UK must come clean on whether GCHQ supports CIA drone strikes

June 26, 2013

Image of drones

Speaking in Los Angeles yesterday, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said about the UK’s policy on intelligence-sharing with the United States: “We operate under the rule of law and are accountable for it. In some countries secret intelligence is used to control their people. In ours, it only exists to protect their freedoms.”

His comments come as the UK government is locked in a battle to avoid revealing what GCHQ’s policy is on providing intelligence to support CIA drone strikes.Commenting on Mr Hague’s speech, Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director and attorney, said: 

“Mr Hague says secret intelligence protects the freedoms of Britons – but is apparently happy for UK intelligence to strip the freedoms (and lives) of Pakistani and Yemeni victims of secret wars. Reprieve’s client Noor Khan, who lost hisfather and over 40 others in a botched drone strike, would find this claimlaughable. He has tried to get the UK to explain how sharing GCHQ spy data withthe US to drone Pakistani villages is not illegal – so far in vain.

The UK government has fought tooth and nail in his case to keep judges from considering their role in supporting US drone strikes. Is this what you calltransparency?” Although there have been reports that GCHQ supports the CIA’s covert drone programme in Pakistan, the Government has refused to either confirm or deny what its policy is.

A judicial review of British Government policy has been brought by Noor Khan,from North Waziristan, whose father was killed in a 2011 strike on a civilian meeting. However, ministers continue to fight the case, although it seeks only to clarify what the Government’s policy is on supporting drone strikes, and whether that policy is legal.A recent decision by the Peshawar High Court (PHC) in Pakistan declared the CIA’s drone campaign to be a war crime, and ordered the Pakistani Government to take steps to put an end to it.

By sharing intelligence in support of the campaign, GCHQ may have broken both domestic and international law.Mr Hague’s speech comes as Reprieve has launched a parody video to highlight the issue of drones, in which “President Obama” adopts the so-called Shaggy Defence – just say it wasn’t you – against charges he has killed thousands of people in illegal drone strikes around the world. The video – from human rights charity Reprieve and Lush Cosmetics, and produced by Don’t Panic London – premiered last night at an event at the Soho Hotel. Parodying Shaggy’s 2001 hit ‘It Wasn’t Me’. Featuring “President Obama”, “Shaggy” and “a drone”, the video is intended to raise awareness of Obama’s ongoing illegal drones programme in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – all countries with which the US is not at war.