Fallon refuses to say whether US and UK drone programmes “the same”

December 16, 2015

Image of a drone flying

The UK Defence Secretary today refused to answer questions from Members of Parliament on whether there were any differences between the US’ long-running covert drone programme, and the UK’s own targeted killing programme, announced by the Prime Minister as a “new departure” earlier this year.

For over a decade, the CIA and the US’ secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have been using unmanned aircraft to carry out ‘targeted killings’ in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the US is not at war, as part of a global ‘war on terror’ without boundaries.

Announcing the UK’s “new departure” on drones on 7 September this year, David Cameron said that a “targeted strike” had been carried out in “a country where we are not involved in a war,” and admitted that this was “the first time in modern times” that this had happened.  He suggested that there would be no geographical limit to such activity, claiming that he would “be prepared to take that action…whether the threat is emanating from Libya, from Syria or anywhere else.”

Today, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was asked by the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), Harriet Harman, “can you just say as a matter of fact comparing the two [the US and UK drone policies], where you think the differences are, or if they’re the same?”  Mr Fallon replied “I don’t want to draw comparisons between our policy and their policy.”

The US drone programme has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and has been widely criticised by senior US military figures: General Michael Flynn, former head of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, has described it as a “failed strategy,” while  General Stanley McChrystal has warned it creates “resentment” towards “American arrogance.”

Commenting, Kat Craig, legal director at international human rights organisation Reprieve, which has investigated civilian casualties caused by the US programme and is assisting MPs seeking clarification of the new UK ‘Kill Policy’ said: “This appearance raised more questions about the UK’s new ‘Kill Policy’ than it answered. It is hardly surprising Mr Fallon was so reluctant to answer this question, when the UK policy is in effect a carbon copy of the US drone programme.  Both are highly secretive, legally dubious, and subject to almost zero accountability either by politicians or the courts.  It is bewildering that the UK is following the US lead on a programme which even senior US military figures have described as a ‘failed strategy’ which has not made us safer.  At the very least, Mr Fallon should come clean with the public that this is the way the UK Government is headed, so we can have a real debate.”


Notes to editors

  1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: info@reprieve.org.uk / +44 7791 755 415
  1. The full exchange took place at around 15:40 GMT, and can be viewed here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/2aedf735-a4d4-4a65-8d39-a128aad99df9 A transcript of the exchange is as follows:

Harriet Harman: Could you tell us whether or not you think that the policy that we have is different from the policy that the Americans have, and if so how?

Michael Fallon: Well, I don’t really want to comment on the approaches other states take, but yes I think you would find that each state, each country probably may have a marginally different policy in terms of their rules of engagement for example, or in terms of the accountability of their government to their legislature, so it might well be different in each case, but I don’t want to particularly comment on what the United States does.

HH: […] But obviously you know what the American policy is, because they’ve actually published it, so that’s a question of fact, and obviously you know what our policy is, because you’re the secretary of state for defence, so can you just say as a matter of fact comparing the two, where you think the differences are, or if they’re the same.

MF: I don’t want to draw comparisons between our policy and their policy.