Exclusive: I Can Reveal the Legal Advice on Drone Strikes, and How the Establishment Works 364

This may be the most important article I ever post, because it reveals perfectly how the Establishment works and how the Red Tories and Blue Tories contrive to give a false impression of democracy. It is information I can only give you because of my experience as an insider.

It is a definitive proof of the validity of the Chomskian propaganda model. It needs a fair bit of detail to do this, but please try and read through it because it really is very, very important. After you have finished, if you agree with me about the significance, please repost, (you are free to copy), retweet, add to news aggregators (Reddit etc) and do anything you can to get other people to pay attention.

The government based its decision to execute by drone two British men in Syria on “Legal Opinion” from the Attorney-General for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright, a politician, MP and Cabinet Minister. But Wright’s legal knowledge comes from an undistinguished first degree from Exeter and a short career as a criminal defence barrister in Birmingham. His knowledge of public international law is virtually nil.

I pause briefly to note that there is no pretence of consulting the Scottish legal system. The only legal opinion is from the Attorney General for England and Wales who is also Honorary Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

So Jeremy Wright’s role is as a cypher. He performs a charade. The government employs in the FCO a dozen of the most distinguished public international lawyers in the world. When the Attorney-General’s office needs an Opinion on public international law, they ask the FCO to provide it for him to sign.

The only known occasion when this did not happen was the Iraq War. Then the FCO Legal Advisers – unanimously – advised the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, that to invade Iraq was illegal. Jack Straw asked the Attorney General to dismiss the FCO chief Legal Adviser, Sir Michael Wood (Goldsmith refused). Blair sent Goldsmith to Washington where the Opinion was written for him to sign by George Bush’s lawyers. [I know this sounds incredible, but it is absolutely true]. Sir Michael Wood’s deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, resigned in protest.

In consequence Blair and Straw decided that, again for the first time ever, the FCO’s chief legal adviser had to be appointed not from within the FCO legal advisers, who had all declared the war on Iraq to be illegal, but from outside. They had to find a distinguished public international lawyer who was prepared to argue that the war on Iraq had been legal. That was a very small field. Blair and Straw thus turned to Benjamin Netanyahu’s favourite lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.

Daniel Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defence. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal. Daniel Bethlehem is an extreme Zionist militarist of the most aggressive kind, and close to Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK.

Daniel Bethlehem had developed, in his work for Israel, an extremist doctrine of the right of States to use pre-emptive self-defence – a doctrine which would not be accepted by the vast majority of public international lawyers. He clinched his appointment by Blair as the FCO chief legal adviser by presenting a memorandum to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in 2004 outlining this doctrine, and thus de facto defending the attack on Iraq and the Bush/Blair doctrine.

A key sentence of Daniel Bethlehem’s memorandum is this

“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.”

There is a fundamental flaw in this argument. How can you be certain that an attack in “imminent”, if you are not certain where or what it is? Even if we can wildly imagine a scenario where the government know of an “imminent” attack, but not where or what it is, how could killing someone in Syria stop the attack in the UK? If a team were active, armed and in course of operation in the UK – which is needed for “imminent” – how would killing an individual in Syria prevent them from going through with it? It simply does not add up as a practical scenario.

Interestingly, Daniel Bethlehem does not pretend this is accepted international law, but specifically states that

“The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats”

Bethlehem is attempting to develop the concept of “imminent” beyond any natural interpretation of the word “imminent”.

Daniel Bethlehem left the FCO in 2011. But he had firmly set the British government doctrine on this issue, while all FCO legal advisers know not to follow it gets you sacked. I can guarantee you that Wright’s Legal Opinion states precisely the same argument that David Bethlehem stated in his 2004 memorandum. Knowing how these things work, I am prepared to wager every penny I own that much of the language is identical.

It was New Labour, the Red Tories, who appointed Daniel Bethlehem, and they appointed him precisely in order to establish this doctrine. It is therefore a stunning illustration of how the system works, that the only response of the official “opposition” to these extrajudicial executions is to demand to see the Legal Opinion, when it comes from the man they themselves appointed. The Red Tories appointed him precisely because they knew what Legal Opinion would be given on this specific subject. They can read it in Hansard.

So it is all a charade.

Jeremy Wright pretends to give a Legal Opinion, actually from FCO legal advisers based on the “Bethlehem Doctrine”. The Labour Party pretends, very unconvincingly, to be an opposition. The Guardian, apparently the leading “opposition” intellectual paper, publishes articles by its staff neo-con propagandists Joshua Rozenberg (married to Melanie Phillips) and Rafael Behr strongly supporting the government’s new powers of extrajudicial execution. In summer 2012 Joshua Rozenberg presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Secret courts, drones and international law” which consisted mostly of a fawning interview with … Daniel Bethlehem. The BBC and Sky News give us wall to wall justification of the killings.

So the state, with its neo-con “opposition” and media closely in step with its neo-con government, seamlessly adopts a new power to kill its own subjects based on secret intelligence and secret legal advice, and a very weird definition of “imminent” that even its author admits to be outside current legal understanding.

That is how the state works. I do hope you find that helpful.

This article has been updated to reflect the fact the Daniel Bethlehem is now retired from the FCO.

364 thoughts on “Exclusive: I Can Reveal the Legal Advice on Drone Strikes, and How the Establishment Works

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  • dadsarmy

    “I pause briefly to note that there is no pretence of consulting the Scottish legal system. The only legal opinion is from the Attorney General for England and Wales who is also Honorary Advocate General for Northern Ireland.”

    This is a Government i.e. political appointment from their own ranks, as is the Advocate General for Scotland. In theory the Scotland AG would have rubberstamped this but in real life Keen was a practicing QC, and dean of the Faculty of Advocates. It would have been interesting to see his opinion.

  • Blair paterson

    It just proves that America and Britain are being ruled by Israel even the dogs in the street know it ! Democrisey and truth lie buried in an unmarked grave.

  • Mary

    I said earlier ‘Wow! Strong stuff. Thank you Craig’

    and repeat the link to Craig’s post in 2013.

    The Appalling Sir Daniel Bethlehem
    Feb 14th 2013

    This is Sir Daniel Bethlehem, a man who is to me an embodiment of the appalling moral vacuum at the heart of the British establishment. Sir Daniel in a public international lawyer who has specialised in Middle Eastern issues, and has always found it to be his genuine and considered legal opinion that the law […]

    The photo shows him being knighted by P Anne.

    Bethlehem’s extensive CV on his Chambers’ website (not a modest chap) says:Joined the Board of Palantir Technologies UK Ltd., November 2013

    The main outfit – ‘Palantir Technologies, Inc. is a private American software and services company, specializing in data analysis. Founded in 2004, Palantir’s original clients were federal agencies of the United States Intelligence Community. It has since expanded its customer base to serve state and local governments, as well as private companies in the financial and healthcare industries. The company is known for two software projects in particular: Palantir Gotham is used by counter-terrorism analysts at offices in the United States Intelligence Community and United States Department of Defense, fraud investigators at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and cyber analysts at Information Warfare Monitor (responsible for the GhostNet and the Shadow Network investigation). Palantir Metropolis is used by hedge funds, banks, and financial services firms.’

    The UK version has a Dr Karp and Bethlehem as directors.

  • Herbie

    Even The Daily Mail feels the legality is dubious.

    They also focus on the term “imminent”.


    Their readers don’t do law and nuance. The matter is simple for them. Black and white.

    They’ll be delighted however that Pakistan, India, China, Russia etc may well use this precedent in their own interests.


    Loads and loads of killing and chaos to keep us all entertained until it’s our turn.

  • savior_cinco


    I can kind of see why you’re labouring the point, the motion ends:

    “”Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.”

    Your logic seems to be, “Because the resolution was rejected, that means that the UKG wasn’t bound by this final point, and could therefore act against ISIS within Syria…”

    So, legal or not, the drone strike doesn’t contravene the will of Parliament as it wasn’t undertaken to deter use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.

    Given that humanitarian intervention was rejected as a reason to initiate military action, the UKG has simply returned with another rationale, that of ISIS in Syria posing a national security threat to the UK. Military action has already begun, and now the new narrative is being rolled out as a fait accompli to the public.

    It seems that there are two objectives in play. The first remains, to topple Assad, and in achieving that objective, ISIS are useful, both as a reason to intervene, and because they fight the Assad regime and generate the refugees that will continue to focus public attention on ‘solving’ the Syrian question. Their atrocities also help keep the issue of Syria burning in the media.

    But, there is a second objective, and that is to contain the threat to the UK of ISIS, and particularly that of British-based fighters who may help plan attacks on the UK or return to carry out attacks themselves (or just to recruit more muslims to their cause). The drone strikes are to tackle this problem. Even if one is totally opposed to UKG involvement in the geopolitics of toppling Assad, there’s still the possibility of taking the view that hitting UK jihadis with drones isn’t such a bad thing. Given the amount of personal sacrifice needed to go and join up with ISIS in Syria, it’s not hard to make the argument that such individuals have deliberately made themselves enemies of the UK. While Theresa May wanted to strip away residency status, it appears drones offer a faster solution, with the added bonus of shifting newspapers and increasing Tory poll ratings.

    Lastly, it wouldn’t surprise me if many UK muslim parents come out in favour of these drone strikes for the potential deterrent they offer to young UK muslims tempted to go out and join the fight in Syria.

  • Mick McNulty

    I wonder if this was at the insistence of the US. Although drone strikes are no longer new the concept of drone warfare still is and we have some way to go to until drone warfare has been fully developed. Likely the US will expect drone strikes in all western countries too, just as it launches them against its allies Pakistan and Yemen. When it becomes a common event domestic governments will claim responsibility for drone strikes which the US and Israel will insist they carry out. If that happens, and I don’t see our politicians having the spine to stand up against it, we will have lost our sovereignty to two rogue nations.

  • Habbabkuk (la vita e' bella)


    “I wonder if they realise that they have legitimised their own executions.”


    That’s a fine soundbite but can you be more explicit?

    Who are the “they”, who is likely to be doing the “executing” and are you using the word “legitimised” as a synonym for “deserved”?

    Be very careful how you answer. If you dare answer.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    ‘Daniel Bethlehem’, religious fanatic, warmonger…. Jesus wept. Before now, I’d never heard of this bastard.

    Brilliant expose, Craig. Great comments, in the thread too. Eddie-g, at 5:55pm, yes, my thought too – that’s what happened with the USA’s use of drones too, it became a diversion from the real issue.

  • Tony_0pmoc


    Whilst you are correct, like computers and mobile phones, drones are an incredibly interesting and rapidly advancing state of technology. Whilst my brothers and I flew remote controlled model aircraft in the 1960’s – and they kept crashing, I built my own drone with bits from China about 3 or 4 years ago – and my Son and I eventually got it to work – for the purposes of aerial photography. Since then – just cos – he’s like that – he upgraded it with the very latest available computer technology – well computer GPS etc control boards – about £80 – again direct from China. All amateur stuff – even the coding – available for free on the internet. This stuff works – and is very stable to within a few feet – probably even more accurate than your in-car sat nav. Of course it is only fairly small – and limited to maybe 10-15 minutes on battery power – but the model works for less than £500 in bits.

    Exactly how Big Does Your Government (US/UK) want its drones to be? And How Small Can The Chinese make there’s – and how the hell can anyone stop this technology? They can’t.

    Glad I was born when I was – and had the most basic instruments when I went gliding (for real) in the 1970’s.


  • Ishmael

    Blair paterson..”It just proves that America and Britain are being ruled by Israel even the dogs in the street know it !”

    Nonsense, the above describes the machinations of our state, these things they choose to do, and the people they choose to help them do it.

    “Democracy* and truth lie buried in an unmarked grave.”

    Often, but not always. As i’m sure your namesake laments.

  • RobG

    In a previous post, ‘Operation Flavius and the Killer Cameron’, Craig mentions the three IRA members who were shot dead in Gibraltar by the SAS 20 years ago, and how the European Court of Human Rights found it an illegal action. Once you get away from the legal side of things there are big differences between then and now: the public reaction to the extra-judicial killings of Reyaad Khan and two others has been carefully prepared by the media for months now. As some folks pointed out in the other thread, the media were filled with reports that Khan had been killed back in July…


    … and you can go back further than that to find reports of Khan going to Syria to join ISIS.

    Then the media were filled with totally hyped-up reports about an attempt to ‘blow-up the Queen and members of the royal family’ at last month’s VJ Day ceremonies in London…


    Cameron referred to this supposed plot in his speech to Parliament on Monday, when announcing that Khan & Co had been taken out by an RAF drone; and now the media are filled with reports about ‘kill lists’, and how there’s going to be more assassinations by drone, and it’s all apparently perfectly normal; and today of course we’re having to suffer all this tosh about Queenypoo’s longest serving reign, with wall to wall coverage, and barely any comment about Cameron’s quite startling announcement.

    There’s really nothing new about the British government carrying out extra-judicial killings. What I find absolutely chilling about the Reyaad Khan stuff is the way the ‘entire’ media and the government have worked hand in hand to further an agenda, and how the prime minister was quite confident to stand up in public and announce that he had gone against the wishes of parliament, and against international law. Craig’s quite shocking post here shows amongst other things that democracy is dead in this country.

    I really do think we are now at Britain’s darkest hour.

  • John Goss

    Why under international law is Cameron allowed to gloat over his murder of British subjects? Are we not signatories of the ICC?


    Why is the ICC not taking action against David Cameron? Is there such a thing as international law? Criminals like Blair, Cameron and Netanyahu should all be behind bars. Only Malaysia has deemed Blair a war-criminal (in his absence). Since then Malaysia has lost more passenger aircraft in international incidents. Is there a connection? You try war-criminals, rightly find them guilty, but they are not imprisoned. They are, as your article suggests, above the law. That is criminal!

  • fred

    “I can’t believe Fred is actually trying to defend the UK on this.”

    Not defending anyone it’s a simple matter of law. As who had done the killing, as what was on their birth certificate, as which side of a line on a map they were and whether done with a plane with a pilot or without I maintain that to kill an armed combatant in a designated war zone is not illegal under international law.

  • fred

    “Your logic seems to be, “Because the resolution was rejected, that means that the UKG wasn’t bound by this final point, and could therefore act against ISIS within Syria…”

    That and that even if the UK parliament had voted against a resolution preventing armed action in Syria it would be a domestic matter not illegal under international law.

  • Mary

    Not a peep on the news channels about this protest.

    Hundreds of pro-Palestinian Demonstrators Protest Netanyahu’s Arrival in London
    Seven arrested at rival anti- and pro-Israel protests; Labour MPs: ‘Netanyahu must bear responsibility for war crimes identified by the UN human rights council.’
    Sep 09, 2015 7:28 PM

  • Jives

    Let us not forget this especially strange and deeply troubling statement by Cameron just after the general election:

    ” Even if you’re doing nothing wrong doesn’t mean the State will leave you alone..”

    Im still trying to digest this breathtakingly sinister statement.

    Where and when did Cameron achieve this mandate and power??

    I think Cameron’s got God Disease.

    Bloody chancer.

  • Herbie


    The UK govt cites Article 51 of the United Nations charter as a defence to their action.

    You seem to be claiming that they’ve a right to this action under some other law.

    What is it?

    And why did the British govt cite Art 51, if your defence was available to them?

  • Tony_0pmoc

    Vronsky understands where this could possibly be heading, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people on this planet, want to live in Peace. We want to find Real Technical Solutions For The Advancement of Humankind. We want to solve our problems – Not Kill The Evil Bastards – cos That Just ends Up With Them Killing Us…War War War and More War…

    It makes what is left of life on this planet a Living Hell – When Our Planet Should Be and Can Be Paradise…

    There is Psychology and Mass Brainwashing – Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World…

    Nuclear Bombs and Spoilt Children who think They Have a Clue – and Call themselves Leaders of The Free World??????

    I don’t make such decisions, because I don’t want to kill.

    I just want to Bring The Evil Bastards To Trial in a Court of Law – and Prosecute Them For Their War Crimes Against Humanity.

    If We Lose The Rule of Law and Basic Morality – Then We are All In Hell.

    It’s Almost Like a Clint Eastwood Film.

    Yet it is Real and Now.

    “Dirty Harry Do You ( I ) Feel Lucky Punk?”


    Have a Nice Day,


  • Gary Rudd

    What would the situation be were the third victim found to be a hostage of the other two and a foreign national of, say Germany? What would the legal position be then?

  • fred

    “The UK govt cites Article 51 of the United Nations charter as a defence to their action.”

    Yes they would be covered by Article 51, they were engaged in defence collectively with the Iraqis and Kurds and possibly even Syrians against armed attackers. They have been for some time. If it was legal under international law in Iraq it is legal under international law in Syria.

  • Republicofscotland

    Hans Corell, a senior legal counsel at the UN who is writing a report on the use of drones, also expressed misgivings about carrying out lethal attacks by drones outside open warfare.

    While stating that he could not comment on the specific Syrian attack, he said: “The moment you start using drones outside a battlefield that is a problem.

    If you go outside a battlefield and identify a terrorist suspect and fire a missile to kill someone, I’m concerned that can be murder.”

    In a scathing critique of the military operation over the city of Raqqa last month, Prof Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the attack was of great concern.

    Heyns, who is also a law professor at the University of Pretoria, told the Guardian: “An important threshold is being crossed.

    Some UN officals definitely don’t appear comfortable with the actions of the British government.


  • Ishmael

    “I think Cameron’s got God Disease.

    Bloody chancer.”

    I think they imagine they can create a new feudal order, A ‘return to brutality in our times’..They are certainly the leading edje of this ‘development’. Cameron has his heart set on lordship doesn’t he?, overseeing his peasant population…Constantly monitored at all times.

    All the parts are in place, they just await the opportunity to shut borders, expand the police state to it’s logical outcome. Judge dreads or something. Democracy is closed for your own good. I imagine he’d do it if he though he could. Hell, I believe he’d march the poor into the gas chambers if there was no consequence. “over population problem” come on were all in this together, you must do your bit, deep breath…

  • Robert Smith "Ereens" Vance

    eddie-g 5:55 +100. Scott Olsen, no drones. Barry Seal, no drones. Martin Luther King, no drones. Ibragim Todashev, no drones. David Kelly, no drones.

    But the propaganda fixation on drones comes from media coverage rather than this post, which makes it clear that the pretext of preemptive security covers everything from the crime of aggression to the traditional mafia rub-outs of the CIA. The issue is official murder, as it has been in customary international law since UNGA Res 35/172, UN Res 36/22 of November 9 1981, UNHCR Res. 1982/29 and ECOSOC Res. 1982/35. The work of the cognizant special rapporteur reflects the broader issue with work on all sorts of murder weapons.


    What has changed is recognition that official murder in the US and UK has a dual purpose. It serves to suppress dissent and justify further repression; but most official murders are carried out as OPSEC measures. Barry Seal’s execution is a topical case in point. The CIA regime of the Western bloc could not exist without impunity for murder.

  • Mary

    The judge here stuck to a point of law and acquitted the protesters. The question of whether the Trident submarines are lawful or not was cleverly avoided.

    Trident Devonport Naval Base protest pair acquitted of aggravated trespass
    8 September 2015

    ‘Campaigners gathered outside Plymouth’s Magistrates’ Court ahead of the trial of two anti-nuclear protestors who chained themselves to a car outside a naval base.

    Two anti-nuclear campaigners who chained themselves to a car outside a naval base during a protest have been acquitted of aggravated trespass.’

    ‘Miss Clark, from Bridgwater, and Mr Simon, from Shepton Mallet, said they were disappointed the case had not clarified the legality of the Trident programme, which they had been protesting against.

    Miss Clark said she was “intrigued” by the decision: “I’m really relieved to have been acquitted, but I think the lawfulness of Trident is still as up for question as it was yesterday.”‘


  • Fwlster

    Thanks Craig that is an interesting insight and I had not heard of Daniel Bethlehem before.

    What is Public International law? Is it not the case that its all a big sham that the majority of the 100+ wars since WWII have been unlawful under most Public International law tests of what is a lawful war.

    What tends to happen is that super powers have a think about if its worth making serious noise about the illegal wars of the other, or just making some noise and doing the same.

    Smaller powers also think whats in it for me I object or acquiesce.

    Small powers carrying out illegal wars are of course fair game for sanction. That is how we know what is right and what is wrong.

    Maybe we as individuals are like mini versions of the weaker powers wondering whats in it for me if I object or acquiesce. If we see a benefit we take a side, but otherwise we shut up. Is it not quintessential foolishness to do otherwise………..yet is this not what religions in essence suggest we do i.e. that we do not put our self first. We don’t like to hear this because usually it reeks of hyprocisy. If its not hypocritical it is usually quiet and doing stuff not talking.

    There is also an irony it seems to me in the fact that Israel appears (though I may be wrong) so much more competent than the UK and USA in carrying out surgical pre-emptive strikes and also when it does so it makes no comment. I don’t know many facts and so may be painting an inaccurate picture but I compare Israel’s one day single event attack taking out a Syrian military installation (pre civil war) with UK and US intervention in Iraq, although perhaps it might be said that the pre-civil war attack was part of a set up and not a single event. But it is noticeable that Israel restrains from boasting about its attacks.

  • Fwlster

    Part heard a retired colonel (I think but missed the start) on Today programme this morning making the good point (one of several he made) that the alleged imminent event was in the past at the time of the recent drone extra judicial killing.

  • Pan


    “Not a peep on the news channels about this protest.”

    Hundreds of pro-Palestinian Demonstrators Protest Netanyahu’s Arrival in London”

    It’s on RT. (And the London arms fair protests.)

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