added that the strike would raise fears of drones striking targets even further afield. ‘If the Pakistani government doesn’t come up with some reaction to this, the next target will be Quetta, the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban,’ he said. ‘They have said they think Mullah Omar [leader of the Afghan Taliban] is there.’

Additional reporting by Jack Serle

Photo: Department of Defense

September 2013 - At least 50 women have reportedly been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan - and it’s possible that far more women’s deaths have gone unreported. I wrote about it for the launch of the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. 
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Hidden even in death: Just two women killed by drones are identified
Among the 550 names of identified people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, there are people from all walks of Pashtun life. There are farmers and fighters, militant leaders and tribal elders, old men and children.
But one group is almost entirely absent from the list of names: women.
Just two of those who have been identified with their own names are women. This doesn’t mean that only two women have been killed – the available reporting indicates that at least 50 women have died in the nearly 380 drone strikes that have hit in the area. Rather their absence from the list is a reflection of the position of women in Pakistan’s deeply conservative tribal belt, where most people are ethnic Pashtuns (also called Pukhtuns).
Women in Waziristan, the region most affected by drones, live under strict purdah – the practice of keeping themselves separate from men to protect their honour. This means that they are veiled when in public, do not speak to men aside from close relatives, and have separate quarters in homes to remain out of sight of male visitors.
Anthropologist Dr Amineh Hoti – who is Pashtun herself – has written about how wealthier women will often leave the house only in the curtained-off back seat of a car, driven by an elderly retainer.
UncountedWomen are estimated to represent fewer than 2% of the minimum 2,500 people killed in drone strikes, which could suggest that the woman’s status provides a certain level of protection. But it could also mean that they are not being counted.
The practice of purdah extends beyond women’s physical bodies. ‘This is a purdah system and women are at the core of “sharam”, or honour. Therefore exposing any details about them in public – including their names – is not considered respectable or decent as seen by Pashtuns,’ explains Hoti.
‘There’s this taboo that even educated men think that you should not talk about your female relatives; you should not name them,’ agrees Emal Pasarly, a reporter for BBC Pashto, who has covered Waziristan extensively.
Asking a Pashtun man for the names of his wife and sisters is therefore considered offensive – even if it’s to discover whether they are dead.
The sensitivities around discussing women in a household are so pronounced that academics have raised concerns that their deaths may be under-reported.
‘Strict segregation can mean that neighbours or extended family members may not know how many women and children were killed or injured in a strike,’ wrote researchers from Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law in their joint report, Living Under Drones.
‘It’s difficult unless you’re a relative or unless another woman knows who’s inside the house,’ adds Pasarly.
It is notable that one of the women identified by name was a Spanish woman whose death was reported by the Spanish press. Raquel Burgos García, who died in a strike on December 1 2005, had moved to Waziristan with her husband Amer Azizi, who was suspected of involvement in the September 11 and Madrid attacks.
NamedThe other adult woman, Bibi Mamana, was a grandmother. Conditions for older women are more permissive because they are past childbearing age, explains Pasarly. Photos of Mamana appeared in the press after her death and her family gave media interviews about her death.
The strict purdah that dominates women’s lives in Waziristan is a recent phenomenon rather than an integral part of Pashtun culture, Pasarly points out.
He recalls seeing women working in the fields in neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan as recently as 1999 – wearing shawls but no burqas – as well as meeting and interviewing women. Both would be unthinkable now. The change in attitudes is due to the rise in extremism and Taliban beliefs, he says. ‘They are confined to their homes.’
And even in death, their identities are hidden from the world.

September 2013 - At least 50 women have reportedly been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan - and it’s possible that far more women’s deaths have gone unreported. I wrote about it for the launch of the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. 

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Hidden even in death: Just two women killed by drones are identified

Among the 550 names of identified people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, there are people from all walks of Pashtun life. There are farmers and fighters, militant leaders and tribal elders, old men and children.

But one group is almost entirely absent from the list of names: women.

Just two of those who have been identified with their own names are women. This doesn’t mean that only two women have been killed – the available reporting indicates that at least 50 women have died in the nearly 380 drone strikes that have hit in the area. Rather their absence from the list is a reflection of the position of women in Pakistan’s deeply conservative tribal belt, where most people are ethnic Pashtuns (also called Pukhtuns).

Women in Waziristan, the region most affected by drones, live under strict purdah – the practice of keeping themselves separate from men to protect their honour. This means that they are veiled when in public, do not speak to men aside from close relatives, and have separate quarters in homes to remain out of sight of male visitors.

Anthropologist Dr Amineh Hoti – who is Pashtun herself – has written about how wealthier women will often leave the house only in the curtained-off back seat of a car, driven by an elderly retainer.

Uncounted
Women are estimated to represent fewer than 2% of the minimum 2,500 people killed in drone strikes, which could suggest that the woman’s status provides a certain level of protection. But it could also mean that they are not being counted.

The practice of purdah extends beyond women’s physical bodies. ‘This is a purdah system and women are at the core of “sharam”, or honour. Therefore exposing any details about them in public – including their names – is not considered respectable or decent as seen by Pashtuns,’ explains Hoti.

‘There’s this taboo that even educated men think that you should not talk about your female relatives; you should not name them,’ agrees Emal Pasarly, a reporter for BBC Pashto, who has covered Waziristan extensively.

Asking a Pashtun man for the names of his wife and sisters is therefore considered offensive – even if it’s to discover whether they are dead.

The sensitivities around discussing women in a household are so pronounced that academics have raised concerns that their deaths may be under-reported.

‘Strict segregation can mean that neighbours or extended family members may not know how many women and children were killed or injured in a strike,’ wrote researchers from Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law in their joint report, Living Under Drones.

‘It’s difficult unless you’re a relative or unless another woman knows who’s inside the house,’ adds Pasarly.

It is notable that one of the women identified by name was a Spanish woman whose death was reported by the Spanish press. Raquel Burgos García, who died in a strike on December 1 2005, had moved to Waziristan with her husband Amer Azizi, who was suspected of involvement in the September 11 and Madrid attacks.

Named
The other adult woman, Bibi Mamana, was a grandmother. Conditions for older women are more permissive because they are past childbearing age, explains Pasarly. Photos of Mamana appeared in the press after her death and her family gave media interviews about her death.

The strict purdah that dominates women’s lives in Waziristan is a recent phenomenon rather than an integral part of Pashtun culture, Pasarly points out.

He recalls seeing women working in the fields in neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan as recently as 1999 – wearing shawls but no burqas – as well as meeting and interviewing women. Both would be unthinkable now. The change in attitudes is due to the rise in extremism and Taliban beliefs, he says. ‘They are confined to their homes.’

And even in death, their identities are hidden from the world.

August 2013 - Piece for Salon and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism asking whether the politicians charged with overseeing the intelligence netherworld’s activities can ever hope to get the full picture. The piece accompanies an investigation by Chris Woods looking at the revival of ‘double-tap’ drone strikes, attacking rescuers - one of the darkest and most controversial tactics of the whole campaign.
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Is Congressional oversight tough enough on drones?
In the Bureau’s latest investigation into the tactic of ‘double-tap’ strikes on rescuers, our field researcher’s findings appear to directly contradict an account of a strike attributed to staffers of the Congressional bodies charged with overseeing CIA drone strikes.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are responsible for scrutinising the highly classified CIA drone programme. Details of CIA drone strikes are withheld from all other members of Congress.
Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has said her committee devotes ‘significant time and attention to the drone programme’ and since 2010 has met each month to ‘review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimise noncombatant casualties.’But committee members have complained about being denied information – and a source with knowledge of the committees’ functioning told the Bureau: ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside’ the intelligence agencies.

In 2012 the Los Angeles Times published what it said was adetailed account of these meetings – based on anonymous briefings – outlining how committee members and aides from the House and Senate committees go to the CIA headquarters each month to watch video footage of recent drone strikes.
But new findings from the Bureau’s field research differ sharply from the account of what was reportedly shown to the committees on one occasion.
The LA Times reported that anonymous aides described seeing footage of a strike that took place on June 4 2012. The attack represented a major success for the agency, killing Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command. Aides reported seeing footage showing al-Libi alone being killed by a missile.
But Bureau field research and multiple credible reports tell a different story, in which the day’s events appear to be significantly more complex. The BBC, CNN and other international news outlets were among those reporting that the missile that killed al-Libi was the final part of a sequence of attacks that killed between 14 and 18 people. Sources including the Washington Post reported that after an initial strike, drones returned to attack those carrying out rescue work.
Related story - Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers
If the report of what was shown to the oversight committees is accurate – and if the Bureau and other news agencies are correct – then it appears that committee members were only shown video covering the final part of the incident, giving a misleading impression that concealed over a dozen deaths.
The SSCI’s website states: ‘By law, the President is required to ensure that the committee is kept “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities.’
CIA spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’
Neither the House nor the Senate committee would comment, despite repeated requests from the Bureau. But Feinstein’s office did point the Bureau towards a five-month-old statement by the senator on oversight of the drone campaign, made shortly after the public nomination hearings for CIA director John Brennan, of which drones were a major focus.
The statement briefly outlined the review process for drone strikes. But it added the Obama administration had refused to provide the committee with memos outlining the legal justifications for drone strikes, despite repeated requests from senior committee members.‘I have sent three letters [between 2010 and 2013]… requesting these opinions,’ Feinstein said. ‘Last week, senators on the committee were finally allowed to review two OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinions on the legal authority to strike US citizens. We have reiterated our request for all nine OLC opinions – and any other relevant documents – in order to fully evaluate the executive branch’s legal reasoning, and to broaden access to the opinions to appropriate members of the committee staff.’

The challenges of oversightThe Bureau has previously questioned the effectiveness of the intelligence committees’ oversight of drone strikes. In February 2013. Feinstein used opening remarks at John Brennan’s nomination hearings to claim her committee had done its ‘utmost to confirm’ low civilian casualties in CIA drone strikes.
The Bureau contacted four fellow independent organisations which had carried out field investigations looking at civilian casualties in Pakistan. Each had published evidence of civilian casualties – yet none had ever been contacted by committee members or their staff in response to their findings, raising concerns the committee is too dependent on the intelligence community’s assessments.
Current committee members have complained about being blocked from robust scrutiny. At Brennan’s nomination hearings, Senator Barbara Mikulski said: ‘I’ve been on this Committee for more than 10 years, and with the exception of Mr. Panetta, I feel I’ve been jerked around by every CIA Director. I’ve either been misled, misrepresented, had to pull information out – often at the most minimal kind of way… And quite frankly, during those questions, they were evaded; they were distorted, et cetera.’
Such evasions are not limited to CIA directors. In June the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, admitted he had given the SSCI a ‘clearly erroneous’ response earlier in the year when he told an open hearing that the National Security Agency (NSA) did not ‘wittingly’ collect data on millions of Americans. The public retraction came only after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents indicating that such mass surveillance programmes were in operation.Even where members can access information, Feinstein has said the committee can be blocked from acting on it. Following Brennan’s hearing, Feinstein told political blog The Hill: ‘Right now it is very hard [to oversee the drone programme] because it is regarded as a covert activity, so when you see something that is wrong and you ask to be able to address it, you are told no.’

The present scrutiny system evolved in the wake of the Watergate affair. A series of controversial intelligence practices emerged, including attempted assassinations of overseas political leaders and illegal intelligence-gathering on US citizens.
Amid a growing sense that the intelligence services had been allowed to run amok, a series of inquiries – the most well-known of which was the Church Commission, headed by Senator Frank Church – combed through the activities of the CIA, FBI and NSA, identifying multiple abuses and overreachings. The Senate and House intelligence committees were established to provide the kind of scrutiny that might prevent such abuses happening again.
A source with knowledge of the intelligence committees under previous administrations pointed the Bureau to the significant challenges of overseeing operations that are by their very nature secret.
They pointed out that the committee has the power to request access to any information it requires. But this requires members or staffers to know such information exists. ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside,’ the source said. Politicians had to ask themselves: ‘Do I know enough to ask the right questions, and how can I count on really being given the full picture?,’ they added.
‘If you wanted to find out what’s really going on, you had to get really tough – you had to talk to people and say, cut the crap. If you lie to me, I will have your head on a plate,’ the source told the Bureau.
Regarding the current committee’s oversight of the drone programme, they said, ‘Did somebody really do a tough job there and put the necessary pressure on people to get a result?’
While elected members might struggle to find the time to delve into complex matters of national security, the close links between committee staffers and the intelligence community can further hamper scrutiny, the source added.
‘You can’t get a job on one of these committees if you don’t have high-level security clearance – so you can’t get a job without being part of the system. This automatically puts you inside a circle of people who all can talk to each other, but in the knowledge that if they step out of line when the job’s finished, they will be finished.
‘There’s a huge risk for any staff member who crosses people inside the system,’ they said.
‘This is the problem of the netherworld and its interaction with democratic institutions… It really is a very difficult problem and the solution that Frank Church came up with wasn’t enough,’ said the source.
Photo of the Senate Intelligence Committee at Brennan’s confirmation hearings by SenRockefeller via Flickr Creative Commons

August 2013 - Piece for Salon and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism asking whether the politicians charged with overseeing the intelligence netherworld’s activities can ever hope to get the full picture. The piece accompanies an investigation by Chris Woods looking at the revival of ‘double-tap’ drone strikes, attacking rescuers - one of the darkest and most controversial tactics of the whole campaign.

::

Is Congressional oversight tough enough on drones?

In the Bureau’s latest investigation into the tactic of ‘double-tap’ strikes on rescuers, our field researcher’s findings appear to directly contradict an account of a strike attributed to staffers of the Congressional bodies charged with overseeing CIA drone strikes.

The House and Senate intelligence committees are responsible for scrutinising the highly classified CIA drone programme. Details of CIA drone strikes are withheld from all other members of Congress.

Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has said her committee devotes ‘significant time and attention to the drone programme’ and since 2010 has met each month to ‘review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimise noncombatant casualties.’But committee members have complained about being denied information – and a source with knowledge of the committees’ functioning told the Bureau: ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside’ the intelligence agencies.

In 2012 the Los Angeles Times published what it said was adetailed account of these meetings – based on anonymous briefings – outlining how committee members and aides from the House and Senate committees go to the CIA headquarters each month to watch video footage of recent drone strikes.

But new findings from the Bureau’s field research differ sharply from the account of what was reportedly shown to the committees on one occasion.

The LA Times reported that anonymous aides described seeing footage of a strike that took place on June 4 2012. The attack represented a major success for the agency, killing Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command. Aides reported seeing footage showing al-Libi alone being killed by a missile.

But Bureau field research and multiple credible reports tell a different story, in which the day’s events appear to be significantly more complex. The BBCCNN and other international news outlets were among those reporting that the missile that killed al-Libi was the final part of a sequence of attacks that killed between 14 and 18 people. Sources including the Washington Post reported that after an initial strike, drones returned to attack those carrying out rescue work.

Related story - Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers

If the report of what was shown to the oversight committees is accurate – and if the Bureau and other news agencies are correct – then it appears that committee members were only shown video covering the final part of the incident, giving a misleading impression that concealed over a dozen deaths.

The SSCI’s website states: ‘By law, the President is required to ensure that the committee is kept “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities.’

CIA spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

Neither the House nor the Senate committee would comment, despite repeated requests from the Bureau. But Feinstein’s office did point the Bureau towards a five-month-old statement by the senator on oversight of the drone campaign, made shortly after the public nomination hearings for CIA director John Brennan, of which drones were a major focus.

The statement briefly outlined the review process for drone strikes. But it added the Obama administration had refused to provide the committee with memos outlining the legal justifications for drone strikes, despite repeated requests from senior committee members.‘I have sent three letters [between 2010 and 2013]… requesting these opinions,’ Feinstein said. ‘Last week, senators on the committee were finally allowed to review two OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinions on the legal authority to strike US citizens. We have reiterated our request for all nine OLC opinions – and any other relevant documents – in order to fully evaluate the executive branch’s legal reasoning, and to broaden access to the opinions to appropriate members of the committee staff.’

The challenges of oversight
The Bureau has previously questioned the effectiveness of the intelligence committees’ oversight of drone strikes. In February 2013. Feinstein used opening remarks at John Brennan’s nomination hearings to claim her committee had done its ‘utmost to confirm’ low civilian casualties in CIA drone strikes.

The Bureau contacted four fellow independent organisations which had carried out field investigations looking at civilian casualties in Pakistan. Each had published evidence of civilian casualties – yet none had ever been contacted by committee members or their staff in response to their findings, raising concerns the committee is too dependent on the intelligence community’s assessments.

Current committee members have complained about being blocked from robust scrutiny. At Brennan’s nomination hearings, Senator Barbara Mikulski said: ‘I’ve been on this Committee for more than 10 years, and with the exception of Mr. Panetta, I feel I’ve been jerked around by every CIA Director. I’ve either been misled, misrepresented, had to pull information out – often at the most minimal kind of way… And quite frankly, during those questions, they were evaded; they were distorted, et cetera.’

Such evasions are not limited to CIA directors. In June the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, admitted he had given the SSCI a ‘clearly erroneous’ response earlier in the year when he told an open hearing that the National Security Agency (NSA) did not ‘wittingly’ collect data on millions of Americans. The public retraction came only after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents indicating that such mass surveillance programmes were in operation.Even where members can access information, Feinstein has said the committee can be blocked from acting on it. Following Brennan’s hearing, Feinstein told political blog The Hill: ‘Right now it is very hard [to oversee the drone programme] because it is regarded as a covert activity, so when you see something that is wrong and you ask to be able to address it, you are told no.’

The present scrutiny system evolved in the wake of the Watergate affair. A series of controversial intelligence practices emerged, including attempted assassinations of overseas political leaders and illegal intelligence-gathering on US citizens.

Amid a growing sense that the intelligence services had been allowed to run amok, a series of inquiries – the most well-known of which was the Church Commission, headed by Senator Frank Church – combed through the activities of the CIA, FBI and NSA, identifying multiple abuses and overreachings. The Senate and House intelligence committees were established to provide the kind of scrutiny that might prevent such abuses happening again.

A source with knowledge of the intelligence committees under previous administrations pointed the Bureau to the significant challenges of overseeing operations that are by their very nature secret.

They pointed out that the committee has the power to request access to any information it requires. But this requires members or staffers to know such information exists. ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside,’ the source said. Politicians had to ask themselves: ‘Do I know enough to ask the right questions, and how can I count on really being given the full picture?,’ they added.

‘If you wanted to find out what’s really going on, you had to get really tough – you had to talk to people and say, cut the crap. If you lie to me, I will have your head on a plate,’ the source told the Bureau.

Regarding the current committee’s oversight of the drone programme, they said, ‘Did somebody really do a tough job there and put the necessary pressure on people to get a result?’

While elected members might struggle to find the time to delve into complex matters of national security, the close links between committee staffers and the intelligence community can further hamper scrutiny, the source added.

‘You can’t get a job on one of these committees if you don’t have high-level security clearance – so you can’t get a job without being part of the system. This automatically puts you inside a circle of people who all can talk to each other, but in the knowledge that if they step out of line when the job’s finished, they will be finished.

‘There’s a huge risk for any staff member who crosses people inside the system,’ they said.

‘This is the problem of the netherworld and its interaction with democratic institutions… It really is a very difficult problem and the solution that Frank Church came up with wasn’t enough,’ said the source.

Photo of the Senate Intelligence Committee at Brennan’s confirmation hearings by SenRockefeller via Flickr Creative Commons

June 22 2013
::
To our enormous delight, the Bureau’s drones team - Chris Woods, Jack Serle and me - won the Martha Gellhorn Prize.
It’s really hard to write about this without sounding like a total arse, so I’ll leave it to John Pilger, who chaired the awards panel: 

‘This was extraordinary work on Barack Obama’s lawless use of drones in a campaign of assassination across south Asia. Woods, Ross and Serle stripped away the façade of the secret drone ‘war’, including how it is reported and not reported in the United States: how civilian casualties are covered-up and how rescuers and funerals are targeted.
‘This was truly pioneering work, as important, in many respects, as the recent leaks from inside Washington: remarkable work in the highest tradition of investigative journalism.’

So. Quite humbling really. 
Photo: Gellhorn with her then husband Ernest Hemingway in China. Via Wikimedia Commons

June 22 2013

::

To our enormous delight, the Bureau’s drones team - Chris Woods, Jack Serle and me - won the Martha Gellhorn Prize.

It’s really hard to write about this without sounding like a total arse, so I’ll leave it to John Pilger, who chaired the awards panel: 

This was extraordinary work on Barack Obama’s lawless use of drones in a campaign of assassination across south Asia. Woods, Ross and Serle stripped away the façade of the secret drone ‘war’, including how it is reported and not reported in the United States: how civilian casualties are covered-up and how rescuers and funerals are targeted.

‘This was truly pioneering work, as important, in many respects, as the recent leaks from inside Washington: remarkable work in the highest tradition of investigative journalism.’

So. Quite humbling really. 

Photo: Gellhorn with her then husband Ernest Hemingway in China. Via Wikimedia Commons

May 2013 - Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping by Chris Woods and me at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
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Home Secretary wins latest round of citizenship-stripping case
The government has won a case upholding the Home Secretary’s decision to deprive a British citizen of his nationality, despite the man’s claim that the order would illegally make him stateless.
Although born in Vietnam, the man – identified only as B2 in court proceedings because of an anonymity order – became a British citizen at the age of 12. In 2011 the government stripped him of his British citizenship on national security grounds, but he appealed on the grounds that the Home Secretary’s order would leave him stateless, as he argued he had never held Vietnamese citizenship.He is one of 18 individuals known to have been deprived of their British citizenship under the Coalition government, as revealed by the Bureau in an investigation published in the Independent newspaper in February.
The investigation revealed that the present administration has increased the use of little-known nationality laws, issuing more than three times as many deprivation of citizenship orders as the previous Labour government.
The orders, which have been compared to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, take effect immediately. The only means of appeal is usually through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), the semi-secretive court that hears terrorism-related immigration cases.
B2 lost his British citizenship in December 2011. However, six months later Siac judges overturned the order, saying that since the Vietnamese government denied he was a citizen of theirs, the order would render him stateless.
The government appealed Siac’s ruling, and this morning won the point as three Court of Appeal judges ruled that although the Vietnamese government refused to extend him the privileges of citizenship, it had not formally revoked his nationality, and he is therefore considered a Vietnamese citizen. The case will now return to Siac to weigh up the Home Secretary’s claims of B2′s alleged extremism.
B2 arrived in the UK as a refugee at the age of six, according to the Siac judgment, and later gained British citizenship. The government claims that he converted to Islam at the age of 21 and later became involved in Islamic extremism.
It alleges that he travelled to Yemen in December 2010, where he received ‘some form of terrorist training’ from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This would make him an ‘active threat’ in the UK, government lawyers argued.
In December 2011 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, revoked his British citizenship and informed B2 that she planned to deport him to Vietnam. At the same time, he was taken into custody. This morning’s judgment revealed that the planned deportation has ‘subsequently been overtaken by events’ as the US has requested his extradition to stand trial there.
B2′s case is only the second deprivation of citizenship order to have initially been overturned by Siac – the previous one being Abu Hamza in 2010 – although others have gone on to appeal to higher courts. Under the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Act 2006, the Home Secretary can remove British citizenship if she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’, so long as it does not make the subject stateless.
An order removing Hamza’s citizenship was issued in 2003 but proceedings were put on hold while he fought multiple other cases. By the time hearings resumed in 2010 the Egyptian government had removed his nationality, so again the order would have made him stateless. This did not prevent him from being extradited to the US in October 2012.
B2′s case is also unusual because the deprivation of citizenship order was made while he was in the UK. In almost all other known cases, the order has been made while the subject was out of the country, effectively preventing them from returning.
Earlier this year Court of Appeal judges commented that an order against a Sudanese-British man, L1, appeared to be an ‘abuse of power‘ on the part of the Home Secretary as she appeared to have waited until he left the UK, taking his children to Sudan for their summer holiday before removing his British nationality. Three years on, he is still fighting his appeal from overseas.
Read the original article

May 2013 - Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping by Chris Woods and me at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

::

Home Secretary wins latest round of citizenship-stripping case

The government has won a case upholding the Home Secretary’s decision to deprive a British citizen of his nationality, despite the man’s claim that the order would illegally make him stateless.

Although born in Vietnam, the man – identified only as B2 in court proceedings because of an anonymity order – became a British citizen at the age of 12. In 2011 the government stripped him of his British citizenship on national security grounds, but he appealed on the grounds that the Home Secretary’s order would leave him stateless, as he argued he had never held Vietnamese citizenship.He is one of 18 individuals known to have been deprived of their British citizenship under the Coalition government, as revealed by the Bureau in an investigation published in the Independent newspaper in February.

The investigation revealed that the present administration has increased the use of little-known nationality laws, issuing more than three times as many deprivation of citizenship orders as the previous Labour government.

The orders, which have been compared to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, take effect immediately. The only means of appeal is usually through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), the semi-secretive court that hears terrorism-related immigration cases.

B2 lost his British citizenship in December 2011. However, six months later Siac judges overturned the order, saying that since the Vietnamese government denied he was a citizen of theirs, the order would render him stateless.

The government appealed Siac’s ruling, and this morning won the point as three Court of Appeal judges ruled that although the Vietnamese government refused to extend him the privileges of citizenship, it had not formally revoked his nationality, and he is therefore considered a Vietnamese citizen. The case will now return to Siac to weigh up the Home Secretary’s claims of B2′s alleged extremism.

B2 arrived in the UK as a refugee at the age of six, according to the Siac judgment, and later gained British citizenship. The government claims that he converted to Islam at the age of 21 and later became involved in Islamic extremism.

It alleges that he travelled to Yemen in December 2010, where he received ‘some form of terrorist training’ from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This would make him an ‘active threat’ in the UK, government lawyers argued.

In December 2011 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, revoked his British citizenship and informed B2 that she planned to deport him to Vietnam. At the same time, he was taken into custody. This morning’s judgment revealed that the planned deportation has ‘subsequently been overtaken by events’ as the US has requested his extradition to stand trial there.

B2′s case is only the second deprivation of citizenship order to have initially been overturned by Siac – the previous one being Abu Hamza in 2010 – although others have gone on to appeal to higher courts. Under the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Act 2006, the Home Secretary can remove British citizenship if she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’, so long as it does not make the subject stateless.

An order removing Hamza’s citizenship was issued in 2003 but proceedings were put on hold while he fought multiple other cases. By the time hearings resumed in 2010 the Egyptian government had removed his nationality, so again the order would have made him stateless. This did not prevent him from being extradited to the US in October 2012.

B2′s case is also unusual because the deprivation of citizenship order was made while he was in the UK. In almost all other known cases, the order has been made while the subject was out of the country, effectively preventing them from returning.

Earlier this year Court of Appeal judges commented that an order against a Sudanese-British man, L1, appeared to be an ‘abuse of power‘ on the part of the Home Secretary as she appeared to have waited until he left the UK, taking his children to Sudan for their summer holiday before removing his British nationality. Three years on, he is still fighting his appeal from overseas.

Read the original article

“War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say and it seems to me I have been saying it forever. Unless they are immediate victims, the majority of mankind behaves as if war was an act of God which could not be prevented; or they behave as if war elsewhere was none of their business. It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.”
- Martha Gellhorn
::
May 18 2013
Delighted to learn that Chris Woods, Jack Serle and I have been shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for our work on drones for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Any shortlisting is an privilege, but this one is particularly special: it’s prestigious, certainly, but it’s also in honour of a pioneering lady reporter, one whose powerful, clear-sighted, angry reporting on Dachau sent chills down my spine on a Mediterranean beach when I came across it. 

“War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say and it seems to me I have been saying it forever. Unless they are immediate victims, the majority of mankind behaves as if war was an act of God which could not be prevented; or they behave as if war elsewhere was none of their business. It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.”

- Martha Gellhorn

::

May 18 2013

Delighted to learn that Chris Woods, Jack Serle and I have been shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for our work on drones for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Any shortlisting is an privilege, but this one is particularly special: it’s prestigious, certainly, but it’s also in honour of a pioneering lady reporter, one whose powerful, clear-sighted, angry reporting on Dachau sent chills down my spine on a Mediterranean beach when I came across it. 

May 2013 - Chris Woods and I reveal a further two cases of people losing their citizenship - but there’s no way of knowing yet who they are or what they’re alleged to have done. And judges in a further case say the Home Secretary may have abused her powers.
Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping.
::
Home Secretary strips two more people of British citizenship
The Home Secretary has stripped at least two additional individuals of their British citizenship in recent months, the Bureau has learned.
In February, an investigation by the Bureau and published with the Independent revealed that Theresa May had signed deprivation of citizenship orders for 16 people between the 2010 election and November 2012, including five British-born individuals. That total has now risen to 18 cases. Under the Labour government, five people lost their UK nationality.
The two new cases were revealed by a recent Freedom of Information request made by the Bureau. One deprivation notice was issued late last year, taking the total number who lost their UK nationality in 2012 to six. A further case took place between January 1 and mid-March, when the Freedom of Information request was submitted.
The Home Secretary cannot remove citizenship if it will make an individual stateless, so the orders can only be made against dual-nationality individuals.
The Freedom of Information release listed the other nationality of the individuals who have had their UK passports revoked. This revealed that two new nations, Iran and Yemen, joined the list of alternate nationalities; the Bureau has established that Yemeni and Iranian dual-nationals lost their UK citizenship between June 2012 and March 2013.
However almost nothing else is known about the most recent deprivation cases. Of the six that took place in 2012, nothing at all is known about three; a further individual is known only as F2. The sole case in 2013 is similarly a mystery.
Deprivation of citizenship orders take effect immediately, often leaving individuals stranded abroad with no UK passport in a process likened to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.
In cases where citizenship is being removed on terrorism grounds, the only route of appeal is through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a court that can hear evidence in secret. Cases often go through many rounds of appeals and can last years.
Siac judgments are one of the primary sources of information about deprivation of citizenship cases. When cases do not go before Siac they receive no judicial scrutiny and often remain hidden from public scrutiny too – as is the case in the most recent orders.
‘Manipulating the system’Separately, the Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the case of a man who lost his British citizenship when he left the country to go on holiday in 2010. Judges voiced concerns that the order had been an ‘abuse of power’ on the part of the Home Secretary, court transcripts show.
A Sudanese-born man known only as L1 left the UK in July 2010 with his four children, all British citizens, and his wife, to spend the summer holiday in Sudan. Four days later, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) sent a letter to his London home notifying him that the Home Secretary intended to strip him of his citizenship on ‘terrorism’ grounds. He had 28 days to appeal.
L1 claimed he did not learn of the letter until the 28-day window had expired, although UKBA officials insisted they had alerted his brother to the letter and L1 would have learned of it in time. Siac refused to allow him to lodge a belated appeal, although Mr Justice Mitting noted: ‘The natural inference, which we draw, from the events described, is that she [Theresa May] waited until he had left the United Kingdom before setting the process in train.’
Three Court of Appeal judges have now said at a pre-appeal hearing that this appeared to be ‘a deliberate exercise… Once they are out of the country, you then make jolly sure they cannot get back in.’
One judge added: ‘It seems to me, if the Secretary of State is manipulating the system so as to obstruct access to a right [of appeal in the UK] that Parliament has given, whether it is fair or not, it is abusive’.
On this ground alone, the appeal should proceed, the judges decided, adding they were ‘very troubled’ by the way L1′s citizenship had been stripped as soon as he left the UK: ‘We cannot really have the Secretary of State behaving like this,’ they noted.
(The original story is here)


Photo by the Home Office via Flickr Creative Commons.

May 2013 - Chris Woods and I reveal a further two cases of people losing their citizenship - but there’s no way of knowing yet who they are or what they’re alleged to have done. And judges in a further case say the Home Secretary may have abused her powers.

Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping.

::

Home Secretary strips two more people of British citizenship

The Home Secretary has stripped at least two additional individuals of their British citizenship in recent months, the Bureau has learned.

In February, an investigation by the Bureau and published with the Independent revealed that Theresa May had signed deprivation of citizenship orders for 16 people between the 2010 election and November 2012, including five British-born individuals. That total has now risen to 18 cases. Under the Labour government, five people lost their UK nationality.

The two new cases were revealed by a recent Freedom of Information request made by the Bureau. One deprivation notice was issued late last year, taking the total number who lost their UK nationality in 2012 to six. A further case took place between January 1 and mid-March, when the Freedom of Information request was submitted.

The Home Secretary cannot remove citizenship if it will make an individual stateless, so the orders can only be made against dual-nationality individuals.

The Freedom of Information release listed the other nationality of the individuals who have had their UK passports revoked. This revealed that two new nations, Iran and Yemen, joined the list of alternate nationalities; the Bureau has established that Yemeni and Iranian dual-nationals lost their UK citizenship between June 2012 and March 2013.

However almost nothing else is known about the most recent deprivation cases. Of the six that took place in 2012, nothing at all is known about three; a further individual is known only as F2. The sole case in 2013 is similarly a mystery.

Deprivation of citizenship orders take effect immediately, often leaving individuals stranded abroad with no UK passport in a process likened to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

In cases where citizenship is being removed on terrorism grounds, the only route of appeal is through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a court that can hear evidence in secret. Cases often go through many rounds of appeals and can last years.

Siac judgments are one of the primary sources of information about deprivation of citizenship cases. When cases do not go before Siac they receive no judicial scrutiny and often remain hidden from public scrutiny too – as is the case in the most recent orders.

‘Manipulating the system’
Separately, the Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the case of a man who lost his British citizenship when he left the country to go on holiday in 2010. Judges voiced concerns that the order had been an ‘abuse of power’ on the part of the Home Secretary, court transcripts show.

A Sudanese-born man known only as L1 left the UK in July 2010 with his four children, all British citizens, and his wife, to spend the summer holiday in Sudan. Four days later, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) sent a letter to his London home notifying him that the Home Secretary intended to strip him of his citizenship on ‘terrorism’ grounds. He had 28 days to appeal.

L1 claimed he did not learn of the letter until the 28-day window had expired, although UKBA officials insisted they had alerted his brother to the letter and L1 would have learned of it in time. Siac refused to allow him to lodge a belated appeal, although Mr Justice Mitting noted: ‘The natural inference, which we draw, from the events described, is that she [Theresa May] waited until he had left the United Kingdom before setting the process in train.’

Three Court of Appeal judges have now said at a pre-appeal hearing that this appeared to be ‘a deliberate exercise… Once they are out of the country, you then make jolly sure they cannot get back in.’

One judge added: ‘It seems to me, if the Secretary of State is manipulating the system so as to obstruct access to a right [of appeal in the UK] that Parliament has given, whether it is fair or not, it is abusive’.

On this ground alone, the appeal should proceed, the judges decided, adding they were ‘very troubled’ by the way L1′s citizenship had been stripped as soon as he left the UK: ‘We cannot really have the Secretary of State behaving like this,’ they noted.

(The original story is here)
Photo by the Home Office via Flickr Creative Commons.
May 2013 - Two days before Pakistan’s elections, a high court came down firmly against drone strikes and called on the new government to take firm action. The man in the photo is Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who brought the suits, photographed by my colleague Chris Woods.
::
Pakistani court rules CIA drone strikes are illegal
In the first major Pakistani court ruling on the legality of the CIA’s drone campaign in the country, a Peshawar High Court judge said this morning that strikes are ‘criminal offences’. Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan ordered Pakistan’s government to ‘use force if need be’ to end drone attacks in the country’s tribal regions.
He ruled that US drone strikes in Pakistan constitute a ‘war crime’ and are a ‘blatant violation of basic human rights’, killing hundreds of civilians. He ordered the government to ‘forcefully’ convey to the US that it must end drone strikes and called on the UN Security Council to intervene.
The Pakistani government should also gather data on those affected by drone strikes, and offer redress to the victims, Khan added. At present the only data systematically released on drone strikes comes from independent monitoring organisations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been investigating drone strikes and tracking reported casualties since 2011.
The ruling comes two days ahead of national elections marking Pakistan’s first-ever transition from one civilian administration to another. The new government will have to decide between implementing the court’s orders or appealing to the Supreme Court.
The judgment applies to a lengthy case against the CIA brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights on behalf of Noor Khan, a tribesman whose father was among dozens of civilians killed in a drone strike on a gathering of tribal elders on March 17 2011. Last year, Noor Khan also attempted to bring legal action against the UK government for providing information that could lead to deaths in drone strikes, in a case backed by legal charity Reprieve. The attempt was refused but he is appealing.
Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who argued the Peshawar case, said: ‘It is a landmark judgment: drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This ruling will also prove to be a test for the new government as if drones continue and government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.’
In the course of the Peshawar case, Dost Muhammad Khan also clarified that drone strikes were illegal even if – as has been rumoured – senior Pakistani officials secretly consent to strikes.
He also repeatedly demanded that the secretariat for the tribal regions releases any casualty data it holds.
Naureen Shah, an academic at Columbia Law School and co-author of several studies on drones, said the ruling increases the pressure on the US to respond to claims of civilian deaths in drones strikes.
‘The US government can’t afford to be silent on civilian deaths any more,’ she said. ‘The Peshawar High Court says that drone strikes are carried out “at random” and kill hundreds of civilians. That’s a damning charge that may be overstated. The US government must answer it with investigations and public disclosure about who is being killed and on what legal basis. If the US does not respond, it risks the appearance of indifference – to human life, and to the rule of law.’
(See the original story here)
Photo: Shahzad Akbar, by Chris Woods

May 2013 - Two days before Pakistan’s elections, a high court came down firmly against drone strikes and called on the new government to take firm action. The man in the photo is Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who brought the suits, photographed by my colleague Chris Woods.

::

Pakistani court rules CIA drone strikes are illegal

In the first major Pakistani court ruling on the legality of the CIA’s drone campaign in the country, a Peshawar High Court judge said this morning that strikes are ‘criminal offences’. Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan ordered Pakistan’s government to ‘use force if need be’ to end drone attacks in the country’s tribal regions.

He ruled that US drone strikes in Pakistan constitute a ‘war crime’ and are a ‘blatant violation of basic human rights’, killing hundreds of civilians. He ordered the government to ‘forcefully’ convey to the US that it must end drone strikes and called on the UN Security Council to intervene.

The Pakistani government should also gather data on those affected by drone strikes, and offer redress to the victims, Khan added. At present the only data systematically released on drone strikes comes from independent monitoring organisations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been investigating drone strikes and tracking reported casualties since 2011.

The ruling comes two days ahead of national elections marking Pakistan’s first-ever transition from one civilian administration to another. The new government will have to decide between implementing the court’s orders or appealing to the Supreme Court.

The judgment applies to a lengthy case against the CIA brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights on behalf of Noor Khan, a tribesman whose father was among dozens of civilians killed in a drone strike on a gathering of tribal elders on March 17 2011. Last year, Noor Khan also attempted to bring legal action against the UK government for providing information that could lead to deaths in drone strikes, in a case backed by legal charity Reprieve. The attempt was refused but he is appealing.

Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who argued the Peshawar case, said: ‘It is a landmark judgment: drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This ruling will also prove to be a test for the new government as if drones continue and government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.’

In the course of the Peshawar case, Dost Muhammad Khan also clarified that drone strikes were illegal even if – as has been rumoured – senior Pakistani officials secretly consent to strikes.

He also repeatedly demanded that the secretariat for the tribal regions releases any casualty data it holds.

Naureen Shah, an academic at Columbia Law School and co-author of several studies on drones, said the ruling increases the pressure on the US to respond to claims of civilian deaths in drones strikes.

‘The US government can’t afford to be silent on civilian deaths any more,’ she said. ‘The Peshawar High Court says that drone strikes are carried out “at random” and kill hundreds of civilians. That’s a damning charge that may be overstated. The US government must answer it with investigations and public disclosure about who is being killed and on what legal basis. If the US does not respond, it risks the appearance of indifference – to human life, and to the rule of law.’

(See the original story here)

Photo: Shahzad Akbar, by Chris Woods

April 2013 - As the UK’s first drone base opens, a report by Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the emergence of the UK’s role in the drone war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
::
Protesters march against UK drones as MoD reveals ‘drone sharing’ with US
An estimated 600 campaigners staged a march and rally at a Lincolnshire air base this weekend protesting at the opening of the UK’s first military base for remote armed drone operations.
Protesters marched four miles from Lincoln to RAF Waddington. Last week the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that drone flights in Afghanistan are already being piloted from the air base.
The march took place as the government admitted that Royal Air Force crews have carried out more than 2,000 missions using ‘borrowed’ US armed drones. These are on top of hundreds of missions carried out by the RAF’s own Reaper drone fleet in Afghanistan.
The news prompted Conservative MP Rehman Chishti to warn that armed drone operations in Afghanistan by the RAF and the United States Air Force have become so interchangeable that Britain ‘may no longer be able to determine accountability and responsibility if civilians are killed’.
‘Normalised’Protest group Stop the War described Saturday’s demonstration at RAF Waddington as the first public protest in the UK against armed drones being controlled from Britain.
Spokesman Ian Chamberlain told the Bureau: ‘There’s something morally repulsive about the idea that in Lincolnshire someone can press a button and kill in Afghanistan.’
Since 2008, RAF crews have remotely-piloted Britain’s small armed drones fleet from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The additional facility at Waddington will allow the RAF to operate more efficiently, according to the Ministry of Defence.
‘The opening of this new drone warfare centre has brought home to many people that the use of drones by British forces is not after all, temporary and time-limited. Rather the use of drones to launch “risk-free” airstrikes at great distances is being normalised,’ said Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK.
Defence minister Andrew Robathan also revealed last week that British military personnel have been directly embedding with the US Air Force, flying combat drone sorties in the recent Libyan and Iraq wars, as well as in Afghanistan. These ‘embeds’ last for up to three years with ‘fewer than 10 pilots’ embedded at any one time, an MoD spokesman told the Bureau.
Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, said he was ‘surprised and astonished’ by the minister’s answers which he says make it difficult to understand where accountability for armed drone strikes now lies.
‘The problem with embedding British pilots with the Americans, for example, is that you can no longer determine responsibility,’ Chisti told the Bureau. ‘This muddies the waters completely, risks turning the people of Afghanistan against us, and creates a joint liability for both the UK and US governments.’
Interlocking forcesBritain is the only nation Washington has so far allowed to purchase and operate armed MQ-9 Reaper drones. UK-badged combat missions began in Afghanistan in late 2008. Yet for some years beforehand, British pilots and analysts were flying US drones under the embedding programme. An MoD spokesman said UK drone pilots follow British rules of engagement even when embedded with the US military.
Operations by RAF and USAF Reapers have now become so interchangeable in Afghanistan that it may no longer be possible to distinguish between the two. News that British crews are flying US armed drones may also help to explain anomalies that have been puzzling drone analysts.
Two apparent anomalies are the high proportion of missiles reportedly fired by UK pilots, and the low numbers of RAF-declared civilian casualties when compared to other recent conflicts.

Last autumn Britain announced it is doubling the size of its fleet of Reapers in Afghanistan from five to ten aircraft. The US Air Force is believed to operate as many as 200 armed drones in Afghanistan, although a spokeswoman declined to provide figures.
Yet data released last year to the Bureau by Centcom, which oversees coalition operations in Afghanistan, indicated that British crews fired at least one in five of all missiles fired by drones in the country in 2012. Neither Centcom nor the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London could explain that high figure.
News that many of these missiles may have been fired from US-badged drones could help explain the discrepancy.

2013 figures are to January 31 only. Click the chart to view the data.


There remains no official, systematic account of how many people are killed by drones in Afghanistan, and their identities. Centcom routinely declines to provide any casualty data for Afghanistan drone strikes, though Britain has been slightly more forthcoming. David Cameron told reporters in 2010 that UK drones had killed ‘more than 124 insurgents’, and the MoD has also admitted to four civilian deaths. The UN mission in Afghanistan reported that 16 civilians died in drone strikes in 2012 alone, but in the absence of official estimates from the US and UK, it is impossible to tell who was responsible.
This week defence minister Andrew Robathan also confirmed British pilots have flown drone combat missions in both Libya and Iraq – conflicts in which no UK-badged armed drones participated. Between 2006 and 2012, UK crews flew 2,150 missions in US-owned drones in Afghanistan and Libya, according to Robathan – a small but significant portion of total drone missions in those theatres.
Data on Coalition drone usage only spans back to 2008, but this shows drones flew around 36,500 armed missions in total in Afghanistan and Libya between 2008 and October 31 2012. Of these, around one in thirty resulted in a drone strike.
Centcom recently stopped publishing statistics on armed drone activity in Afghanistan, saying they ‘disproportionately focused’ on the role played by unmanned aircraft. Before the figures were effectively reclassified, they illustrated the rapid rise of the drone in conventional wars. In 2009, drones fired around one in 20 of all missiles released by Coalition aircraft. By January 2013, this had risen to one in five.
(The original story is here)
Photo by Sarah Baldwin

April 2013 - As the UK’s first drone base opens, a report by Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the emergence of the UK’s role in the drone war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

::

Protesters march against UK drones as MoD reveals ‘drone sharing’ with US

An estimated 600 campaigners staged a march and rally at a Lincolnshire air base this weekend protesting at the opening of the UK’s first military base for remote armed drone operations.

Protesters marched four miles from Lincoln to RAF Waddington. Last week the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that drone flights in Afghanistan are already being piloted from the air base.

The march took place as the government admitted that Royal Air Force crews have carried out more than 2,000 missions using ‘borrowed’ US armed drones. These are on top of hundreds of missions carried out by the RAF’s own Reaper drone fleet in Afghanistan.

The news prompted Conservative MP Rehman Chishti to warn that armed drone operations in Afghanistan by the RAF and the United States Air Force have become so interchangeable that Britain ‘may no longer be able to determine accountability and responsibility if civilians are killed’.

‘Normalised’
Protest group Stop the War described Saturday’s demonstration at RAF Waddington as the first public protest in the UK against armed drones being controlled from Britain.

Spokesman Ian Chamberlain told the Bureau: ‘There’s something morally repulsive about the idea that in Lincolnshire someone can press a button and kill in Afghanistan.’

Since 2008, RAF crews have remotely-piloted Britain’s small armed drones fleet from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The additional facility at Waddington will allow the RAF to operate more efficiently, according to the Ministry of Defence.

‘The opening of this new drone warfare centre has brought home to many people that the use of drones by British forces is not after all, temporary and time-limited. Rather the use of drones to launch “risk-free” airstrikes at great distances is being normalised,’ said Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK.

Defence minister Andrew Robathan also revealed last week that British military personnel have been directly embedding with the US Air Force, flying combat drone sorties in the recent Libyan and Iraq wars, as well as in Afghanistan. These ‘embeds’ last for up to three years with ‘fewer than 10 pilots’ embedded at any one time, an MoD spokesman told the Bureau.

Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, said he was ‘surprised and astonished’ by the minister’s answers which he says make it difficult to understand where accountability for armed drone strikes now lies.

‘The problem with embedding British pilots with the Americans, for example, is that you can no longer determine responsibility,’ Chisti told the Bureau. ‘This muddies the waters completely, risks turning the people of Afghanistan against us, and creates a joint liability for both the UK and US governments.’

Interlocking forces
Britain is the only nation Washington has so far allowed to purchase and operate armed MQ-9 Reaper drones. UK-badged combat missions began in Afghanistan in late 2008. Yet for some years beforehand, British pilots and analysts were flying US drones under the embedding programme. An MoD spokesman said UK drone pilots follow British rules of engagement even when embedded with the US military.

Operations by RAF and USAF Reapers have now become so interchangeable in Afghanistan that it may no longer be possible to distinguish between the two. News that British crews are flying US armed drones may also help to explain anomalies that have been puzzling drone analysts.

Two apparent anomalies are the high proportion of missiles reportedly fired by UK pilots, and the low numbers of RAF-declared civilian casualties when compared to other recent conflicts.

Last autumn Britain announced it is doubling the size of its fleet of Reapers in Afghanistan from five to ten aircraft. The US Air Force is believed to operate as many as 200 armed drones in Afghanistan, although a spokeswoman declined to provide figures.

Yet data released last year to the Bureau by Centcom, which oversees coalition operations in Afghanistan, indicated that British crews fired at least one in five of all missiles fired by drones in the country in 2012. Neither Centcom nor the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London could explain that high figure.

News that many of these missiles may have been fired from US-badged drones could help explain the discrepancy.

Chart

2013 figures are to January 31 only. Click the chart to view the data.

There remains no official, systematic account of how many people are killed by drones in Afghanistan, and their identities. Centcom routinely declines to provide any casualty data for Afghanistan drone strikes, though Britain has been slightly more forthcoming. David Cameron told reporters in 2010 that UK drones had killed ‘more than 124 insurgents’, and the MoD has also admitted to four civilian deaths. The UN mission in Afghanistan reported that 16 civilians died in drone strikes in 2012 alone, but in the absence of official estimates from the US and UK, it is impossible to tell who was responsible.

This week defence minister Andrew Robathan also confirmed British pilots have flown drone combat missions in both Libya and Iraq – conflicts in which no UK-badged armed drones participated. Between 2006 and 2012, UK crews flew 2,150 missions in US-owned drones in Afghanistan and Libya, according to Robathan – a small but significant portion of total drone missions in those theatres.

Data on Coalition drone usage only spans back to 2008, but this shows drones flew around 36,500 armed missions in total in Afghanistan and Libya between 2008 and October 31 2012. Of these, around one in thirty resulted in a drone strike.

Centcom recently stopped publishing statistics on armed drone activity in Afghanistan, saying they ‘disproportionately focused’ on the role played by unmanned aircraft. Before the figures were effectively reclassified, they illustrated the rapid rise of the drone in conventional wars. In 2009, drones fired around one in 20 of all missiles released by Coalition aircraft. By January 2013, this had risen to one in five.

(The original story is here)

Photo by Sarah Baldwin

April 2013 - The almost unprecedented testimony of a young Yemeni journalist on the impact of drones on his village stunned a Senate committee and raised the profile of the covert war in his home country.

::

Yemeni tells US Senate ‘drones are fuelling anti-Americanism’

‘Drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis,’ Farea al-Muslimi told a rare US Senate hearing on targeted killing yesterday.

The Yemeni journalist and activist gave emotive testimony at a Senate subcommittee about the impact of drone strikes and targeted killings on his homeland. His statement was a view from beneath the strikes that is almost unique in Washington and drew some applause from the chamber.

In stark terms he described the human toll of the US’s covert campaign in Yemen, such as the aftermath of the catastrophic December 2009 cruise missile strike on al-Majala that killed over 40 civilians, including children and pregnant women. After the attack the bodies of the women and children were indistinguishable from the livestock that died alongside them, a tribesman told him.

‘Just six days ago, this so-called war came straight to my village,’ said al-Muslimi, who was educated in the US. A reported drone strike on April 18 left farmers ‘scared and angry’ and ‘tore my heart’, he added.

The presumed target of the strike, Hamdi al Radami, could easily have been arrested, al-Muslimi claimed, challenging statements by President Obama and his new CIA chief John Brennan that targeted killings are only used as a ‘last resort’, when capture is impossible.

Accounts of the strike vary: unnamed intelligence officials said al Radami was an ‘influential al Qaeda trainer’ and founder of a local cell. Yemeni journalist Nasser al-Arabyee described the area as ‘Yemen’s Tora Bora’.

Read Farea al-Muslimi’s written testimony here

The Senate constitutional subcommittee hearing, which heard al-Muslimi’s statement, is one of a tiny number of public examinations of the drone campaign and targeted killing to date.

As public interest in the drone issue has mounted there has been increasing pressure on the government to be more open over its use of drones and its legal justifications, and President Obama has recently pledged the administration will be more transparent over targeted killings. But the government refused to send a representative to yesterday’s hearing.

Alongside al-Muslimi, the committee heard from the Pentagon’s former number two General James Cartwright, from constitutional lawyers, and from the casualty-counting organisation New America Foundation.

Witnesses all expressed reservations about the current drone programme, and several voicedconcerns at the prospect of other nations embarking on targeted killing programmes of their own.

Retired US Air Force colonel Martha McSally said oversight of targeted killing needed to be ‘tightened up’ and added: ‘There has been, I think, way too much vagueness and lack of clarity even in the information that’s come out of the chain of command relating to their legal argument and their strategy on that matter.’

But drones allowed more ‘oversight and precision’, and were more efficient than capture missions, she added, which could also risk civilian lives and took longer.

General Cartwright, the former deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee, chaired by Senator Dick Durbin, that he feared the US had ‘ceded the moral authority’ through its use of drones, while law professor Rosa Brooks warned the ‘squishy’ definition of what constitutes official armed combat meant the US’s justification for targeted killing was ‘infinitely malleable’.

The hearing follows a row between Congress and the government over the government’s initial refusal to reveal its legal justifications for targeted killing to members of the Intelligence committee, even though the committee is responsible for overseeing the CIA’s activities. The issue threatened to dominate Brennan’s nomination hearings as CIA director. Durbin indicated in yesterday’s session that further government hearings are a possibility.

Watch the full hearing here

(Read the original story here)

March 2013 - The Pakistani government releases what appears to be its own estimate of drone strike casualties. 
::
Pakistan government says ‘at least 400 civilians’ killed in drone strikes
The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.
In evidence to Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians.  This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.
The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.
The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.
The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.
Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.
In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ’The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.
The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.
‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.
Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’
Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.
Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’
A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.
‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.
Kat Craig, legal director of campaign group Reprieve, said: ‘The UN’s statement today is an unequivocal warning that the CIA drones programme is not only completely unwanted by the Pakistani government but is irrefutably illegal. More worryingly, it is shredding apart the fabric of life in Pakistan, terrorising entire communities. The special rapporteur’s job is to balance the need for counter-terrorism with the need to protect basic human rights – what he has revealed today is that this balance is far, far from being achieved.’
The Pakistani government said at least 330 strikes had taken place on its territory. The Bureau has counted 365 to date; the disparity may be because the Bureau counts missiles that hit more than an hour apart as individual strikes. We also count missiles that hit separate locations in close proximity as individual strikes, while the government may count these as a single strike.
Emmerson was asked to investigate drone strikes by the UN Human Rights Council after nations including Russia, China and Pakistan requested action at a session last June. He will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly in the autumn.
Separately, today the CIA lost a three-year Freedom of Information battle to keep information about its drone programme secret. The CIA had argued it could not release documents relating to the drone programme to the American Civil Liberties Union as even acknowledging its existence endangered national security. But a federal court ruled that since the government already acknowledges the programme, this argument will not stand.
(The original story is here)
Photo by stephendpend.

March 2013 - The Pakistani government releases what appears to be its own estimate of drone strike casualties. 

::

Pakistan government says ‘at least 400 civilians’ killed in drone strikes

The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.

In evidence to Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians.  This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.

The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.

The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.

The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.

Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.

In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ’The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’

Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.

The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.

‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.

Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’

Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.

Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’

A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.

‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.

Kat Craig, legal director of campaign group Reprieve, said: ‘The UN’s statement today is an unequivocal warning that the CIA drones programme is not only completely unwanted by the Pakistani government but is irrefutably illegal. More worryingly, it is shredding apart the fabric of life in Pakistan, terrorising entire communities. The special rapporteur’s job is to balance the need for counter-terrorism with the need to protect basic human rights – what he has revealed today is that this balance is far, far from being achieved.’

The Pakistani government said at least 330 strikes had taken place on its territory. The Bureau has counted 365 to date; the disparity may be because the Bureau counts missiles that hit more than an hour apart as individual strikes. We also count missiles that hit separate locations in close proximity as individual strikes, while the government may count these as a single strike.

Emmerson was asked to investigate drone strikes by the UN Human Rights Council after nations including Russia, China and Pakistan requested action at a session last June. He will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly in the autumn.

Separately, today the CIA lost a three-year Freedom of Information battle to keep information about its drone programme secret. The CIA had argued it could not release documents relating to the drone programme to the American Civil Liberties Union as even acknowledging its existence endangered national security. But a federal court ruled that since the government already acknowledges the programme, this argument will not stand.

(The original story is here)

Photo by stephendpend.

February 27 2013
A nine-month investigation into the 21 people who were stripped of their British citizenship under draconian, secretive powers, and what became of them. By Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this was a splash in the Independent. 
::
Former British citizens killed by drone strikes after passports revoked
The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.
Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.
They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.
At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.
Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.
Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.
The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.
Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.
‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.
‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’
Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government.
The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.
In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.

The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday - cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.
Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.
Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.
Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.
In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.
In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.
Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.
Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships, and subsequent US actions.
‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,’  Saghir Hussain told the Bureau.
Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship ‘means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.’

Campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.
‘We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,’ he said.
‘I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.’
Liberal Democrat Hughes said that while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a ‘political and constitutional limbo’.
‘There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take a citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,’ he said.
‘I’m concerned at the growing number of people who appear to have lost their right to citizenship in recent years. I plan to write to the Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee to ask for their assessment of the situation, the policy both in general and in detail, and for a review of whether the act working as intended.’
Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile’.
‘British citizens are being banished from their own country, being stripped of a core part of their identity yet without a single word of explanation of why they have been singled out and dubbed a risk,’ she said.

Families are sometimes affected by the Home Secretary’s decisions. Parents may have to choose whether their British children remain in the UK, or join their father in exile abroad.
In a case known only as L1, a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on summer holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship.
With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain.At the time of the order the children were aged eight to 13 months.The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked ‘outweighed’ the rights of the children.
Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission, said: ‘We accept that it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the Appellant’s children that he should be deprived of his British citizenship… They are British citizens, with a right of abode in the United Kingdom.


‘They are of an age when that right cannot, in practice, be enjoyed if both of their parents cannot return to the United Kingdom.’
Yet he added that Theresa May was ‘unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds’.

In another case, a man born in Newcastle in 1963 and three of his London-born sons all lost their citizenship two years ago while in Pakistan.

An expert witness told Siac, the semi-secretive court which hears deprivation appeals, that those in the family’s situation may be at risk  from the country’s government agencies and militant groups. Yet Siac recently ruled that the UK ‘owed no obligation’ to those at risk of ‘any subsequent act of the Pakistani state or of non-state actors [militant groups] in Pakistan’.
The mother, herself a naturalised British citizen, now wants to return here in the interests of her youngest son, who has developmental needs. Although 15, he is said to be ‘dependent upon [his mother and father] for emotional and practical support’. His mother claimed he ‘has no hope of education in Pakistan’. But the mother has diabetes and mobility problems that mean she ‘does not feel able to return on her own, with or without [her son].’
Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the deprivation of citizenship of the family’s father had ‘undoubtedly had an impact on the private and family life of his wife and youngest son, both of whom remain British citizens’.
But he added that the father posed such a threat to national security that the ‘unavoidable incidental impact’ on his wife and youngest son was ‘justifiable’, and dismissed the appeal.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘Citizenship is a privilege not a right. The Home Secretary has the power to remove citizenship from individuals where she considers it is conducive to the public good. An individual subject to deprivation can appeal to the courts.’
She added: ‘We don’t routinely comment on individual deprivation cases.’
Asked whether intelligence was provided to foreign governments, she said: ‘We don’t comment on intelligence issues. Drone strikes are a matter for the states concerned.’


A law unto herself: How the Home Secretary has the power to strip British citizenship
The Home Secretary has sole power to remove an individual’s British citizenship. The decision does not have to be referred through the courts.
From the moment the Home Secretary signs a deprivation of citizenship order, the individual ceases to be a British subject – their passport is cancelled, they lose the diplomatic protections Britain extends to its citizens, and they must apply for a visa to re-enter the country.
The Home Secretary can only deprive an individual of their citizenship if they are dual nationals. The power cannot be used if by removing British citizenship it renders an individual stateless.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May can use the power whenever she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’. She can act based on what she believes someone might do, rather than based on past acts.
The only way to challenge an order is through retrospective appeal. Where the deprivation is on national-security grounds, as in almost every known case, appeals go to the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).
Siac hears sensitive, intelligence-based evidence in ‘closed’ proceedings – where an individual and their legal team cannot learn the detail of the evidence against them. Instead, a special advocate – a carefully vetted barrister – challenges the government’s account.  But once they have seen the secret material they cannot speak with the defendant without the court’s permission, making cross-examination ‘pretty useless’, in the words of former special advocate Ian Macdonald.
The government has long been able to remove the citizenship of those who acquired it in cases such as treason, but the power to do so to British-born individuals was introduced after 9/11 in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This allowed the Home Secretary to strip the nationality of those who had ‘done anything seriously prejudicial’ to the country. At that point, no deprivation order had been issued since 1973.
Following the July 7 bombings, the law changed again, so citizenship could be stripped if it is deemed ‘conducive to the public good’. Conservative MPs called this a ‘watered-down test’ – but the Conservative-led coalition government has embraced the power, issuing over three times as many orders as under Labour.

February 27 2013

A nine-month investigation into the 21 people who were stripped of their British citizenship under draconian, secretive powers, and what became of them. By Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this was a splash in the Independent. 

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Former British citizens killed by drone strikes after passports revoked

The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.

Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.

Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.

The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.

Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.

‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.

‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’

Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government.

The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.

In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.

The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday - cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.

Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.

Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.

Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.

In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.

In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.

Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.

Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships, and subsequent US actions.

‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,’  Saghir Hussain told the Bureau.

Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship ‘means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.’

Campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.

‘We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,’ he said.

‘I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.’

Liberal Democrat Hughes said that while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a ‘political and constitutional limbo’.

‘There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take a citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,’ he said.

‘I’m concerned at the growing number of people who appear to have lost their right to citizenship in recent years. I plan to write to the Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee to ask for their assessment of the situation, the policy both in general and in detail, and for a review of whether the act working as intended.’

Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile’.

‘British citizens are being banished from their own country, being stripped of a core part of their identity yet without a single word of explanation of why they have been singled out and dubbed a risk,’ she said.

Families are sometimes affected by the Home Secretary’s decisions. Parents may have to choose whether their British children remain in the UK, or join their father in exile abroad.

In a case known only as L1, a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on summer holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship.

With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain.At the time of the order the children were aged eight to 13 months.The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked ‘outweighed’ the rights of the children.

Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission, said: ‘We accept that it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the Appellant’s children that he should be deprived of his British citizenship… They are British citizens, with a right of abode in the United Kingdom.

‘They are of an age when that right cannot, in practice, be enjoyed if both of their parents cannot return to the United Kingdom.’

Yet he added that Theresa May was ‘unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds’.

In another case, a man born in Newcastle in 1963 and three of his London-born sons all lost their citizenship two years ago while in Pakistan.

An expert witness told Siac, the semi-secretive court which hears deprivation appeals, that those in the family’s situation may be at risk  from the country’s government agencies and militant groups. Yet Siac recently ruled that the UK ‘owed no obligation’ to those at risk of ‘any subsequent act of the Pakistani state or of non-state actors [militant groups] in Pakistan’.

The mother, herself a naturalised British citizen, now wants to return here in the interests of her youngest son, who has developmental needs. Although 15, he is said to be ‘dependent upon [his mother and father] for emotional and practical support’. His mother claimed he ‘has no hope of education in Pakistan’. But the mother has diabetes and mobility problems that mean she ‘does not feel able to return on her own, with or without [her son].’

Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the deprivation of citizenship of the family’s father had ‘undoubtedly had an impact on the private and family life of his wife and youngest son, both of whom remain British citizens’.

But he added that the father posed such a threat to national security that the ‘unavoidable incidental impact’ on his wife and youngest son was ‘justifiable’, and dismissed the appeal.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘Citizenship is a privilege not a right. The Home Secretary has the power to remove citizenship from individuals where she considers it is conducive to the public good. An individual subject to deprivation can appeal to the courts.’

She added: ‘We don’t routinely comment on individual deprivation cases.’

Asked whether intelligence was provided to foreign governments, she said: ‘We don’t comment on intelligence issues. Drone strikes are a matter for the states concerned.’


A law unto herself: How the Home Secretary has the power to strip British citizenship

The Home Secretary has sole power to remove an individual’s British citizenship. The decision does not have to be referred through the courts.

From the moment the Home Secretary signs a deprivation of citizenship order, the individual ceases to be a British subject – their passport is cancelled, they lose the diplomatic protections Britain extends to its citizens, and they must apply for a visa to re-enter the country.

The Home Secretary can only deprive an individual of their citizenship if they are dual nationals. The power cannot be used if by removing British citizenship it renders an individual stateless.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May can use the power whenever she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’. She can act based on what she believes someone might do, rather than based on past acts.

The only way to challenge an order is through retrospective appeal. Where the deprivation is on national-security grounds, as in almost every known case, appeals go to the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).

Siac hears sensitive, intelligence-based evidence in ‘closed’ proceedings – where an individual and their legal team cannot learn the detail of the evidence against them. Instead, a special advocate – a carefully vetted barrister – challenges the government’s account.  But once they have seen the secret material they cannot speak with the defendant without the court’s permission, making cross-examination ‘pretty useless’, in the words of former special advocate Ian Macdonald.

The government has long been able to remove the citizenship of those who acquired it in cases such as treason, but the power to do so to British-born individuals was introduced after 9/11 in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This allowed the Home Secretary to strip the nationality of those who had ‘done anything seriously prejudicial’ to the country. At that point, no deprivation order had been issued since 1973.

Following the July 7 bombings, the law changed again, so citizenship could be stripped if it is deemed ‘conducive to the public good’. Conservative MPs called this a ‘watered-down test’ – but the Conservative-led coalition government has embraced the power, issuing over three times as many orders as under Labour.

December 2013: Front-page story in the Independent and for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Theresa May’s record number of citizenship-stripping orders. By me and Patrick Galey. 
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Exclusive: No way back for Britons who join the Syrian fight, says Theresa May
Secret use of citizenship-stripping powers has been dramatically stepped up as Theresa May moves to prevent the return of dual-nationals who have gone to fight in Syria.
The Home Secretary has far revoked the British citizenship of 20 people this year – more than in her previous two- and-a-half years combined.
She has removed the citizenship of 37 people since May 2010, according to figures collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Critics warned the practice could leave individuals at risk of torture and ill-treatment in their home countries.
Security sources are particularly alarmed because Syria’s proximity to Europe makes it easier for violent UK-based extremists to travel to and from the country.
A former senior Foreign Office official said it was an “open secret” that British nationals fighting in the Syrian civil war were increasingly losing their citizenship.
He told the Bureau: “This [deprivation of citizenship] is happening. There are somewhere between 40 and 240 Brits in Syria, and we are probably not as quick as we should be to strip their citizenship.”
Ms May has the power to terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” or if they have obtained it through fraudulent means.
The Home Office declined to explain the reason for the rise, but it said: “Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.”
Under the British Nationality Act, “deprivation of citizenship orders” can be made without judicial approval and take immediate effect. The only mechanism for fighting the decision is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual was overseas, leaving them stranded abroad facing legal appeals that can take years if they try to return.
If the Home Secretary is acting on “conducive” grounds, the only restriction is that she cannot render a person stateless, effectively meaning an order can only be used against individuals with dual nationality.
Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division, said: “If there is a national security dimension to the stripping of citizenship and if that is something that would be known to the other country of nationality, then that would give rise to concern,” he said. “It’s obviously very important that in looking at these issues the Government complies with its human rights obligations.”
The Home Office has been exploring ways to expand citizenship-stripping powers, which were only invoked five times by the last Labour government, so they can be used even when individuals have no dual nationality and will therefore be made stateless.
Ms May is understood to have discussed plans to boost her powers by inserting an amendment into the Immigration Bill which would allow her to remove the citizenship of British nationals who have renounced their previous citizenship but are accused of acts “ seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK.
In February, the Bureau and The Independent revealed how the Government stepped up use of the orders, employing them 16 times up to late 2012. Latest figures point to a further dramatic escalation. Two of those who lost citizenship, Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, were later killed in drone strikes in Somalia.
Another man, Mahdi Hashi, born in Somalia, lost his citizenship last year and is in prison in New York facing terrorism charges. When his parents approached the Government for help in finding him, they were told he was “no longer a British national and as such has no right to receive consular assistance”.
At least five of those who lost their nationality were born in the UK. Unlike with other counter-terrorism powers, there is no official scrutiny of deprivation of citizenship and no routine official publication of the orders. The Bureau has identified 19 cases, providing detail on why those individuals lost their citizenship. Almost every case has been on national security grounds.
The new Home Office figures, released in a Freedom of Information request, show the citizenship of 20 people was revoked between January and November 2013. Previously, the highest number of cases in a single year was six.
One of the new cases is that of Iraqi-born Hilal al-Jedda, who recently lost his UK nationality for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled an earlier attempt was illegal.
Photo by Shutterstock

December 2013: Front-page story in the Independent and for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Theresa May’s record number of citizenship-stripping orders. By me and Patrick Galey. 

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Exclusive: No way back for Britons who join the Syrian fight, says Theresa May

Secret use of citizenship-stripping powers has been dramatically stepped up as Theresa May moves to prevent the return of dual-nationals who have gone to fight in Syria.

The Home Secretary has far revoked the British citizenship of 20 people this year – more than in her previous two- and-a-half years combined.

She has removed the citizenship of 37 people since May 2010, according to figures collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Critics warned the practice could leave individuals at risk of torture and ill-treatment in their home countries.

Security sources are particularly alarmed because Syria’s proximity to Europe makes it easier for violent UK-based extremists to travel to and from the country.

A former senior Foreign Office official said it was an “open secret” that British nationals fighting in the Syrian civil war were increasingly losing their citizenship.

He told the Bureau: “This [deprivation of citizenship] is happening. There are somewhere between 40 and 240 Brits in Syria, and we are probably not as quick as we should be to strip their citizenship.”

Ms May has the power to terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” or if they have obtained it through fraudulent means.

The Home Office declined to explain the reason for the rise, but it said: “Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.”

Under the British Nationality Act, “deprivation of citizenship orders” can be made without judicial approval and take immediate effect. The only mechanism for fighting the decision is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual was overseas, leaving them stranded abroad facing legal appeals that can take years if they try to return.

If the Home Secretary is acting on “conducive” grounds, the only restriction is that she cannot render a person stateless, effectively meaning an order can only be used against individuals with dual nationality.

Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division, said: “If there is a national security dimension to the stripping of citizenship and if that is something that would be known to the other country of nationality, then that would give rise to concern,” he said. “It’s obviously very important that in looking at these issues the Government complies with its human rights obligations.”

The Home Office has been exploring ways to expand citizenship-stripping powers, which were only invoked five times by the last Labour government, so they can be used even when individuals have no dual nationality and will therefore be made stateless.

Ms May is understood to have discussed plans to boost her powers by inserting an amendment into the Immigration Bill which would allow her to remove the citizenship of British nationals who have renounced their previous citizenship but are accused of acts “ seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK.

In February, the Bureau and The Independent revealed how the Government stepped up use of the orders, employing them 16 times up to late 2012. Latest figures point to a further dramatic escalation. Two of those who lost citizenship, Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, were later killed in drone strikes in Somalia.

Another man, Mahdi Hashi, born in Somalia, lost his citizenship last year and is in prison in New York facing terrorism charges. When his parents approached the Government for help in finding him, they were told he was “no longer a British national and as such has no right to receive consular assistance”.

At least five of those who lost their nationality were born in the UK. Unlike with other counter-terrorism powers, there is no official scrutiny of deprivation of citizenship and no routine official publication of the orders. The Bureau has identified 19 cases, providing detail on why those individuals lost their citizenship. Almost every case has been on national security grounds.

The new Home Office figures, released in a Freedom of Information request, show the citizenship of 20 people was revoked between January and November 2013. Previously, the highest number of cases in a single year was six.

One of the new cases is that of Iraqi-born Hilal al-Jedda, who recently lost his UK nationality for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled an earlier attempt was illegal.

Photo by Shutterstock

December 19 2013 - A feature for OpenDemocracy and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the UK government’s use of citizenship-stripping, and the people who claim they are being left stateless. 
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No place like home: Examining the UK’s increasing use of ‘medieval exile’
At first glance, the letters are unremarkable: a few typed paragraphs on a single A4 sheet. They’re not even on headed notepaper. But the curly signature at the bottom belongs to one of Britain’s most powerful people: Theresa May, the Home Secretary. And the letter informs the recipient that she, May, has personally decided to terminate their British citizenship.
Since the Coalition entered office in May 2010, at least 20 people have received such letters, as the Home Secretary has seized on a little-known power to deal with those she feels pose a risk to the UK. Her orders take effect immediately, so the letters’ recipients have lost their citizenship even before they’ve opened the envelope.
To issue a deprivation of citizenship order, May must believe someone’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – usually on suspicion of links to terrorism or extremism. The decision is entirely hers: she requires no judicial approval or any other kind of administrative process in advance.
In nearly every known case, the individual was abroad when the letter was sent. With their citizenship removed they were effectively stranded overseas, unable to return to be present at legal appeals – the only means of fighting their case. Human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce compares the power to ‘medieval exile’.

Where the cases are on national security grounds, appeals are heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a tribunal that can hear secret evidence. The appellant often knows only the vaguest outlines of the allegations against them.
Now May is believed to be planning a dramatic expansion of her powers to revoke citizenship by rewriting the law so that she can issue orders even where it will make people stateless, which is currently illegal under the British Nationality Act, and even though Britain is a signatory to international treaties aimed at reducing statelessness.
This would put Britain in uncomfortable company, alongside nations such as Bahrain, which has beencriticised by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for making dissidents stateless. In the US, the government is banned from removing the nationality of its citizens since a Supreme Court ruling in 1967, when judges ruled the US constitution did not allow for ‘fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time.’
By contrast, ‘[T]he current [British] government seems to see being a citizen as just another provisional status that can be taken away if you’re not well-behaved,’ says Dr Helena Wray, an immigration law specialist at Middlesex University.
Revoking nationality is one of the most significant actions the Home Secretary can take against an individual. A deprivation of citizenship order removes all the protections and rights that go with being a British national, cancelling any passports or travel documents and removing the right to live in the UK, or to get consular help when overseas.
The effects can be far-reaching and brutal. In 2012 Mahdi Hashi, a young man from Camden, lost his British citizenship while he was in his native Somalia. He was then secretly detained in Djibouti, east Africa before the US carried out an extraordinary rendition on him, whisking him to a New York jail.
Hashi has spent the past year in solitary confinement, awaiting trial on terrorism offences. When he first went missing his family wrote to the Foreign Office asking for help in finding him. They were told Hashi is ‘no longer a British national, and as such has no right to Consular assistance’.
Two other young Londoners, Bilal al Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, suffered a darker fate, losing their citizenship in 2010 and dying in two US drone strikes a month apart in Somalia last year. Sakr’s father, Gamal Sakr, told the Bureau he believes the removal of his son’s citizenship made him vulnerable. ‘I’ll never stop blaming the British government for what they did to my son,’ he said.
And in a case currently before Siac, the Home Secretary deliberately waited until a Sudanese-born man referred to in court as L1 had left the country before revoking his nationality. In autumn 2009, plans to remove his citizenship that were already ‘at an advanced stage’ were shelved by the Labour government when L1 returned to the UK from overseas. He remained at liberty in the UK for the next 10 months. The following summer, he left the country again, and the Coalition government acted swiftly, revoking his nationality days after he left the country. He claims this is an abuse of the Home Secretary’s powers.
Under the current law, the only block on the Home Secretary using these powers is that she cannot use the orders if they will make an individual stateless. In practice, this means the orders can only be used against citizens with dual nationality, as they will still hold the nationality of another country.
But now, in leaks to the media and parliamentary briefings, the Home Office has signalled its intention to remove this barrier. One suggestion is that May plans to amend the Immigration Bill so she can make people stateless if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the country. The law would apply only to those who are naturalised as UK citizens, rather than those who are born British, the reports and other sources suggest.
Bella Sankey, policy director of Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’
The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr Matthew Gibney, of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, says: ‘For the individual, to be stateless is a recipe for exclusion, precariousness and dispossession… being stateless often means that an individual has no political rights, cannot own property, work lawfully, or access state provided education; statelessness usually makes an individual inescapably vulnerable to deportation because the person lacks any right lawfully to reside in any of the world’s states.’
Many of those whose citizenship has been removed by the British Home Secretary have claimed the actions have left them stateless. The Bureau has identified nine cases where people have argued this in court, and Mohamed Sakr’s parents say that although they come from Egypt, their son did not have an Egyptian passport.
In October, an Iraqi-born man named Hilal al-Jedda won a six-year battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled that he had illegally been made stateless.
Al-Jedda had been detained by British forces in Iraq for three years on suspicion of planning bomb attacks, but was held in military custody and so was never charged. He has claimed he was physically abused while in custody.
His Supreme Court victory is one of two times anyone is known to have successfully challenged removal of citizenship on national security grounds. But rather than return al-Jedda’s passport, May signed a new order revoking his nationality, again preventing him from returning to the UK.
A Vietnam-born former graphic designer, known only as B2, will take his case to the Supreme Court next year to argue that he, too, is stateless following the loss of his British nationality.
Britain is one of 54 signatories to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prohibits making people stateless. The British government reserved the right to make an exception if someone has done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state’ – a tougher test than the one the Home Secretary currently uses to remove citizenship.
Mark Manly, legal coordinator for statelessness at the UNHCR, says: ‘The key words here are ‘seriously’ and ‘vital’. So it’s not just any kind of crime that we’re talking about, but really serious crimes against the core interests of the State. Offences like treason and espionage were what the drafters of the Convention had in mind. If you look at the language of the convention, it’s about conduct – action already taken by the individual.’
When the Labour government first rewrote nationality laws in 2002-03 so it could remove the nationality of terrorism suspects, the threshold the Home Secretary had to meet was the ‘seriously prejudicial’ test – which is more demanding than the current, ‘not conducive to the public good’ test. Then-Home Office minister Angela Eagle told MPs, ‘I want to put on record that we do not want to go round rendering large numbers of people stateless.’
Gibney says: ‘[T]he government assured parliament that there was absolutely nothing sinister about these new powers… Any new powers, Ministers argued, would be used only in exceptional circumstances and deprivation decisions would be subject to an automatic right of appeal, as well as a guarantee that no individual would lose their citizenship if it made them stateless.’
The law was rewritten in 2005-06 so the Home Secretary could act if it was believed that an individual’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – meaning she can act based on what someone might do, rather than something they have done. Debating the change to the law in 2005, then Conservative MP Humfrey Malins called this a ‘watered-down test’, asking, ‘Is deprivation of citizenship to be used instead of a prosecution?’
The Labour government’s promises have proven ‘empty’, Gibney says. ‘[M]ore than two dozen people have lost their citizenship, most since the standard required for deprivation was watered down in 2006.’
He continues: ‘The right to an appeal has been undermined by the fact that many people are stripped of citizenship when they are overseas and thus unable to return to the country; and the Home Secretary has now proposed lifting the bar on stripping citizenship when it makes an individual stateless.
‘The gap between what was promised and what has actually transpired could hardly be more gaping.’
Although the citizenship-stripping cases identified by the Bureau almost all relate to national security, the Home Secretary has used the ‘conducive to the public good’ test elsewhere for far less extreme cases. In June, May decided that Trenton Oldfield, the Australian citizen who disrupted the 2012 Boat Race, should be denied a new visa as his presence in the country was not conducive to the public good – a decision his MP described as ‘disproportionate’. The decision was overturned this month in court.
Born this wayWhen questioned about its citizenship-stripping programme, the Home Office often responds with a boilerplate phrase: ‘Citizenship is a privilege, not a right.’ But at least five of those who have lost their nationality were born in the UK and were entitled to citizenship from birth.
Mohamed Sakr was born in London to parents who moved there from Egypt 35 years ago. Any entitlement to Egyptian nationality was nothing more than an accident of birth. ‘No member of my family ever had an Egyptian passport,’ Mr Sakr told the Bureau. ‘For the kids it never crossed my mind that they would have anything other than their British passports. I know they are British, born British, they are British, and carried their British passports.’
The other British-born men who have claimed to have been made stateless all belong to the same family: a Newcastle-born man referred to in court papers as S1, and his three adult sons, all born in London. S1’s parents moved to the UK from Pakistan in 1958; he was raised in Britain and, after marrying a Pakistani woman in 1984, raised his own family in the UK too. In 2009 the family – including two younger children – moved to Pakistan. Two years later, Theresa May revoked the British nationality of four members of the family.
S1 argued that he had been repeatedly refused a Pakistani passport as the Pakistani authorities said he was not a citizen. He eventually obtained one by lying about his birthplace.
But Siac ruled that even if his Pakistani papers were obtained falsely, they hadn’t prevented him from entering and living in Pakistan, so he is effectively a Pakistani national. He and his family remain in Pakistan as their appeals continue.
Even where people have naturalised as British citizens, rather than being born British, they often came to the UK and gained citizenship at a young age, with many arriving as refugee children.
Bilal al Berjawi, a childhood friend of Mohamed Sakr, came to London from Lebanon with his parents as a baby. Mahdi Hashi, now awaiting trial in New York, moved to Britain with his parents fleeing war in their native Somalia and became a citizen at the age of nine. And B2, the former graphic designer, arrived in the UK aged seven.
These men grew up in the UK. They went to British schools. Their connections to the UK are deep-rooted. Under the proposed changes, others in their situation would be vulnerable to losing their nationality even if it made them stateless, leaving them in legal limbo with no other government to take responsibility for them and no means of claiming the most basic rights.
And where the cases are on national security grounds, they might never learn the detail of what they are supposed to have done to earn their exile.

December 19 2013 - A feature for OpenDemocracy and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the UK government’s use of citizenship-stripping, and the people who claim they are being left stateless. 

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No place like home: Examining the UK’s increasing use of ‘medieval exile’

At first glance, the letters are unremarkable: a few typed paragraphs on a single A4 sheet. They’re not even on headed notepaper. But the curly signature at the bottom belongs to one of Britain’s most powerful people: Theresa May, the Home Secretary. And the letter informs the recipient that she, May, has personally decided to terminate their British citizenship.

Since the Coalition entered office in May 2010, at least 20 people have received such letters, as the Home Secretary has seized on a little-known power to deal with those she feels pose a risk to the UK. Her orders take effect immediately, so the letters’ recipients have lost their citizenship even before they’ve opened the envelope.

To issue a deprivation of citizenship order, May must believe someone’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – usually on suspicion of links to terrorism or extremism. The decision is entirely hers: she requires no judicial approval or any other kind of administrative process in advance.

In nearly every known case, the individual was abroad when the letter was sent. With their citizenship removed they were effectively stranded overseas, unable to return to be present at legal appeals – the only means of fighting their case. Human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce compares the power to ‘medieval exile’.

Where the cases are on national security grounds, appeals are heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a tribunal that can hear secret evidence. The appellant often knows only the vaguest outlines of the allegations against them.

Now May is believed to be planning a dramatic expansion of her powers to revoke citizenship by rewriting the law so that she can issue orders even where it will make people stateless, which is currently illegal under the British Nationality Act, and even though Britain is a signatory to international treaties aimed at reducing statelessness.

This would put Britain in uncomfortable company, alongside nations such as Bahrain, which has beencriticised by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for making dissidents stateless. In the US, the government is banned from removing the nationality of its citizens since a Supreme Court ruling in 1967, when judges ruled the US constitution did not allow for ‘fleeting citizenship, good at the moment it is acquired but subject to destruction by the Government at any time.’

By contrast, ‘[T]he current [British] government seems to see being a citizen as just another provisional status that can be taken away if you’re not well-behaved,’ says Dr Helena Wray, an immigration law specialist at Middlesex University.

Revoking nationality is one of the most significant actions the Home Secretary can take against an individual. A deprivation of citizenship order removes all the protections and rights that go with being a British national, cancelling any passports or travel documents and removing the right to live in the UK, or to get consular help when overseas.

The effects can be far-reaching and brutal. In 2012 Mahdi Hashi, a young man from Camden, lost his British citizenship while he was in his native Somalia. He was then secretly detained in Djibouti, east Africa before the US carried out an extraordinary rendition on him, whisking him to a New York jail.

Hashi has spent the past year in solitary confinement, awaiting trial on terrorism offences. When he first went missing his family wrote to the Foreign Office asking for help in finding him. They were told Hashi is ‘no longer a British national, and as such has no right to Consular assistance’.

Two other young Londoners, Bilal al Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, suffered a darker fate, losing their citizenship in 2010 and dying in two US drone strikes a month apart in Somalia last year. Sakr’s father, Gamal Sakr, told the Bureau he believes the removal of his son’s citizenship made him vulnerable. ‘I’ll never stop blaming the British government for what they did to my son,’ he said.

And in a case currently before Siac, the Home Secretary deliberately waited until a Sudanese-born man referred to in court as L1 had left the country before revoking his nationality. In autumn 2009, plans to remove his citizenship that were already ‘at an advanced stage’ were shelved by the Labour government when L1 returned to the UK from overseas. He remained at liberty in the UK for the next 10 months. The following summer, he left the country again, and the Coalition government acted swiftly, revoking his nationality days after he left the country. He claims this is an abuse of the Home Secretary’s powers.

Under the current law, the only block on the Home Secretary using these powers is that she cannot use the orders if they will make an individual stateless. In practice, this means the orders can only be used against citizens with dual nationality, as they will still hold the nationality of another country.

But now, in leaks to the media and parliamentary briefings, the Home Office has signalled its intention to remove this barrier. One suggestion is that May plans to amend the Immigration Bill so she can make people stateless if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the country. The law would apply only to those who are naturalised as UK citizens, rather than those who are born British, the reports and other sources suggest.

Bella Sankey, policy director of Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’

The right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Dr Matthew Gibney, of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, says: ‘For the individual, to be stateless is a recipe for exclusion, precariousness and dispossession… being stateless often means that an individual has no political rights, cannot own property, work lawfully, or access state provided education; statelessness usually makes an individual inescapably vulnerable to deportation because the person lacks any right lawfully to reside in any of the world’s states.’

Many of those whose citizenship has been removed by the British Home Secretary have claimed the actions have left them stateless. The Bureau has identified nine cases where people have argued this in court, and Mohamed Sakr’s parents say that although they come from Egypt, their son did not have an Egyptian passport.

In October, an Iraqi-born man named Hilal al-Jedda won a six-year battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled that he had illegally been made stateless.

Al-Jedda had been detained by British forces in Iraq for three years on suspicion of planning bomb attacks, but was held in military custody and so was never charged. He has claimed he was physically abused while in custody.

His Supreme Court victory is one of two times anyone is known to have successfully challenged removal of citizenship on national security grounds. But rather than return al-Jedda’s passport, May signed a new order revoking his nationality, again preventing him from returning to the UK.

A Vietnam-born former graphic designer, known only as B2, will take his case to the Supreme Court next year to argue that he, too, is stateless following the loss of his British nationality.

Britain is one of 54 signatories to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prohibits making people stateless. The British government reserved the right to make an exception if someone has done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state’ – a tougher test than the one the Home Secretary currently uses to remove citizenship.

Mark Manly, legal coordinator for statelessness at the UNHCR, says: ‘The key words here are ‘seriously’ and ‘vital’. So it’s not just any kind of crime that we’re talking about, but really serious crimes against the core interests of the State. Offences like treason and espionage were what the drafters of the Convention had in mind. If you look at the language of the convention, it’s about conduct – action already taken by the individual.’

When the Labour government first rewrote nationality laws in 2002-03 so it could remove the nationality of terrorism suspects, the threshold the Home Secretary had to meet was the ‘seriously prejudicial’ test – which is more demanding than the current, ‘not conducive to the public good’ test. Then-Home Office minister Angela Eagle told MPs, ‘I want to put on record that we do not want to go round rendering large numbers of people stateless.’

Gibney says: ‘[T]he government assured parliament that there was absolutely nothing sinister about these new powers… Any new powers, Ministers argued, would be used only in exceptional circumstances and deprivation decisions would be subject to an automatic right of appeal, as well as a guarantee that no individual would lose their citizenship if it made them stateless.’

The law was rewritten in 2005-06 so the Home Secretary could act if it was believed that an individual’s presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’ – meaning she can act based on what someone might do, rather than something they have done. Debating the change to the law in 2005, then Conservative MP Humfrey Malins called this a ‘watered-down test’, asking, ‘Is deprivation of citizenship to be used instead of a prosecution?’

The Labour government’s promises have proven ‘empty’, Gibney says. ‘[M]ore than two dozen people have lost their citizenship, most since the standard required for deprivation was watered down in 2006.’

He continues: ‘The right to an appeal has been undermined by the fact that many people are stripped of citizenship when they are overseas and thus unable to return to the country; and the Home Secretary has now proposed lifting the bar on stripping citizenship when it makes an individual stateless.

‘The gap between what was promised and what has actually transpired could hardly be more gaping.’

Although the citizenship-stripping cases identified by the Bureau almost all relate to national security, the Home Secretary has used the ‘conducive to the public good’ test elsewhere for far less extreme cases. In June, May decided that Trenton Oldfield, the Australian citizen who disrupted the 2012 Boat Race, should be denied a new visa as his presence in the country was not conducive to the public good – a decision his MP described as ‘disproportionate’. The decision was overturned this month in court.

Born this way
When questioned about its citizenship-stripping programme, the Home Office often responds with a boilerplate phrase: ‘Citizenship is a privilege, not a right.’ But at least five of those who have lost their nationality were born in the UK and were entitled to citizenship from birth.

Mohamed Sakr was born in London to parents who moved there from Egypt 35 years ago. Any entitlement to Egyptian nationality was nothing more than an accident of birth. ‘No member of my family ever had an Egyptian passport,’ Mr Sakr told the Bureau. ‘For the kids it never crossed my mind that they would have anything other than their British passports. I know they are British, born British, they are British, and carried their British passports.’

The other British-born men who have claimed to have been made stateless all belong to the same family: a Newcastle-born man referred to in court papers as S1, and his three adult sons, all born in London. S1’s parents moved to the UK from Pakistan in 1958; he was raised in Britain and, after marrying a Pakistani woman in 1984, raised his own family in the UK too. In 2009 the family – including two younger children – moved to Pakistan. Two years later, Theresa May revoked the British nationality of four members of the family.

S1 argued that he had been repeatedly refused a Pakistani passport as the Pakistani authorities said he was not a citizen. He eventually obtained one by lying about his birthplace.

But Siac ruled that even if his Pakistani papers were obtained falsely, they hadn’t prevented him from entering and living in Pakistan, so he is effectively a Pakistani national. He and his family remain in Pakistan as their appeals continue.

Even where people have naturalised as British citizens, rather than being born British, they often came to the UK and gained citizenship at a young age, with many arriving as refugee children.

Bilal al Berjawi, a childhood friend of Mohamed Sakr, came to London from Lebanon with his parents as a baby. Mahdi Hashi, now awaiting trial in New York, moved to Britain with his parents fleeing war in their native Somalia and became a citizen at the age of nine. And B2, the former graphic designer, arrived in the UK aged seven.

These men grew up in the UK. They went to British schools. Their connections to the UK are deep-rooted. Under the proposed changes, others in their situation would be vulnerable to losing their nationality even if it made them stateless, leaving them in legal limbo with no other government to take responsibility for them and no means of claiming the most basic rights.

And where the cases are on national security grounds, they might never learn the detail of what they are supposed to have done to earn their exile.

December 2013 - Piece for the Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the Home Secretary’s extraordinary decision to revoke one man’s citizenship again, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled her first attempt was illegal. 
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Home Secretary Theresa May strips man of UK citizenship - for the second time
The Home Secretary has stripped an Iraqi-born man of his British citizenship for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court overturned her first attempt.
In October, Hilal al Jedda won a lengthy court battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled its loss would illegally make him stateless. But now it has emerged that rather than return his passport, on November 1 Theresa May, the Home Secretary, issued a new order revoking his British nationality, meaning he must start the process of legal appeals afresh.
This is the first time the Home Secretary is known to have removed the same person’s citizenship twice, using powers that leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has compared to ‘medieval exile – just as cruel and just as arbitrary.’
Al Jedda’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, said: ‘On 9 October, after nearly six years of litigation, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the Home Secretary unlawfully stripped our client, Mr Al Jedda, of his British citizenship. Rather than accepting the findings of the court, just three weeks later, Theresa May made a fresh order depriving our client of his British citizenship.
‘Mr Al Jedda was given less than an hour’s notice of the deprivation order and has not been provided with any detail of the allegations against him save for the vaguest of references to Islamist extremism, an allegation he flatly denies.’
As the Independent and Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported earlier this year, the Coalition has escalated the use of the Home Secretary’s little-known powers to remove the British nationality of dual citizens, almost always on national security grounds. Current figures show that since coming to power in 2010 the Coalition has revoked the nationality of more than 20 individuals. Under the previous Labour government, the powers were used five times, including the original order against al Jedda.
Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the Home Secretary can remove someone’s citizenship with no warning and no judicial approval in advance where she feels this would be ‘conducive to the public good’. In almost every case identified by the Bureau, the order is issued while the individual is abroad, leaving people unable to return home while they fight appeals that can last years. Two men were later killed by US drones, and another has been a victim of extraordinary rendition to the US, where he is now awaiting trial.
Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, a campaign group that has been in touch with many of those who have been stripped of their citizenship, said: ‘Theresa May’s move is the latest expression of the systematic way in which the UK government has aggressively stripped Muslims in particular of their most basic rights under the guise of the “war on terror”. The fact that the coalition has managed to denude at least twenty Britons of their rights since coming to power three years ago, whilst the previous government managed only five in over a decade, is a real cause for concern.
‘The irony is that we are actually witnessing the ruination of the British legal system, not by foreign terrorists, but by  the very people who claim to preserve the “public good”.’
Isabella Sankey, policy director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’
Al Jedda, who came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 1992, automatically lost his Iraqi nationality under the law of the time when he became a British citizen. In 2004 he was detained by British forces in Iraq and held for three years on suspicion of planning terrorist acts. Because he was held in military detention he was never charged. He has claimed he was ill-treated in British detention.
The then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith took away his British nationality shortly before his release in December 2007. At the time this was a highly unusual step – the orders had only been used twice since the laws were introduced in 2003.
Al Jedda left Iraq using what he claims is a fake passport and went to Turkey, where he has remained during five years of legal appeals. The Home Secretary’s lawyers argued that since he could have re-applied for Iraqi nationality following the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government, it was not her fault if he was made stateless by the removal of his British citizenship.
Supreme Court judges rejected this argument, ruling: ‘The ability of the Secretary of State to assert that the person in question could quickly and easily re-acquire another nationality would create confusion in the application of what should be a straightforward exercise.’
In August, at a late stage in the Supreme Court proceedings, the government attempted to produce evidence that it claimed showed al-Jedda’s Iraqi passport was genuine, but this was rebuffed by the judges.
After the Supreme Court ruled that al Jedda’s British nationality should be restored, a Home Office spokeswoman told the Bureau: ‘We are considering the judgment and our next steps in this case carefully.’
His solicitor, Tessa Gregory, described the case as ‘ill-founded and fallacious’, and said it had ‘cost the public purse dearly’. She added: ‘We hope the Home Secretary will now leave Mr Al Jedda to get on with his life as a British citizen in peace.’
But instead May swiftly issued a new deprivation of citizenship order, alleging al Jedda is associated with Islamic extremists. He is appealing the order.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has the power to remove a person’s UK citizenship where she considers it is conducive to the public good. This individual has lodged an appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to do so in his case and it would not be appropriate to comment further while litigation is ongoing.’
Gregory said: ‘The actions of the Home Secretary in this case beggar belief and are an enormous waste of public funds as we are being forced to litigate matters which have already been determined by the court.’
In November, newspaper reports and a Home Office official suggested that the Home Secretary is planning to change the laws so that she can remove an individual’s nationality even when it will make them stateless. Britain is a signatory to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents this except in cases where someone has been proven to have done something ‘prejudicial to the vital interests’ of a country – a stricter test than that used by the British government.
The Bureau has identified 10 cases in which those who have been stripped of their citizenship have argued that it has made them stateless, including five men who were born in the UK. One of the UK-born men died in a drone strike in Somalia in February 2012; his parents told the Bureau earlier this year they blamed the government for his death. The other four, all members of a single family, continue to appeal against the loss of their nationality.
Image: Shutterstock

December 2013 - Piece for the Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the Home Secretary’s extraordinary decision to revoke one man’s citizenship again, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled her first attempt was illegal. 

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Home Secretary Theresa May strips man of UK citizenship - for the second time

The Home Secretary has stripped an Iraqi-born man of his British citizenship for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court overturned her first attempt.

In October, Hilal al Jedda won a lengthy court battle to regain his British citizenship when the Supreme Court ruled its loss would illegally make him stateless. But now it has emerged that rather than return his passport, on November 1 Theresa May, the Home Secretary, issued a new order revoking his British nationality, meaning he must start the process of legal appeals afresh.

This is the first time the Home Secretary is known to have removed the same person’s citizenship twice, using powers that leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has compared to ‘medieval exile – just as cruel and just as arbitrary.’

Al Jedda’s solicitor, Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, said: ‘On 9 October, after nearly six years of litigation, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the Home Secretary unlawfully stripped our client, Mr Al Jedda, of his British citizenship. Rather than accepting the findings of the court, just three weeks later, Theresa May made a fresh order depriving our client of his British citizenship.

‘Mr Al Jedda was given less than an hour’s notice of the deprivation order and has not been provided with any detail of the allegations against him save for the vaguest of references to Islamist extremism, an allegation he flatly denies.’

As the Independent and Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported earlier this year, the Coalition has escalated the use of the Home Secretary’s little-known powers to remove the British nationality of dual citizens, almost always on national security grounds. Current figures show that since coming to power in 2010 the Coalition has revoked the nationality of more than 20 individuals. Under the previous Labour government, the powers were used five times, including the original order against al Jedda.

Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the Home Secretary can remove someone’s citizenship with no warning and no judicial approval in advance where she feels this would be ‘conducive to the public good’. In almost every case identified by the Bureau, the order is issued while the individual is abroad, leaving people unable to return home while they fight appeals that can last years. Two men were later killed by US drones, and another has been a victim of extraordinary rendition to the US, where he is now awaiting trial.

Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, a campaign group that has been in touch with many of those who have been stripped of their citizenship, said: ‘Theresa May’s move is the latest expression of the systematic way in which the UK government has aggressively stripped Muslims in particular of their most basic rights under the guise of the “war on terror”. The fact that the coalition has managed to denude at least twenty Britons of their rights since coming to power three years ago, whilst the previous government managed only five in over a decade, is a real cause for concern.

‘The irony is that we are actually witnessing the ruination of the British legal system, not by foreign terrorists, but by  the very people who claim to preserve the “public good”.’

Isabella Sankey, policy director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: ‘Stripping your own people of their citizenship is a hallmark of oppressive and desperate regimes. Rendering them stateless is lawless and shortsighted. Where suspicions exist public safety is best served by criminal investigations, not trampling on due process and trashing our reputation on the global stage.’

Al Jedda, who came to Britain as an asylum seeker in 1992, automatically lost his Iraqi nationality under the law of the time when he became a British citizen. In 2004 he was detained by British forces in Iraq and held for three years on suspicion of planning terrorist acts. Because he was held in military detention he was never charged. He has claimed he was ill-treated in British detention.

The then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith took away his British nationality shortly before his release in December 2007. At the time this was a highly unusual step – the orders had only been used twice since the laws were introduced in 2003.

Al Jedda left Iraq using what he claims is a fake passport and went to Turkey, where he has remained during five years of legal appeals. The Home Secretary’s lawyers argued that since he could have re-applied for Iraqi nationality following the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government, it was not her fault if he was made stateless by the removal of his British citizenship.

Supreme Court judges rejected this argument, ruling: ‘The ability of the Secretary of State to assert that the person in question could quickly and easily re-acquire another nationality would create confusion in the application of what should be a straightforward exercise.’

In August, at a late stage in the Supreme Court proceedings, the government attempted to produce evidence that it claimed showed al-Jedda’s Iraqi passport was genuine, but this was rebuffed by the judges.

After the Supreme Court ruled that al Jedda’s British nationality should be restored, a Home Office spokeswoman told the Bureau: ‘We are considering the judgment and our next steps in this case carefully.’

His solicitor, Tessa Gregory, described the case as ‘ill-founded and fallacious’, and said it had ‘cost the public purse dearly’. She added: ‘We hope the Home Secretary will now leave Mr Al Jedda to get on with his life as a British citizen in peace.’

But instead May swiftly issued a new deprivation of citizenship order, alleging al Jedda is associated with Islamic extremists. He is appealing the order.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has the power to remove a person’s UK citizenship where she considers it is conducive to the public good. This individual has lodged an appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision to do so in his case and it would not be appropriate to comment further while litigation is ongoing.’

Gregory said: ‘The actions of the Home Secretary in this case beggar belief and are an enormous waste of public funds as we are being forced to litigate matters which have already been determined by the court.’

In November, newspaper reports and a Home Office official suggested that the Home Secretary is planning to change the laws so that she can remove an individual’s nationality even when it will make them stateless. Britain is a signatory to the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prevents this except in cases where someone has been proven to have done something ‘prejudicial to the vital interests’ of a country – a stricter test than that used by the British government.

The Bureau has identified 10 cases in which those who have been stripped of their citizenship have argued that it has made them stateless, including five men who were born in the UK. One of the UK-born men died in a drone strike in Somalia in February 2012; his parents told the Bureau earlier this year they blamed the government for his death. The other four, all members of a single family, continue to appeal against the loss of their nationality.

Image: Shutterstock

November 21 2013 - Report for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
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CIA drone strikes outside Pakistan’s tribal regions

A CIA drone strike hit a religious school in Hangu, Pakistan before dawn today, killing at least six and injuring several more. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in the ‘settled’ areas beyond Pakistan’s tribal regions.
The Bureau has logged reports of over 370 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Almost every one of these has taken place in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the semi-autonomous mountainous region bordering Afghanistan where large numbers of militant groups shelter alongside a civilian population.
According to the Bureau’s research, three drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007.
Today’s strike hit a madrassa (religious school) in a village named Tal near the town of Hangu, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), close to FATA. Residents described seeing drones circling in the area for days beforehand.
The madrassa was reportedly a mud building of 15 rooms though the missiles reportedly only hit one room. Around 80 students escaped unharmed, the Washington Post reported. The building was reportedly used by refugees. However a Haqqani source told AFP it was also ‘a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones.’
Abdullah Khan of the Conflict Monitoring Center, a Pakistani research body, pointed out that the attack was part of a series of strikes this year targeting the Haqqani Network, a militant group that frequently attacks US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In September, an attack in North Waziristan killed Sangeen Zadran, a commander who was described as ‘running the show’, who was also shadow governor of Paktika province in Afghanistan.
Khan added: ‘This can be classed as one of the most significant drone attacks this year. Ahmad Jan was in the shadow government of Paktika province – he headed the shadow finance ministry. These are big names in Afghanistan; his killing will have impact.’
Jan was said to have been in his 60s. He was said to be a senior Haqqani commander, its second-in-command according to one report, and its spiritual leader. He was not the only alleged militant killed – as many as five others, all reportedly senior Haqqani commanders, died in the attack.
The attack came the day after prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told parliament the US had assured Pakistan it would suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban. The Pakistani government is currently attempting to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Mansur Mahsud of the FATA Research Center told the Bureau: ‘Yesterday Nawaz Sharif’s foreign minister gave a statement saying it would not carry out drone strikes during talks between militants and the government, and the very next day a drone strike took place in the settled area. It will increase tension and anger in Pakistan against America.’
Khan added that the strike would raise fears of drones striking targets even further afield. ‘If the Pakistani government doesn’t come up with some reaction to this, the next target will be Quetta, the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban,’ he said. ‘They have said they think Mullah Omar [leader of the Afghan Taliban] is there.’
Additional reporting by Jack Serle
Photo: Department of Defense

November 21 2013 - Report for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

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CIA drone strikes outside Pakistan’s tribal regions

A CIA drone strike hit a religious school in Hangu, Pakistan before dawn today, killing at least six and injuring several more. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in the ‘settled’ areas beyond Pakistan’s tribal regions.

The Bureau has logged reports of over 370 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Almost every one of these has taken place in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the semi-autonomous mountainous region bordering Afghanistan where large numbers of militant groups shelter alongside a civilian population.

According to the Bureau’s research, three drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007.

Today’s strike hit a madrassa (religious school) in a village named Tal near the town of Hangu, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK), close to FATA. Residents described seeing drones circling in the area for days beforehand.

The madrassa was reportedly a mud building of 15 rooms though the missiles reportedly only hit one room. Around 80 students escaped unharmed, the Washington Post reported. The building was reportedly used by refugees. However a Haqqani source told AFP it was also ‘a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones.’

Abdullah Khan of the Conflict Monitoring Center, a Pakistani research body, pointed out that the attack was part of a series of strikes this year targeting the Haqqani Network, a militant group that frequently attacks US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In September, an attack in North Waziristan killed Sangeen Zadran, a commander who was described as ‘running the show’, who was also shadow governor of Paktika province in Afghanistan.

Khan added: ‘This can be classed as one of the most significant drone attacks this year. Ahmad Jan was in the shadow government of Paktika province – he headed the shadow finance ministry. These are big names in Afghanistan; his killing will have impact.’

Jan was said to have been in his 60s. He was said to be a senior Haqqani commander, its second-in-command according to one report, and its spiritual leader. He was not the only alleged militant killed – as many as five others, all reportedly senior Haqqani commanders, died in the attack.

The attack came the day after prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign adviser, Sartaj Aziz, told parliament the US had assured Pakistan it would suspend drone attacks while the Pakistani government was in peace talks with the Taliban. The Pakistani government is currently attempting to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Mansur Mahsud of the FATA Research Center told the Bureau: ‘Yesterday Nawaz Sharif’s foreign minister gave a statement saying it would not carry out drone strikes during talks between militants and the government, and the very next day a drone strike took place in the settled area. It will increase tension and anger in Pakistan against America.’

Khan added that the strike would raise fears of drones striking targets even further afield. ‘If the Pakistani government doesn’t come up with some reaction to this, the next target will be Quetta, the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban,’ he said. ‘They have said they think Mullah Omar [leader of the Afghan Taliban] is there.’

Additional reporting by Jack Serle

Photo: Department of Defense

September 2013 - At least 50 women have reportedly been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan - and it’s possible that far more women’s deaths have gone unreported. I wrote about it for the launch of the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. 
::
Hidden even in death: Just two women killed by drones are identified
Among the 550 names of identified people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, there are people from all walks of Pashtun life. There are farmers and fighters, militant leaders and tribal elders, old men and children.
But one group is almost entirely absent from the list of names: women.
Just two of those who have been identified with their own names are women. This doesn’t mean that only two women have been killed – the available reporting indicates that at least 50 women have died in the nearly 380 drone strikes that have hit in the area. Rather their absence from the list is a reflection of the position of women in Pakistan’s deeply conservative tribal belt, where most people are ethnic Pashtuns (also called Pukhtuns).
Women in Waziristan, the region most affected by drones, live under strict purdah – the practice of keeping themselves separate from men to protect their honour. This means that they are veiled when in public, do not speak to men aside from close relatives, and have separate quarters in homes to remain out of sight of male visitors.
Anthropologist Dr Amineh Hoti – who is Pashtun herself – has written about how wealthier women will often leave the house only in the curtained-off back seat of a car, driven by an elderly retainer.
UncountedWomen are estimated to represent fewer than 2% of the minimum 2,500 people killed in drone strikes, which could suggest that the woman’s status provides a certain level of protection. But it could also mean that they are not being counted.
The practice of purdah extends beyond women’s physical bodies. ‘This is a purdah system and women are at the core of “sharam”, or honour. Therefore exposing any details about them in public – including their names – is not considered respectable or decent as seen by Pashtuns,’ explains Hoti.
‘There’s this taboo that even educated men think that you should not talk about your female relatives; you should not name them,’ agrees Emal Pasarly, a reporter for BBC Pashto, who has covered Waziristan extensively.
Asking a Pashtun man for the names of his wife and sisters is therefore considered offensive – even if it’s to discover whether they are dead.
The sensitivities around discussing women in a household are so pronounced that academics have raised concerns that their deaths may be under-reported.
‘Strict segregation can mean that neighbours or extended family members may not know how many women and children were killed or injured in a strike,’ wrote researchers from Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law in their joint report, Living Under Drones.
‘It’s difficult unless you’re a relative or unless another woman knows who’s inside the house,’ adds Pasarly.
It is notable that one of the women identified by name was a Spanish woman whose death was reported by the Spanish press. Raquel Burgos García, who died in a strike on December 1 2005, had moved to Waziristan with her husband Amer Azizi, who was suspected of involvement in the September 11 and Madrid attacks.
NamedThe other adult woman, Bibi Mamana, was a grandmother. Conditions for older women are more permissive because they are past childbearing age, explains Pasarly. Photos of Mamana appeared in the press after her death and her family gave media interviews about her death.
The strict purdah that dominates women’s lives in Waziristan is a recent phenomenon rather than an integral part of Pashtun culture, Pasarly points out.
He recalls seeing women working in the fields in neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan as recently as 1999 – wearing shawls but no burqas – as well as meeting and interviewing women. Both would be unthinkable now. The change in attitudes is due to the rise in extremism and Taliban beliefs, he says. ‘They are confined to their homes.’
And even in death, their identities are hidden from the world.

September 2013 - At least 50 women have reportedly been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan - and it’s possible that far more women’s deaths have gone unreported. I wrote about it for the launch of the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. 

::

Hidden even in death: Just two women killed by drones are identified

Among the 550 names of identified people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, there are people from all walks of Pashtun life. There are farmers and fighters, militant leaders and tribal elders, old men and children.

But one group is almost entirely absent from the list of names: women.

Just two of those who have been identified with their own names are women. This doesn’t mean that only two women have been killed – the available reporting indicates that at least 50 women have died in the nearly 380 drone strikes that have hit in the area. Rather their absence from the list is a reflection of the position of women in Pakistan’s deeply conservative tribal belt, where most people are ethnic Pashtuns (also called Pukhtuns).

Women in Waziristan, the region most affected by drones, live under strict purdah – the practice of keeping themselves separate from men to protect their honour. This means that they are veiled when in public, do not speak to men aside from close relatives, and have separate quarters in homes to remain out of sight of male visitors.

Anthropologist Dr Amineh Hoti – who is Pashtun herself – has written about how wealthier women will often leave the house only in the curtained-off back seat of a car, driven by an elderly retainer.

Uncounted
Women are estimated to represent fewer than 2% of the minimum 2,500 people killed in drone strikes, which could suggest that the woman’s status provides a certain level of protection. But it could also mean that they are not being counted.

The practice of purdah extends beyond women’s physical bodies. ‘This is a purdah system and women are at the core of “sharam”, or honour. Therefore exposing any details about them in public – including their names – is not considered respectable or decent as seen by Pashtuns,’ explains Hoti.

‘There’s this taboo that even educated men think that you should not talk about your female relatives; you should not name them,’ agrees Emal Pasarly, a reporter for BBC Pashto, who has covered Waziristan extensively.

Asking a Pashtun man for the names of his wife and sisters is therefore considered offensive – even if it’s to discover whether they are dead.

The sensitivities around discussing women in a household are so pronounced that academics have raised concerns that their deaths may be under-reported.

‘Strict segregation can mean that neighbours or extended family members may not know how many women and children were killed or injured in a strike,’ wrote researchers from Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law in their joint report, Living Under Drones.

‘It’s difficult unless you’re a relative or unless another woman knows who’s inside the house,’ adds Pasarly.

It is notable that one of the women identified by name was a Spanish woman whose death was reported by the Spanish press. Raquel Burgos García, who died in a strike on December 1 2005, had moved to Waziristan with her husband Amer Azizi, who was suspected of involvement in the September 11 and Madrid attacks.

Named
The other adult woman, Bibi Mamana, was a grandmother. Conditions for older women are more permissive because they are past childbearing age, explains Pasarly. Photos of Mamana appeared in the press after her death and her family gave media interviews about her death.

The strict purdah that dominates women’s lives in Waziristan is a recent phenomenon rather than an integral part of Pashtun culture, Pasarly points out.

He recalls seeing women working in the fields in neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan as recently as 1999 – wearing shawls but no burqas – as well as meeting and interviewing women. Both would be unthinkable now. The change in attitudes is due to the rise in extremism and Taliban beliefs, he says. ‘They are confined to their homes.’

And even in death, their identities are hidden from the world.

August 2013 - Piece for Salon and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism asking whether the politicians charged with overseeing the intelligence netherworld’s activities can ever hope to get the full picture. The piece accompanies an investigation by Chris Woods looking at the revival of ‘double-tap’ drone strikes, attacking rescuers - one of the darkest and most controversial tactics of the whole campaign.
::

Is Congressional oversight tough enough on drones?
In the Bureau’s latest investigation into the tactic of ‘double-tap’ strikes on rescuers, our field researcher’s findings appear to directly contradict an account of a strike attributed to staffers of the Congressional bodies charged with overseeing CIA drone strikes.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are responsible for scrutinising the highly classified CIA drone programme. Details of CIA drone strikes are withheld from all other members of Congress.
Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has said her committee devotes ‘significant time and attention to the drone programme’ and since 2010 has met each month to ‘review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimise noncombatant casualties.’But committee members have complained about being denied information – and a source with knowledge of the committees’ functioning told the Bureau: ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside’ the intelligence agencies.

In 2012 the Los Angeles Times published what it said was adetailed account of these meetings – based on anonymous briefings – outlining how committee members and aides from the House and Senate committees go to the CIA headquarters each month to watch video footage of recent drone strikes.
But new findings from the Bureau’s field research differ sharply from the account of what was reportedly shown to the committees on one occasion.
The LA Times reported that anonymous aides described seeing footage of a strike that took place on June 4 2012. The attack represented a major success for the agency, killing Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command. Aides reported seeing footage showing al-Libi alone being killed by a missile.
But Bureau field research and multiple credible reports tell a different story, in which the day’s events appear to be significantly more complex. The BBC, CNN and other international news outlets were among those reporting that the missile that killed al-Libi was the final part of a sequence of attacks that killed between 14 and 18 people. Sources including the Washington Post reported that after an initial strike, drones returned to attack those carrying out rescue work.
Related story - Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers
If the report of what was shown to the oversight committees is accurate – and if the Bureau and other news agencies are correct – then it appears that committee members were only shown video covering the final part of the incident, giving a misleading impression that concealed over a dozen deaths.
The SSCI’s website states: ‘By law, the President is required to ensure that the committee is kept “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities.’
CIA spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’
Neither the House nor the Senate committee would comment, despite repeated requests from the Bureau. But Feinstein’s office did point the Bureau towards a five-month-old statement by the senator on oversight of the drone campaign, made shortly after the public nomination hearings for CIA director John Brennan, of which drones were a major focus.
The statement briefly outlined the review process for drone strikes. But it added the Obama administration had refused to provide the committee with memos outlining the legal justifications for drone strikes, despite repeated requests from senior committee members.‘I have sent three letters [between 2010 and 2013]… requesting these opinions,’ Feinstein said. ‘Last week, senators on the committee were finally allowed to review two OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinions on the legal authority to strike US citizens. We have reiterated our request for all nine OLC opinions – and any other relevant documents – in order to fully evaluate the executive branch’s legal reasoning, and to broaden access to the opinions to appropriate members of the committee staff.’

The challenges of oversightThe Bureau has previously questioned the effectiveness of the intelligence committees’ oversight of drone strikes. In February 2013. Feinstein used opening remarks at John Brennan’s nomination hearings to claim her committee had done its ‘utmost to confirm’ low civilian casualties in CIA drone strikes.
The Bureau contacted four fellow independent organisations which had carried out field investigations looking at civilian casualties in Pakistan. Each had published evidence of civilian casualties – yet none had ever been contacted by committee members or their staff in response to their findings, raising concerns the committee is too dependent on the intelligence community’s assessments.
Current committee members have complained about being blocked from robust scrutiny. At Brennan’s nomination hearings, Senator Barbara Mikulski said: ‘I’ve been on this Committee for more than 10 years, and with the exception of Mr. Panetta, I feel I’ve been jerked around by every CIA Director. I’ve either been misled, misrepresented, had to pull information out – often at the most minimal kind of way… And quite frankly, during those questions, they were evaded; they were distorted, et cetera.’
Such evasions are not limited to CIA directors. In June the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, admitted he had given the SSCI a ‘clearly erroneous’ response earlier in the year when he told an open hearing that the National Security Agency (NSA) did not ‘wittingly’ collect data on millions of Americans. The public retraction came only after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents indicating that such mass surveillance programmes were in operation.Even where members can access information, Feinstein has said the committee can be blocked from acting on it. Following Brennan’s hearing, Feinstein told political blog The Hill: ‘Right now it is very hard [to oversee the drone programme] because it is regarded as a covert activity, so when you see something that is wrong and you ask to be able to address it, you are told no.’

The present scrutiny system evolved in the wake of the Watergate affair. A series of controversial intelligence practices emerged, including attempted assassinations of overseas political leaders and illegal intelligence-gathering on US citizens.
Amid a growing sense that the intelligence services had been allowed to run amok, a series of inquiries – the most well-known of which was the Church Commission, headed by Senator Frank Church – combed through the activities of the CIA, FBI and NSA, identifying multiple abuses and overreachings. The Senate and House intelligence committees were established to provide the kind of scrutiny that might prevent such abuses happening again.
A source with knowledge of the intelligence committees under previous administrations pointed the Bureau to the significant challenges of overseeing operations that are by their very nature secret.
They pointed out that the committee has the power to request access to any information it requires. But this requires members or staffers to know such information exists. ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside,’ the source said. Politicians had to ask themselves: ‘Do I know enough to ask the right questions, and how can I count on really being given the full picture?,’ they added.
‘If you wanted to find out what’s really going on, you had to get really tough – you had to talk to people and say, cut the crap. If you lie to me, I will have your head on a plate,’ the source told the Bureau.
Regarding the current committee’s oversight of the drone programme, they said, ‘Did somebody really do a tough job there and put the necessary pressure on people to get a result?’
While elected members might struggle to find the time to delve into complex matters of national security, the close links between committee staffers and the intelligence community can further hamper scrutiny, the source added.
‘You can’t get a job on one of these committees if you don’t have high-level security clearance – so you can’t get a job without being part of the system. This automatically puts you inside a circle of people who all can talk to each other, but in the knowledge that if they step out of line when the job’s finished, they will be finished.
‘There’s a huge risk for any staff member who crosses people inside the system,’ they said.
‘This is the problem of the netherworld and its interaction with democratic institutions… It really is a very difficult problem and the solution that Frank Church came up with wasn’t enough,’ said the source.
Photo of the Senate Intelligence Committee at Brennan’s confirmation hearings by SenRockefeller via Flickr Creative Commons

August 2013 - Piece for Salon and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism asking whether the politicians charged with overseeing the intelligence netherworld’s activities can ever hope to get the full picture. The piece accompanies an investigation by Chris Woods looking at the revival of ‘double-tap’ drone strikes, attacking rescuers - one of the darkest and most controversial tactics of the whole campaign.

::

Is Congressional oversight tough enough on drones?

In the Bureau’s latest investigation into the tactic of ‘double-tap’ strikes on rescuers, our field researcher’s findings appear to directly contradict an account of a strike attributed to staffers of the Congressional bodies charged with overseeing CIA drone strikes.

The House and Senate intelligence committees are responsible for scrutinising the highly classified CIA drone programme. Details of CIA drone strikes are withheld from all other members of Congress.

Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has said her committee devotes ‘significant time and attention to the drone programme’ and since 2010 has met each month to ‘review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimise noncombatant casualties.’But committee members have complained about being denied information – and a source with knowledge of the committees’ functioning told the Bureau: ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside’ the intelligence agencies.

In 2012 the Los Angeles Times published what it said was adetailed account of these meetings – based on anonymous briefings – outlining how committee members and aides from the House and Senate committees go to the CIA headquarters each month to watch video footage of recent drone strikes.

But new findings from the Bureau’s field research differ sharply from the account of what was reportedly shown to the committees on one occasion.

The LA Times reported that anonymous aides described seeing footage of a strike that took place on June 4 2012. The attack represented a major success for the agency, killing Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda’s second-in-command. Aides reported seeing footage showing al-Libi alone being killed by a missile.

But Bureau field research and multiple credible reports tell a different story, in which the day’s events appear to be significantly more complex. The BBCCNN and other international news outlets were among those reporting that the missile that killed al-Libi was the final part of a sequence of attacks that killed between 14 and 18 people. Sources including the Washington Post reported that after an initial strike, drones returned to attack those carrying out rescue work.

Related story - Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers

If the report of what was shown to the oversight committees is accurate – and if the Bureau and other news agencies are correct – then it appears that committee members were only shown video covering the final part of the incident, giving a misleading impression that concealed over a dozen deaths.

The SSCI’s website states: ‘By law, the President is required to ensure that the committee is kept “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities.’

CIA spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

Neither the House nor the Senate committee would comment, despite repeated requests from the Bureau. But Feinstein’s office did point the Bureau towards a five-month-old statement by the senator on oversight of the drone campaign, made shortly after the public nomination hearings for CIA director John Brennan, of which drones were a major focus.

The statement briefly outlined the review process for drone strikes. But it added the Obama administration had refused to provide the committee with memos outlining the legal justifications for drone strikes, despite repeated requests from senior committee members.‘I have sent three letters [between 2010 and 2013]… requesting these opinions,’ Feinstein said. ‘Last week, senators on the committee were finally allowed to review two OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinions on the legal authority to strike US citizens. We have reiterated our request for all nine OLC opinions – and any other relevant documents – in order to fully evaluate the executive branch’s legal reasoning, and to broaden access to the opinions to appropriate members of the committee staff.’

The challenges of oversight
The Bureau has previously questioned the effectiveness of the intelligence committees’ oversight of drone strikes. In February 2013. Feinstein used opening remarks at John Brennan’s nomination hearings to claim her committee had done its ‘utmost to confirm’ low civilian casualties in CIA drone strikes.

The Bureau contacted four fellow independent organisations which had carried out field investigations looking at civilian casualties in Pakistan. Each had published evidence of civilian casualties – yet none had ever been contacted by committee members or their staff in response to their findings, raising concerns the committee is too dependent on the intelligence community’s assessments.

Current committee members have complained about being blocked from robust scrutiny. At Brennan’s nomination hearings, Senator Barbara Mikulski said: ‘I’ve been on this Committee for more than 10 years, and with the exception of Mr. Panetta, I feel I’ve been jerked around by every CIA Director. I’ve either been misled, misrepresented, had to pull information out – often at the most minimal kind of way… And quite frankly, during those questions, they were evaded; they were distorted, et cetera.’

Such evasions are not limited to CIA directors. In June the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, admitted he had given the SSCI a ‘clearly erroneous’ response earlier in the year when he told an open hearing that the National Security Agency (NSA) did not ‘wittingly’ collect data on millions of Americans. The public retraction came only after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents indicating that such mass surveillance programmes were in operation.Even where members can access information, Feinstein has said the committee can be blocked from acting on it. Following Brennan’s hearing, Feinstein told political blog The Hill: ‘Right now it is very hard [to oversee the drone programme] because it is regarded as a covert activity, so when you see something that is wrong and you ask to be able to address it, you are told no.’

The present scrutiny system evolved in the wake of the Watergate affair. A series of controversial intelligence practices emerged, including attempted assassinations of overseas political leaders and illegal intelligence-gathering on US citizens.

Amid a growing sense that the intelligence services had been allowed to run amok, a series of inquiries – the most well-known of which was the Church Commission, headed by Senator Frank Church – combed through the activities of the CIA, FBI and NSA, identifying multiple abuses and overreachings. The Senate and House intelligence committees were established to provide the kind of scrutiny that might prevent such abuses happening again.

A source with knowledge of the intelligence committees under previous administrations pointed the Bureau to the significant challenges of overseeing operations that are by their very nature secret.

They pointed out that the committee has the power to request access to any information it requires. But this requires members or staffers to know such information exists. ‘It’s a serious question as to how much any elected official could possibly understand about what’s going on inside,’ the source said. Politicians had to ask themselves: ‘Do I know enough to ask the right questions, and how can I count on really being given the full picture?,’ they added.

‘If you wanted to find out what’s really going on, you had to get really tough – you had to talk to people and say, cut the crap. If you lie to me, I will have your head on a plate,’ the source told the Bureau.

Regarding the current committee’s oversight of the drone programme, they said, ‘Did somebody really do a tough job there and put the necessary pressure on people to get a result?’

While elected members might struggle to find the time to delve into complex matters of national security, the close links between committee staffers and the intelligence community can further hamper scrutiny, the source added.

‘You can’t get a job on one of these committees if you don’t have high-level security clearance – so you can’t get a job without being part of the system. This automatically puts you inside a circle of people who all can talk to each other, but in the knowledge that if they step out of line when the job’s finished, they will be finished.

‘There’s a huge risk for any staff member who crosses people inside the system,’ they said.

‘This is the problem of the netherworld and its interaction with democratic institutions… It really is a very difficult problem and the solution that Frank Church came up with wasn’t enough,’ said the source.

Photo of the Senate Intelligence Committee at Brennan’s confirmation hearings by SenRockefeller via Flickr Creative Commons

June 22 2013
::
To our enormous delight, the Bureau’s drones team - Chris Woods, Jack Serle and me - won the Martha Gellhorn Prize.
It’s really hard to write about this without sounding like a total arse, so I’ll leave it to John Pilger, who chaired the awards panel: 

‘This was extraordinary work on Barack Obama’s lawless use of drones in a campaign of assassination across south Asia. Woods, Ross and Serle stripped away the façade of the secret drone ‘war’, including how it is reported and not reported in the United States: how civilian casualties are covered-up and how rescuers and funerals are targeted.
‘This was truly pioneering work, as important, in many respects, as the recent leaks from inside Washington: remarkable work in the highest tradition of investigative journalism.’

So. Quite humbling really. 
Photo: Gellhorn with her then husband Ernest Hemingway in China. Via Wikimedia Commons

June 22 2013

::

To our enormous delight, the Bureau’s drones team - Chris Woods, Jack Serle and me - won the Martha Gellhorn Prize.

It’s really hard to write about this without sounding like a total arse, so I’ll leave it to John Pilger, who chaired the awards panel: 

This was extraordinary work on Barack Obama’s lawless use of drones in a campaign of assassination across south Asia. Woods, Ross and Serle stripped away the façade of the secret drone ‘war’, including how it is reported and not reported in the United States: how civilian casualties are covered-up and how rescuers and funerals are targeted.

‘This was truly pioneering work, as important, in many respects, as the recent leaks from inside Washington: remarkable work in the highest tradition of investigative journalism.’

So. Quite humbling really. 

Photo: Gellhorn with her then husband Ernest Hemingway in China. Via Wikimedia Commons

May 2013 - Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping by Chris Woods and me at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
::
Home Secretary wins latest round of citizenship-stripping case
The government has won a case upholding the Home Secretary’s decision to deprive a British citizen of his nationality, despite the man’s claim that the order would illegally make him stateless.
Although born in Vietnam, the man – identified only as B2 in court proceedings because of an anonymity order – became a British citizen at the age of 12. In 2011 the government stripped him of his British citizenship on national security grounds, but he appealed on the grounds that the Home Secretary’s order would leave him stateless, as he argued he had never held Vietnamese citizenship.He is one of 18 individuals known to have been deprived of their British citizenship under the Coalition government, as revealed by the Bureau in an investigation published in the Independent newspaper in February.
The investigation revealed that the present administration has increased the use of little-known nationality laws, issuing more than three times as many deprivation of citizenship orders as the previous Labour government.
The orders, which have been compared to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, take effect immediately. The only means of appeal is usually through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), the semi-secretive court that hears terrorism-related immigration cases.
B2 lost his British citizenship in December 2011. However, six months later Siac judges overturned the order, saying that since the Vietnamese government denied he was a citizen of theirs, the order would render him stateless.
The government appealed Siac’s ruling, and this morning won the point as three Court of Appeal judges ruled that although the Vietnamese government refused to extend him the privileges of citizenship, it had not formally revoked his nationality, and he is therefore considered a Vietnamese citizen. The case will now return to Siac to weigh up the Home Secretary’s claims of B2′s alleged extremism.
B2 arrived in the UK as a refugee at the age of six, according to the Siac judgment, and later gained British citizenship. The government claims that he converted to Islam at the age of 21 and later became involved in Islamic extremism.
It alleges that he travelled to Yemen in December 2010, where he received ‘some form of terrorist training’ from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This would make him an ‘active threat’ in the UK, government lawyers argued.
In December 2011 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, revoked his British citizenship and informed B2 that she planned to deport him to Vietnam. At the same time, he was taken into custody. This morning’s judgment revealed that the planned deportation has ‘subsequently been overtaken by events’ as the US has requested his extradition to stand trial there.
B2′s case is only the second deprivation of citizenship order to have initially been overturned by Siac – the previous one being Abu Hamza in 2010 – although others have gone on to appeal to higher courts. Under the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Act 2006, the Home Secretary can remove British citizenship if she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’, so long as it does not make the subject stateless.
An order removing Hamza’s citizenship was issued in 2003 but proceedings were put on hold while he fought multiple other cases. By the time hearings resumed in 2010 the Egyptian government had removed his nationality, so again the order would have made him stateless. This did not prevent him from being extradited to the US in October 2012.
B2′s case is also unusual because the deprivation of citizenship order was made while he was in the UK. In almost all other known cases, the order has been made while the subject was out of the country, effectively preventing them from returning.
Earlier this year Court of Appeal judges commented that an order against a Sudanese-British man, L1, appeared to be an ‘abuse of power‘ on the part of the Home Secretary as she appeared to have waited until he left the UK, taking his children to Sudan for their summer holiday before removing his British nationality. Three years on, he is still fighting his appeal from overseas.
Read the original article

May 2013 - Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping by Chris Woods and me at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

::

Home Secretary wins latest round of citizenship-stripping case

The government has won a case upholding the Home Secretary’s decision to deprive a British citizen of his nationality, despite the man’s claim that the order would illegally make him stateless.

Although born in Vietnam, the man – identified only as B2 in court proceedings because of an anonymity order – became a British citizen at the age of 12. In 2011 the government stripped him of his British citizenship on national security grounds, but he appealed on the grounds that the Home Secretary’s order would leave him stateless, as he argued he had never held Vietnamese citizenship.He is one of 18 individuals known to have been deprived of their British citizenship under the Coalition government, as revealed by the Bureau in an investigation published in the Independent newspaper in February.

The investigation revealed that the present administration has increased the use of little-known nationality laws, issuing more than three times as many deprivation of citizenship orders as the previous Labour government.

The orders, which have been compared to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, take effect immediately. The only means of appeal is usually through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), the semi-secretive court that hears terrorism-related immigration cases.

B2 lost his British citizenship in December 2011. However, six months later Siac judges overturned the order, saying that since the Vietnamese government denied he was a citizen of theirs, the order would render him stateless.

The government appealed Siac’s ruling, and this morning won the point as three Court of Appeal judges ruled that although the Vietnamese government refused to extend him the privileges of citizenship, it had not formally revoked his nationality, and he is therefore considered a Vietnamese citizen. The case will now return to Siac to weigh up the Home Secretary’s claims of B2′s alleged extremism.

B2 arrived in the UK as a refugee at the age of six, according to the Siac judgment, and later gained British citizenship. The government claims that he converted to Islam at the age of 21 and later became involved in Islamic extremism.

It alleges that he travelled to Yemen in December 2010, where he received ‘some form of terrorist training’ from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This would make him an ‘active threat’ in the UK, government lawyers argued.

In December 2011 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, revoked his British citizenship and informed B2 that she planned to deport him to Vietnam. At the same time, he was taken into custody. This morning’s judgment revealed that the planned deportation has ‘subsequently been overtaken by events’ as the US has requested his extradition to stand trial there.

B2′s case is only the second deprivation of citizenship order to have initially been overturned by Siac – the previous one being Abu Hamza in 2010 – although others have gone on to appeal to higher courts. Under the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum Act 2006, the Home Secretary can remove British citizenship if she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’, so long as it does not make the subject stateless.

An order removing Hamza’s citizenship was issued in 2003 but proceedings were put on hold while he fought multiple other cases. By the time hearings resumed in 2010 the Egyptian government had removed his nationality, so again the order would have made him stateless. This did not prevent him from being extradited to the US in October 2012.

B2′s case is also unusual because the deprivation of citizenship order was made while he was in the UK. In almost all other known cases, the order has been made while the subject was out of the country, effectively preventing them from returning.

Earlier this year Court of Appeal judges commented that an order against a Sudanese-British man, L1, appeared to be an ‘abuse of power‘ on the part of the Home Secretary as she appeared to have waited until he left the UK, taking his children to Sudan for their summer holiday before removing his British nationality. Three years on, he is still fighting his appeal from overseas.

Read the original article

“War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say and it seems to me I have been saying it forever. Unless they are immediate victims, the majority of mankind behaves as if war was an act of God which could not be prevented; or they behave as if war elsewhere was none of their business. It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.”
- Martha Gellhorn
::
May 18 2013
Delighted to learn that Chris Woods, Jack Serle and I have been shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for our work on drones for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Any shortlisting is an privilege, but this one is particularly special: it’s prestigious, certainly, but it’s also in honour of a pioneering lady reporter, one whose powerful, clear-sighted, angry reporting on Dachau sent chills down my spine on a Mediterranean beach when I came across it. 

“War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say and it seems to me I have been saying it forever. Unless they are immediate victims, the majority of mankind behaves as if war was an act of God which could not be prevented; or they behave as if war elsewhere was none of their business. It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.”

- Martha Gellhorn

::

May 18 2013

Delighted to learn that Chris Woods, Jack Serle and I have been shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for our work on drones for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Any shortlisting is an privilege, but this one is particularly special: it’s prestigious, certainly, but it’s also in honour of a pioneering lady reporter, one whose powerful, clear-sighted, angry reporting on Dachau sent chills down my spine on a Mediterranean beach when I came across it. 

May 2013 - Chris Woods and I reveal a further two cases of people losing their citizenship - but there’s no way of knowing yet who they are or what they’re alleged to have done. And judges in a further case say the Home Secretary may have abused her powers.
Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping.
::
Home Secretary strips two more people of British citizenship
The Home Secretary has stripped at least two additional individuals of their British citizenship in recent months, the Bureau has learned.
In February, an investigation by the Bureau and published with the Independent revealed that Theresa May had signed deprivation of citizenship orders for 16 people between the 2010 election and November 2012, including five British-born individuals. That total has now risen to 18 cases. Under the Labour government, five people lost their UK nationality.
The two new cases were revealed by a recent Freedom of Information request made by the Bureau. One deprivation notice was issued late last year, taking the total number who lost their UK nationality in 2012 to six. A further case took place between January 1 and mid-March, when the Freedom of Information request was submitted.
The Home Secretary cannot remove citizenship if it will make an individual stateless, so the orders can only be made against dual-nationality individuals.
The Freedom of Information release listed the other nationality of the individuals who have had their UK passports revoked. This revealed that two new nations, Iran and Yemen, joined the list of alternate nationalities; the Bureau has established that Yemeni and Iranian dual-nationals lost their UK citizenship between June 2012 and March 2013.
However almost nothing else is known about the most recent deprivation cases. Of the six that took place in 2012, nothing at all is known about three; a further individual is known only as F2. The sole case in 2013 is similarly a mystery.
Deprivation of citizenship orders take effect immediately, often leaving individuals stranded abroad with no UK passport in a process likened to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.
In cases where citizenship is being removed on terrorism grounds, the only route of appeal is through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a court that can hear evidence in secret. Cases often go through many rounds of appeals and can last years.
Siac judgments are one of the primary sources of information about deprivation of citizenship cases. When cases do not go before Siac they receive no judicial scrutiny and often remain hidden from public scrutiny too – as is the case in the most recent orders.
‘Manipulating the system’Separately, the Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the case of a man who lost his British citizenship when he left the country to go on holiday in 2010. Judges voiced concerns that the order had been an ‘abuse of power’ on the part of the Home Secretary, court transcripts show.
A Sudanese-born man known only as L1 left the UK in July 2010 with his four children, all British citizens, and his wife, to spend the summer holiday in Sudan. Four days later, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) sent a letter to his London home notifying him that the Home Secretary intended to strip him of his citizenship on ‘terrorism’ grounds. He had 28 days to appeal.
L1 claimed he did not learn of the letter until the 28-day window had expired, although UKBA officials insisted they had alerted his brother to the letter and L1 would have learned of it in time. Siac refused to allow him to lodge a belated appeal, although Mr Justice Mitting noted: ‘The natural inference, which we draw, from the events described, is that she [Theresa May] waited until he had left the United Kingdom before setting the process in train.’
Three Court of Appeal judges have now said at a pre-appeal hearing that this appeared to be ‘a deliberate exercise… Once they are out of the country, you then make jolly sure they cannot get back in.’
One judge added: ‘It seems to me, if the Secretary of State is manipulating the system so as to obstruct access to a right [of appeal in the UK] that Parliament has given, whether it is fair or not, it is abusive’.
On this ground alone, the appeal should proceed, the judges decided, adding they were ‘very troubled’ by the way L1′s citizenship had been stripped as soon as he left the UK: ‘We cannot really have the Secretary of State behaving like this,’ they noted.
(The original story is here)


Photo by the Home Office via Flickr Creative Commons.

May 2013 - Chris Woods and I reveal a further two cases of people losing their citizenship - but there’s no way of knowing yet who they are or what they’re alleged to have done. And judges in a further case say the Home Secretary may have abused her powers.

Part of an ongoing investigation into citizenship-stripping.

::

Home Secretary strips two more people of British citizenship

The Home Secretary has stripped at least two additional individuals of their British citizenship in recent months, the Bureau has learned.

In February, an investigation by the Bureau and published with the Independent revealed that Theresa May had signed deprivation of citizenship orders for 16 people between the 2010 election and November 2012, including five British-born individuals. That total has now risen to 18 cases. Under the Labour government, five people lost their UK nationality.

The two new cases were revealed by a recent Freedom of Information request made by the Bureau. One deprivation notice was issued late last year, taking the total number who lost their UK nationality in 2012 to six. A further case took place between January 1 and mid-March, when the Freedom of Information request was submitted.

The Home Secretary cannot remove citizenship if it will make an individual stateless, so the orders can only be made against dual-nationality individuals.

The Freedom of Information release listed the other nationality of the individuals who have had their UK passports revoked. This revealed that two new nations, Iran and Yemen, joined the list of alternate nationalities; the Bureau has established that Yemeni and Iranian dual-nationals lost their UK citizenship between June 2012 and March 2013.

However almost nothing else is known about the most recent deprivation cases. Of the six that took place in 2012, nothing at all is known about three; a further individual is known only as F2. The sole case in 2013 is similarly a mystery.

Deprivation of citizenship orders take effect immediately, often leaving individuals stranded abroad with no UK passport in a process likened to ‘medieval exile’ by leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

In cases where citizenship is being removed on terrorism grounds, the only route of appeal is through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), a court that can hear evidence in secret. Cases often go through many rounds of appeals and can last years.

Siac judgments are one of the primary sources of information about deprivation of citizenship cases. When cases do not go before Siac they receive no judicial scrutiny and often remain hidden from public scrutiny too – as is the case in the most recent orders.

‘Manipulating the system’
Separately, the Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the case of a man who lost his British citizenship when he left the country to go on holiday in 2010. Judges voiced concerns that the order had been an ‘abuse of power’ on the part of the Home Secretary, court transcripts show.

A Sudanese-born man known only as L1 left the UK in July 2010 with his four children, all British citizens, and his wife, to spend the summer holiday in Sudan. Four days later, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) sent a letter to his London home notifying him that the Home Secretary intended to strip him of his citizenship on ‘terrorism’ grounds. He had 28 days to appeal.

L1 claimed he did not learn of the letter until the 28-day window had expired, although UKBA officials insisted they had alerted his brother to the letter and L1 would have learned of it in time. Siac refused to allow him to lodge a belated appeal, although Mr Justice Mitting noted: ‘The natural inference, which we draw, from the events described, is that she [Theresa May] waited until he had left the United Kingdom before setting the process in train.’

Three Court of Appeal judges have now said at a pre-appeal hearing that this appeared to be ‘a deliberate exercise… Once they are out of the country, you then make jolly sure they cannot get back in.’

One judge added: ‘It seems to me, if the Secretary of State is manipulating the system so as to obstruct access to a right [of appeal in the UK] that Parliament has given, whether it is fair or not, it is abusive’.

On this ground alone, the appeal should proceed, the judges decided, adding they were ‘very troubled’ by the way L1′s citizenship had been stripped as soon as he left the UK: ‘We cannot really have the Secretary of State behaving like this,’ they noted.

(The original story is here)
Photo by the Home Office via Flickr Creative Commons.
May 2013 - Two days before Pakistan’s elections, a high court came down firmly against drone strikes and called on the new government to take firm action. The man in the photo is Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who brought the suits, photographed by my colleague Chris Woods.
::
Pakistani court rules CIA drone strikes are illegal
In the first major Pakistani court ruling on the legality of the CIA’s drone campaign in the country, a Peshawar High Court judge said this morning that strikes are ‘criminal offences’. Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan ordered Pakistan’s government to ‘use force if need be’ to end drone attacks in the country’s tribal regions.
He ruled that US drone strikes in Pakistan constitute a ‘war crime’ and are a ‘blatant violation of basic human rights’, killing hundreds of civilians. He ordered the government to ‘forcefully’ convey to the US that it must end drone strikes and called on the UN Security Council to intervene.
The Pakistani government should also gather data on those affected by drone strikes, and offer redress to the victims, Khan added. At present the only data systematically released on drone strikes comes from independent monitoring organisations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been investigating drone strikes and tracking reported casualties since 2011.
The ruling comes two days ahead of national elections marking Pakistan’s first-ever transition from one civilian administration to another. The new government will have to decide between implementing the court’s orders or appealing to the Supreme Court.
The judgment applies to a lengthy case against the CIA brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights on behalf of Noor Khan, a tribesman whose father was among dozens of civilians killed in a drone strike on a gathering of tribal elders on March 17 2011. Last year, Noor Khan also attempted to bring legal action against the UK government for providing information that could lead to deaths in drone strikes, in a case backed by legal charity Reprieve. The attempt was refused but he is appealing.
Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who argued the Peshawar case, said: ‘It is a landmark judgment: drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This ruling will also prove to be a test for the new government as if drones continue and government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.’
In the course of the Peshawar case, Dost Muhammad Khan also clarified that drone strikes were illegal even if – as has been rumoured – senior Pakistani officials secretly consent to strikes.
He also repeatedly demanded that the secretariat for the tribal regions releases any casualty data it holds.
Naureen Shah, an academic at Columbia Law School and co-author of several studies on drones, said the ruling increases the pressure on the US to respond to claims of civilian deaths in drones strikes.
‘The US government can’t afford to be silent on civilian deaths any more,’ she said. ‘The Peshawar High Court says that drone strikes are carried out “at random” and kill hundreds of civilians. That’s a damning charge that may be overstated. The US government must answer it with investigations and public disclosure about who is being killed and on what legal basis. If the US does not respond, it risks the appearance of indifference – to human life, and to the rule of law.’
(See the original story here)
Photo: Shahzad Akbar, by Chris Woods

May 2013 - Two days before Pakistan’s elections, a high court came down firmly against drone strikes and called on the new government to take firm action. The man in the photo is Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who brought the suits, photographed by my colleague Chris Woods.

::

Pakistani court rules CIA drone strikes are illegal

In the first major Pakistani court ruling on the legality of the CIA’s drone campaign in the country, a Peshawar High Court judge said this morning that strikes are ‘criminal offences’. Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan ordered Pakistan’s government to ‘use force if need be’ to end drone attacks in the country’s tribal regions.

He ruled that US drone strikes in Pakistan constitute a ‘war crime’ and are a ‘blatant violation of basic human rights’, killing hundreds of civilians. He ordered the government to ‘forcefully’ convey to the US that it must end drone strikes and called on the UN Security Council to intervene.

The Pakistani government should also gather data on those affected by drone strikes, and offer redress to the victims, Khan added. At present the only data systematically released on drone strikes comes from independent monitoring organisations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been investigating drone strikes and tracking reported casualties since 2011.

The ruling comes two days ahead of national elections marking Pakistan’s first-ever transition from one civilian administration to another. The new government will have to decide between implementing the court’s orders or appealing to the Supreme Court.

The judgment applies to a lengthy case against the CIA brought by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights on behalf of Noor Khan, a tribesman whose father was among dozens of civilians killed in a drone strike on a gathering of tribal elders on March 17 2011. Last year, Noor Khan also attempted to bring legal action against the UK government for providing information that could lead to deaths in drone strikes, in a case backed by legal charity Reprieve. The attempt was refused but he is appealing.

Lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who argued the Peshawar case, said: ‘It is a landmark judgment: drone victims in Waziristan will now get some justice after a long wait. This ruling will also prove to be a test for the new government as if drones continue and government fails to act, it will run the risk of contempt of court.’

In the course of the Peshawar case, Dost Muhammad Khan also clarified that drone strikes were illegal even if – as has been rumoured – senior Pakistani officials secretly consent to strikes.

He also repeatedly demanded that the secretariat for the tribal regions releases any casualty data it holds.

Naureen Shah, an academic at Columbia Law School and co-author of several studies on drones, said the ruling increases the pressure on the US to respond to claims of civilian deaths in drones strikes.

‘The US government can’t afford to be silent on civilian deaths any more,’ she said. ‘The Peshawar High Court says that drone strikes are carried out “at random” and kill hundreds of civilians. That’s a damning charge that may be overstated. The US government must answer it with investigations and public disclosure about who is being killed and on what legal basis. If the US does not respond, it risks the appearance of indifference – to human life, and to the rule of law.’

(See the original story here)

Photo: Shahzad Akbar, by Chris Woods

April 2013 - As the UK’s first drone base opens, a report by Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the emergence of the UK’s role in the drone war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
::
Protesters march against UK drones as MoD reveals ‘drone sharing’ with US
An estimated 600 campaigners staged a march and rally at a Lincolnshire air base this weekend protesting at the opening of the UK’s first military base for remote armed drone operations.
Protesters marched four miles from Lincoln to RAF Waddington. Last week the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that drone flights in Afghanistan are already being piloted from the air base.
The march took place as the government admitted that Royal Air Force crews have carried out more than 2,000 missions using ‘borrowed’ US armed drones. These are on top of hundreds of missions carried out by the RAF’s own Reaper drone fleet in Afghanistan.
The news prompted Conservative MP Rehman Chishti to warn that armed drone operations in Afghanistan by the RAF and the United States Air Force have become so interchangeable that Britain ‘may no longer be able to determine accountability and responsibility if civilians are killed’.
‘Normalised’Protest group Stop the War described Saturday’s demonstration at RAF Waddington as the first public protest in the UK against armed drones being controlled from Britain.
Spokesman Ian Chamberlain told the Bureau: ‘There’s something morally repulsive about the idea that in Lincolnshire someone can press a button and kill in Afghanistan.’
Since 2008, RAF crews have remotely-piloted Britain’s small armed drones fleet from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The additional facility at Waddington will allow the RAF to operate more efficiently, according to the Ministry of Defence.
‘The opening of this new drone warfare centre has brought home to many people that the use of drones by British forces is not after all, temporary and time-limited. Rather the use of drones to launch “risk-free” airstrikes at great distances is being normalised,’ said Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK.
Defence minister Andrew Robathan also revealed last week that British military personnel have been directly embedding with the US Air Force, flying combat drone sorties in the recent Libyan and Iraq wars, as well as in Afghanistan. These ‘embeds’ last for up to three years with ‘fewer than 10 pilots’ embedded at any one time, an MoD spokesman told the Bureau.
Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, said he was ‘surprised and astonished’ by the minister’s answers which he says make it difficult to understand where accountability for armed drone strikes now lies.
‘The problem with embedding British pilots with the Americans, for example, is that you can no longer determine responsibility,’ Chisti told the Bureau. ‘This muddies the waters completely, risks turning the people of Afghanistan against us, and creates a joint liability for both the UK and US governments.’
Interlocking forcesBritain is the only nation Washington has so far allowed to purchase and operate armed MQ-9 Reaper drones. UK-badged combat missions began in Afghanistan in late 2008. Yet for some years beforehand, British pilots and analysts were flying US drones under the embedding programme. An MoD spokesman said UK drone pilots follow British rules of engagement even when embedded with the US military.
Operations by RAF and USAF Reapers have now become so interchangeable in Afghanistan that it may no longer be possible to distinguish between the two. News that British crews are flying US armed drones may also help to explain anomalies that have been puzzling drone analysts.
Two apparent anomalies are the high proportion of missiles reportedly fired by UK pilots, and the low numbers of RAF-declared civilian casualties when compared to other recent conflicts.

Last autumn Britain announced it is doubling the size of its fleet of Reapers in Afghanistan from five to ten aircraft. The US Air Force is believed to operate as many as 200 armed drones in Afghanistan, although a spokeswoman declined to provide figures.
Yet data released last year to the Bureau by Centcom, which oversees coalition operations in Afghanistan, indicated that British crews fired at least one in five of all missiles fired by drones in the country in 2012. Neither Centcom nor the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London could explain that high figure.
News that many of these missiles may have been fired from US-badged drones could help explain the discrepancy.

2013 figures are to January 31 only. Click the chart to view the data.


There remains no official, systematic account of how many people are killed by drones in Afghanistan, and their identities. Centcom routinely declines to provide any casualty data for Afghanistan drone strikes, though Britain has been slightly more forthcoming. David Cameron told reporters in 2010 that UK drones had killed ‘more than 124 insurgents’, and the MoD has also admitted to four civilian deaths. The UN mission in Afghanistan reported that 16 civilians died in drone strikes in 2012 alone, but in the absence of official estimates from the US and UK, it is impossible to tell who was responsible.
This week defence minister Andrew Robathan also confirmed British pilots have flown drone combat missions in both Libya and Iraq – conflicts in which no UK-badged armed drones participated. Between 2006 and 2012, UK crews flew 2,150 missions in US-owned drones in Afghanistan and Libya, according to Robathan – a small but significant portion of total drone missions in those theatres.
Data on Coalition drone usage only spans back to 2008, but this shows drones flew around 36,500 armed missions in total in Afghanistan and Libya between 2008 and October 31 2012. Of these, around one in thirty resulted in a drone strike.
Centcom recently stopped publishing statistics on armed drone activity in Afghanistan, saying they ‘disproportionately focused’ on the role played by unmanned aircraft. Before the figures were effectively reclassified, they illustrated the rapid rise of the drone in conventional wars. In 2009, drones fired around one in 20 of all missiles released by Coalition aircraft. By January 2013, this had risen to one in five.
(The original story is here)
Photo by Sarah Baldwin

April 2013 - As the UK’s first drone base opens, a report by Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the emergence of the UK’s role in the drone war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

::

Protesters march against UK drones as MoD reveals ‘drone sharing’ with US

An estimated 600 campaigners staged a march and rally at a Lincolnshire air base this weekend protesting at the opening of the UK’s first military base for remote armed drone operations.

Protesters marched four miles from Lincoln to RAF Waddington. Last week the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that drone flights in Afghanistan are already being piloted from the air base.

The march took place as the government admitted that Royal Air Force crews have carried out more than 2,000 missions using ‘borrowed’ US armed drones. These are on top of hundreds of missions carried out by the RAF’s own Reaper drone fleet in Afghanistan.

The news prompted Conservative MP Rehman Chishti to warn that armed drone operations in Afghanistan by the RAF and the United States Air Force have become so interchangeable that Britain ‘may no longer be able to determine accountability and responsibility if civilians are killed’.

‘Normalised’
Protest group Stop the War described Saturday’s demonstration at RAF Waddington as the first public protest in the UK against armed drones being controlled from Britain.

Spokesman Ian Chamberlain told the Bureau: ‘There’s something morally repulsive about the idea that in Lincolnshire someone can press a button and kill in Afghanistan.’

Since 2008, RAF crews have remotely-piloted Britain’s small armed drones fleet from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The additional facility at Waddington will allow the RAF to operate more efficiently, according to the Ministry of Defence.

‘The opening of this new drone warfare centre has brought home to many people that the use of drones by British forces is not after all, temporary and time-limited. Rather the use of drones to launch “risk-free” airstrikes at great distances is being normalised,’ said Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK.

Defence minister Andrew Robathan also revealed last week that British military personnel have been directly embedding with the US Air Force, flying combat drone sorties in the recent Libyan and Iraq wars, as well as in Afghanistan. These ‘embeds’ last for up to three years with ‘fewer than 10 pilots’ embedded at any one time, an MoD spokesman told the Bureau.

Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, said he was ‘surprised and astonished’ by the minister’s answers which he says make it difficult to understand where accountability for armed drone strikes now lies.

‘The problem with embedding British pilots with the Americans, for example, is that you can no longer determine responsibility,’ Chisti told the Bureau. ‘This muddies the waters completely, risks turning the people of Afghanistan against us, and creates a joint liability for both the UK and US governments.’

Interlocking forces
Britain is the only nation Washington has so far allowed to purchase and operate armed MQ-9 Reaper drones. UK-badged combat missions began in Afghanistan in late 2008. Yet for some years beforehand, British pilots and analysts were flying US drones under the embedding programme. An MoD spokesman said UK drone pilots follow British rules of engagement even when embedded with the US military.

Operations by RAF and USAF Reapers have now become so interchangeable in Afghanistan that it may no longer be possible to distinguish between the two. News that British crews are flying US armed drones may also help to explain anomalies that have been puzzling drone analysts.

Two apparent anomalies are the high proportion of missiles reportedly fired by UK pilots, and the low numbers of RAF-declared civilian casualties when compared to other recent conflicts.

Last autumn Britain announced it is doubling the size of its fleet of Reapers in Afghanistan from five to ten aircraft. The US Air Force is believed to operate as many as 200 armed drones in Afghanistan, although a spokeswoman declined to provide figures.

Yet data released last year to the Bureau by Centcom, which oversees coalition operations in Afghanistan, indicated that British crews fired at least one in five of all missiles fired by drones in the country in 2012. Neither Centcom nor the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London could explain that high figure.

News that many of these missiles may have been fired from US-badged drones could help explain the discrepancy.

Chart

2013 figures are to January 31 only. Click the chart to view the data.

There remains no official, systematic account of how many people are killed by drones in Afghanistan, and their identities. Centcom routinely declines to provide any casualty data for Afghanistan drone strikes, though Britain has been slightly more forthcoming. David Cameron told reporters in 2010 that UK drones had killed ‘more than 124 insurgents’, and the MoD has also admitted to four civilian deaths. The UN mission in Afghanistan reported that 16 civilians died in drone strikes in 2012 alone, but in the absence of official estimates from the US and UK, it is impossible to tell who was responsible.

This week defence minister Andrew Robathan also confirmed British pilots have flown drone combat missions in both Libya and Iraq – conflicts in which no UK-badged armed drones participated. Between 2006 and 2012, UK crews flew 2,150 missions in US-owned drones in Afghanistan and Libya, according to Robathan – a small but significant portion of total drone missions in those theatres.

Data on Coalition drone usage only spans back to 2008, but this shows drones flew around 36,500 armed missions in total in Afghanistan and Libya between 2008 and October 31 2012. Of these, around one in thirty resulted in a drone strike.

Centcom recently stopped publishing statistics on armed drone activity in Afghanistan, saying they ‘disproportionately focused’ on the role played by unmanned aircraft. Before the figures were effectively reclassified, they illustrated the rapid rise of the drone in conventional wars. In 2009, drones fired around one in 20 of all missiles released by Coalition aircraft. By January 2013, this had risen to one in five.

(The original story is here)

Photo by Sarah Baldwin

April 2013 - The almost unprecedented testimony of a young Yemeni journalist on the impact of drones on his village stunned a Senate committee and raised the profile of the covert war in his home country.

::

Yemeni tells US Senate ‘drones are fuelling anti-Americanism’

‘Drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis,’ Farea al-Muslimi told a rare US Senate hearing on targeted killing yesterday.

The Yemeni journalist and activist gave emotive testimony at a Senate subcommittee about the impact of drone strikes and targeted killings on his homeland. His statement was a view from beneath the strikes that is almost unique in Washington and drew some applause from the chamber.

In stark terms he described the human toll of the US’s covert campaign in Yemen, such as the aftermath of the catastrophic December 2009 cruise missile strike on al-Majala that killed over 40 civilians, including children and pregnant women. After the attack the bodies of the women and children were indistinguishable from the livestock that died alongside them, a tribesman told him.

‘Just six days ago, this so-called war came straight to my village,’ said al-Muslimi, who was educated in the US. A reported drone strike on April 18 left farmers ‘scared and angry’ and ‘tore my heart’, he added.

The presumed target of the strike, Hamdi al Radami, could easily have been arrested, al-Muslimi claimed, challenging statements by President Obama and his new CIA chief John Brennan that targeted killings are only used as a ‘last resort’, when capture is impossible.

Accounts of the strike vary: unnamed intelligence officials said al Radami was an ‘influential al Qaeda trainer’ and founder of a local cell. Yemeni journalist Nasser al-Arabyee described the area as ‘Yemen’s Tora Bora’.

Read Farea al-Muslimi’s written testimony here

The Senate constitutional subcommittee hearing, which heard al-Muslimi’s statement, is one of a tiny number of public examinations of the drone campaign and targeted killing to date.

As public interest in the drone issue has mounted there has been increasing pressure on the government to be more open over its use of drones and its legal justifications, and President Obama has recently pledged the administration will be more transparent over targeted killings. But the government refused to send a representative to yesterday’s hearing.

Alongside al-Muslimi, the committee heard from the Pentagon’s former number two General James Cartwright, from constitutional lawyers, and from the casualty-counting organisation New America Foundation.

Witnesses all expressed reservations about the current drone programme, and several voicedconcerns at the prospect of other nations embarking on targeted killing programmes of their own.

Retired US Air Force colonel Martha McSally said oversight of targeted killing needed to be ‘tightened up’ and added: ‘There has been, I think, way too much vagueness and lack of clarity even in the information that’s come out of the chain of command relating to their legal argument and their strategy on that matter.’

But drones allowed more ‘oversight and precision’, and were more efficient than capture missions, she added, which could also risk civilian lives and took longer.

General Cartwright, the former deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee, chaired by Senator Dick Durbin, that he feared the US had ‘ceded the moral authority’ through its use of drones, while law professor Rosa Brooks warned the ‘squishy’ definition of what constitutes official armed combat meant the US’s justification for targeted killing was ‘infinitely malleable’.

The hearing follows a row between Congress and the government over the government’s initial refusal to reveal its legal justifications for targeted killing to members of the Intelligence committee, even though the committee is responsible for overseeing the CIA’s activities. The issue threatened to dominate Brennan’s nomination hearings as CIA director. Durbin indicated in yesterday’s session that further government hearings are a possibility.

Watch the full hearing here

(Read the original story here)

March 2013 - The Pakistani government releases what appears to be its own estimate of drone strike casualties. 
::
Pakistan government says ‘at least 400 civilians’ killed in drone strikes
The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.
In evidence to Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians.  This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.
The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.
The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.
The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.
Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.
In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ’The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.
The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.
‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.
Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’
Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.
Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’
A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.
‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.
Kat Craig, legal director of campaign group Reprieve, said: ‘The UN’s statement today is an unequivocal warning that the CIA drones programme is not only completely unwanted by the Pakistani government but is irrefutably illegal. More worryingly, it is shredding apart the fabric of life in Pakistan, terrorising entire communities. The special rapporteur’s job is to balance the need for counter-terrorism with the need to protect basic human rights – what he has revealed today is that this balance is far, far from being achieved.’
The Pakistani government said at least 330 strikes had taken place on its territory. The Bureau has counted 365 to date; the disparity may be because the Bureau counts missiles that hit more than an hour apart as individual strikes. We also count missiles that hit separate locations in close proximity as individual strikes, while the government may count these as a single strike.
Emmerson was asked to investigate drone strikes by the UN Human Rights Council after nations including Russia, China and Pakistan requested action at a session last June. He will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly in the autumn.
Separately, today the CIA lost a three-year Freedom of Information battle to keep information about its drone programme secret. The CIA had argued it could not release documents relating to the drone programme to the American Civil Liberties Union as even acknowledging its existence endangered national security. But a federal court ruled that since the government already acknowledges the programme, this argument will not stand.
(The original story is here)
Photo by stephendpend.

March 2013 - The Pakistani government releases what appears to be its own estimate of drone strike casualties. 

::

Pakistan government says ‘at least 400 civilians’ killed in drone strikes

The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.

In evidence to Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians.  This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.

The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.

The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.

The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.

Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.

In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ’The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’

Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.

The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.

‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.

Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’

Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.

Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’

A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.

‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.

Kat Craig, legal director of campaign group Reprieve, said: ‘The UN’s statement today is an unequivocal warning that the CIA drones programme is not only completely unwanted by the Pakistani government but is irrefutably illegal. More worryingly, it is shredding apart the fabric of life in Pakistan, terrorising entire communities. The special rapporteur’s job is to balance the need for counter-terrorism with the need to protect basic human rights – what he has revealed today is that this balance is far, far from being achieved.’

The Pakistani government said at least 330 strikes had taken place on its territory. The Bureau has counted 365 to date; the disparity may be because the Bureau counts missiles that hit more than an hour apart as individual strikes. We also count missiles that hit separate locations in close proximity as individual strikes, while the government may count these as a single strike.

Emmerson was asked to investigate drone strikes by the UN Human Rights Council after nations including Russia, China and Pakistan requested action at a session last June. He will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly in the autumn.

Separately, today the CIA lost a three-year Freedom of Information battle to keep information about its drone programme secret. The CIA had argued it could not release documents relating to the drone programme to the American Civil Liberties Union as even acknowledging its existence endangered national security. But a federal court ruled that since the government already acknowledges the programme, this argument will not stand.

(The original story is here)

Photo by stephendpend.

February 27 2013
A nine-month investigation into the 21 people who were stripped of their British citizenship under draconian, secretive powers, and what became of them. By Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this was a splash in the Independent. 
::
Former British citizens killed by drone strikes after passports revoked
The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.
Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.
They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.
At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.
Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.
Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.
The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.
Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.
‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.
‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’
Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government.
The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.
In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.

The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday - cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.
Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.
Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.
Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.
In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.
In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.
Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.
Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships, and subsequent US actions.
‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,’  Saghir Hussain told the Bureau.
Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship ‘means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.’

Campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.
‘We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,’ he said.
‘I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.’
Liberal Democrat Hughes said that while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a ‘political and constitutional limbo’.
‘There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take a citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,’ he said.
‘I’m concerned at the growing number of people who appear to have lost their right to citizenship in recent years. I plan to write to the Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee to ask for their assessment of the situation, the policy both in general and in detail, and for a review of whether the act working as intended.’
Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile’.
‘British citizens are being banished from their own country, being stripped of a core part of their identity yet without a single word of explanation of why they have been singled out and dubbed a risk,’ she said.

Families are sometimes affected by the Home Secretary’s decisions. Parents may have to choose whether their British children remain in the UK, or join their father in exile abroad.
In a case known only as L1, a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on summer holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship.
With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain.At the time of the order the children were aged eight to 13 months.The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked ‘outweighed’ the rights of the children.
Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission, said: ‘We accept that it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the Appellant’s children that he should be deprived of his British citizenship… They are British citizens, with a right of abode in the United Kingdom.


‘They are of an age when that right cannot, in practice, be enjoyed if both of their parents cannot return to the United Kingdom.’
Yet he added that Theresa May was ‘unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds’.

In another case, a man born in Newcastle in 1963 and three of his London-born sons all lost their citizenship two years ago while in Pakistan.

An expert witness told Siac, the semi-secretive court which hears deprivation appeals, that those in the family’s situation may be at risk  from the country’s government agencies and militant groups. Yet Siac recently ruled that the UK ‘owed no obligation’ to those at risk of ‘any subsequent act of the Pakistani state or of non-state actors [militant groups] in Pakistan’.
The mother, herself a naturalised British citizen, now wants to return here in the interests of her youngest son, who has developmental needs. Although 15, he is said to be ‘dependent upon [his mother and father] for emotional and practical support’. His mother claimed he ‘has no hope of education in Pakistan’. But the mother has diabetes and mobility problems that mean she ‘does not feel able to return on her own, with or without [her son].’
Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the deprivation of citizenship of the family’s father had ‘undoubtedly had an impact on the private and family life of his wife and youngest son, both of whom remain British citizens’.
But he added that the father posed such a threat to national security that the ‘unavoidable incidental impact’ on his wife and youngest son was ‘justifiable’, and dismissed the appeal.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘Citizenship is a privilege not a right. The Home Secretary has the power to remove citizenship from individuals where she considers it is conducive to the public good. An individual subject to deprivation can appeal to the courts.’
She added: ‘We don’t routinely comment on individual deprivation cases.’
Asked whether intelligence was provided to foreign governments, she said: ‘We don’t comment on intelligence issues. Drone strikes are a matter for the states concerned.’


A law unto herself: How the Home Secretary has the power to strip British citizenship
The Home Secretary has sole power to remove an individual’s British citizenship. The decision does not have to be referred through the courts.
From the moment the Home Secretary signs a deprivation of citizenship order, the individual ceases to be a British subject – their passport is cancelled, they lose the diplomatic protections Britain extends to its citizens, and they must apply for a visa to re-enter the country.
The Home Secretary can only deprive an individual of their citizenship if they are dual nationals. The power cannot be used if by removing British citizenship it renders an individual stateless.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May can use the power whenever she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’. She can act based on what she believes someone might do, rather than based on past acts.
The only way to challenge an order is through retrospective appeal. Where the deprivation is on national-security grounds, as in almost every known case, appeals go to the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).
Siac hears sensitive, intelligence-based evidence in ‘closed’ proceedings – where an individual and their legal team cannot learn the detail of the evidence against them. Instead, a special advocate – a carefully vetted barrister – challenges the government’s account.  But once they have seen the secret material they cannot speak with the defendant without the court’s permission, making cross-examination ‘pretty useless’, in the words of former special advocate Ian Macdonald.
The government has long been able to remove the citizenship of those who acquired it in cases such as treason, but the power to do so to British-born individuals was introduced after 9/11 in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This allowed the Home Secretary to strip the nationality of those who had ‘done anything seriously prejudicial’ to the country. At that point, no deprivation order had been issued since 1973.
Following the July 7 bombings, the law changed again, so citizenship could be stripped if it is deemed ‘conducive to the public good’. Conservative MPs called this a ‘watered-down test’ – but the Conservative-led coalition government has embraced the power, issuing over three times as many orders as under Labour.

February 27 2013

A nine-month investigation into the 21 people who were stripped of their British citizenship under draconian, secretive powers, and what became of them. By Chris Woods and me for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this was a splash in the Independent. 

::

Former British citizens killed by drone strikes after passports revoked

The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.

Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.

Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.

The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.

Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.

‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.

‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’

Laws were passed in 2002 enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who had done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK, but the power had rarely been used before the current government.

The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.

In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.

The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday - cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.

Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.

Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.

Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.

In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.

In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.

Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.

Sakr’s former UK solicitor said there appeared to be a link between the Home Secretary removing citizenships, and subsequent US actions.

‘It appears that the process of deprivation of citizenship made it easier for the US to then designate Sakr as an enemy combatant, to whom the UK owes no responsibility whatsoever,’  Saghir Hussain told the Bureau.

Macdonald added that depriving people of their citizenship ‘means that the British government can completely wash their hands if the security services give information to the Americans who use their drones to track someone and kill them.’

Campaign group CagePrisoners is in touch with many families of those affected. Executive director Asim Qureshi said the Bureau’s findings were deeply troubling for Britons from an ethnic minority background.

‘We all feel just as British as everybody else, and yet just because our parents came from another country, we can be subjected to an arbitrary process where we are no longer members of this country any more,’ he said.

‘I think that’s extremely dangerous because it will speak to people’s fears about how they’re viewed by their own government, especially when they come from certain areas of the world.’

Liberal Democrat Hughes said that while he accepted there were often real security concerns, he was worried that those who were innocent of Home Office charges against them and were trying to appeal risked finding themselves in a ‘political and constitutional limbo’.

‘There was clearly always a risk when the law was changed seven years ago that the executive could act to take a citizenship away in circumstances that were more frequent or more extensive than those envisaged by ministers at the time,’ he said.

‘I’m concerned at the growing number of people who appear to have lost their right to citizenship in recent years. I plan to write to the Home Secretary and the Home Affairs Select Committee to ask for their assessment of the situation, the policy both in general and in detail, and for a review of whether the act working as intended.’

Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile’.

‘British citizens are being banished from their own country, being stripped of a core part of their identity yet without a single word of explanation of why they have been singled out and dubbed a risk,’ she said.

Families are sometimes affected by the Home Secretary’s decisions. Parents may have to choose whether their British children remain in the UK, or join their father in exile abroad.

In a case known only as L1, a Sudanese-British man took his four British children on summer holiday to Sudan, along with his wife, who had limited leave to remain in the UK. Four days after his departure, Theresa May decided to strip him of his citizenship.

With their father excluded from the UK and their mother’s lack of permanent right to remain, the order effectively blocks the children from growing up in Britain.At the time of the order the children were aged eight to 13 months.The judge, despite recognising their right to be brought up in Britain, ruled that the grounds on which their father’s citizenship was revoked ‘outweighed’ the rights of the children.

Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission, said: ‘We accept that it is unlikely to be in the best interests of the Appellant’s children that he should be deprived of his British citizenship… They are British citizens, with a right of abode in the United Kingdom.

‘They are of an age when that right cannot, in practice, be enjoyed if both of their parents cannot return to the United Kingdom.’

Yet he added that Theresa May was ‘unlikely to have made that decision without substantial and plausible grounds’.

In another case, a man born in Newcastle in 1963 and three of his London-born sons all lost their citizenship two years ago while in Pakistan.

An expert witness told Siac, the semi-secretive court which hears deprivation appeals, that those in the family’s situation may be at risk  from the country’s government agencies and militant groups. Yet Siac recently ruled that the UK ‘owed no obligation’ to those at risk of ‘any subsequent act of the Pakistani state or of non-state actors [militant groups] in Pakistan’.

The mother, herself a naturalised British citizen, now wants to return here in the interests of her youngest son, who has developmental needs. Although 15, he is said to be ‘dependent upon [his mother and father] for emotional and practical support’. His mother claimed he ‘has no hope of education in Pakistan’. But the mother has diabetes and mobility problems that mean she ‘does not feel able to return on her own, with or without [her son].’

Mr Justice Mitting ruled that the deprivation of citizenship of the family’s father had ‘undoubtedly had an impact on the private and family life of his wife and youngest son, both of whom remain British citizens’.

But he added that the father posed such a threat to national security that the ‘unavoidable incidental impact’ on his wife and youngest son was ‘justifiable’, and dismissed the appeal.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘Citizenship is a privilege not a right. The Home Secretary has the power to remove citizenship from individuals where she considers it is conducive to the public good. An individual subject to deprivation can appeal to the courts.’

She added: ‘We don’t routinely comment on individual deprivation cases.’

Asked whether intelligence was provided to foreign governments, she said: ‘We don’t comment on intelligence issues. Drone strikes are a matter for the states concerned.’


A law unto herself: How the Home Secretary has the power to strip British citizenship

The Home Secretary has sole power to remove an individual’s British citizenship. The decision does not have to be referred through the courts.

From the moment the Home Secretary signs a deprivation of citizenship order, the individual ceases to be a British subject – their passport is cancelled, they lose the diplomatic protections Britain extends to its citizens, and they must apply for a visa to re-enter the country.

The Home Secretary can only deprive an individual of their citizenship if they are dual nationals. The power cannot be used if by removing British citizenship it renders an individual stateless.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May can use the power whenever she deems it ‘conducive to the public good’. She can act based on what she believes someone might do, rather than based on past acts.

The only way to challenge an order is through retrospective appeal. Where the deprivation is on national-security grounds, as in almost every known case, appeals go to the semi-secret Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).

Siac hears sensitive, intelligence-based evidence in ‘closed’ proceedings – where an individual and their legal team cannot learn the detail of the evidence against them. Instead, a special advocate – a carefully vetted barrister – challenges the government’s account.  But once they have seen the secret material they cannot speak with the defendant without the court’s permission, making cross-examination ‘pretty useless’, in the words of former special advocate Ian Macdonald.

The government has long been able to remove the citizenship of those who acquired it in cases such as treason, but the power to do so to British-born individuals was introduced after 9/11 in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This allowed the Home Secretary to strip the nationality of those who had ‘done anything seriously prejudicial’ to the country. At that point, no deprivation order had been issued since 1973.

Following the July 7 bombings, the law changed again, so citizenship could be stripped if it is deemed ‘conducive to the public good’. Conservative MPs called this a ‘watered-down test’ – but the Conservative-led coalition government has embraced the power, issuing over three times as many orders as under Labour.

About:

I'm a reporter and editor based in London. I run the drones project at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit news organisation. This site is a selection of my work, both for the Bureau and others.

Say hello by emailing alice { at } alicerosswrites.com.

Or subject yourself to all the sloth pictures and snarky comments about politics you can handle by following me on Twitter: @aliceross_