Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Prime Minister sought or received any advice on whether remote operations such as drone strikes against non-combatants or in non-declared conflicts are compatible with international law?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
The above exchange occurred during Wednesday’s Question Time. What this means is that the United States military sent a drone into Yemen (a country that the US is not at war with), executed a target by missile without trial, and in the process of that execution killed a New Zealander – but the New Zealand government is not even remotely interested about whether the US actions comply with international law.
I’ve previously written about this issue in my post “Extra-judicial murder“, noting that the very least our government should have done is ask the US whether a credible threat existed when the drone missile was fired.
John Key is comfortable in his ignorance. He’s said time and time again that he believes most New Zealanders will have no qualms about the US’s murder of New Zealander, Daryl Jones (aka Muslim bin John, aka Abu Suhaib al-Australi), as Mr Jones / bin John / al-Australi “put himself in harm’s way”. Mr Key is probably correct; most New Zealanders probably don’t give two hoots about the manner of Mr Jones’ demise. But that’s not the issue – some things are more important than a glib assertion regarding what the voting majority care about.
In this country, we don’t take people behind the chemical sheds and shoot them, simply because we don’t like their belief system and the company they keep.
Look at what Mr Key says in a report from stuff.co.nz:
Key disagrees with critics who say drone killings are execution without trial, in which ordinary people are massacred.
“For the most part drone strikes have been an effective way of prosecuting people that are legitimate targets,” he said this morning.
“But there are examples of where things have gone wrong and there are always examples, sadly … where things go terribly wrong and where civilians are killed.”
“An effective way of prosecuting people”? Prosecuting? There is no charge laid. There is no prosecution case put forward in open court. There is no opportunity for a defence to be offered. There is simply a missile launched, from behind the safety of a computer screen in another country, against a person who opposes America’s interests; against a person who is not an enemy combatant and who is not even in a war zone.
And when a New Zealander ends up as the collateral damage of a drone strike, our government doesn’t even ask questions. Daryl Jones wasn’t the target of the strike that killed him. The US doesn’t appear to have made out any case for Mr Jones providing a credible threat to US security. He was therefore a civilian casualty, in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging with the wrong crowd.
But our government doesn’t want to ask questions. Ignorance is bliss.