GCHQ staff could be at risk of prosecution for war crimes
CIVILIAN staff at GCHQ could be at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes, human rights lawyers have warned.
A charity and law firm is taking action against the British government, accusing it of passing on intelligence to assist US covert drone attacks in Pakistan.
The Observer and Associate Press both reported that the move could see workers at the Cheltenham spy base liable as "secondary parties to murder" stating any UK guidance allowing the passing of information to the CIA for use in the strikes was unlawful.
Law firm Leigh Day & Co and the legal action charity Reprieve are launching the action against foreign secretary William Hague.
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They are working on behalf of Noor Khan, whose father Malik Daud Khan was killed in a strike in Pakistan last year while presiding over a peaceful council of tribal elders.
The attack in March 2011 killed more than 40 other people, along with 27-year-old Noor Khan's father.
Reports have quoted GCHQ sources justifying the forwarding of intelligence to the US, and saying it is in "strict accordance" with the law, a claim contested by lawyers.
According to legal papers only individuals entitled to immunity from ordinary criminal law are considered under international law as "lawful combatants".
However, Richard Stein, the head of human rights at Leigh Day & Co, said some of the 5,000 staff at GCHQ are civilians and not combatants.
He told the Observer: "We believe there is credible, unchallenged evidence that the secretary of state is operating a policy of passing intelligence to officials or agents of the US government; and that he considers such a policy to be "in strict accordance" with the law.
"If this is the case, the secretary of state has misunderstood one or more of the principles of international law governing immunity for those involved in armed attacks on behalf of a state and/or the lawfulness of such attacks; and his policy, if implemented, involves the commission of serious criminal offences by employees of GCHQ or by other officials or agents of the UK government in the UK."
The law firm disputed that, saying GCHQ staff might be guilty of war crimes by passing detailed intelligence to a drone program that violates international humanitarian law.
Reprieve wants the British government to be more transparent about their role in the strikes, if it did indeed play one.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal action charity Reprieve, added: "What has the government got to hide? If they're not supplying information as part of the CIA's illegal drone war, why not tell us? And if they are, they need to come clean."
GCHQ said it was unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings or intelligence matters.
British officials have never commented publicly on the drones. Leigh Day & Co did not detail what evidence it has proving Britain's alleged role in the drone program, but cited media reports that quoted an anonymous GCHQ source as saying gave assistance to the US authorities in accordance with the law.