New GCHQ chief must halt UK role in covert US drone strikes – Reprieve comment

March 20, 2017

Image of GCHQ

Britain’s Foreign Office has today announced that Jeremy Fleming will take over GCHQ, the UK intelligence gathering agency that has been directly implicated in assisting covert US drone strikes in places like Yemen.

Secret US drone strikes have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children.

Last year, an investigation by The Intercept showed that some of the aspects of the US programme of covert strikes in Yemen – including the location of targets – had been “tasked by several offices at . . . GCHQ”.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has expressed concern about potential UK complicity in the US drone programme, and urged the Government to “clarify” its understanding of the legal basis for such support.

Otherwise, the committee has warned, it could potentially be putting “UK personnel who have a role in assisting or facilitating the use of lethal force by coalition allies, such as the US” at risk of “criminal prosecution for complicity in murder”.

President Trump has faced criticism over his covert drone policy, after a US raid on a Yemeni village in January 2017 killed at least 23 civilians.

International human rights organization Reprieve has found that among the civilian dead from the raid were a newborn baby, an eight year old girl, and an 80-year-old tribal elder.

Reprieve has written to Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, asking for information about any UK involvement in the raid, and in future covert operations under President Trump.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, Drones and Kill List Project Lead at Reprieve, said:

“The new head of GCHQ must come clean over UK involvement in covert US drone strikes. Parliament has raised serious concerns that UK intelligence feeds into US assassinations without charge or trial. It is now more urgent than ever. President Trump is loosening the rules of engagement for covert operations around the world – with his debut raid in Yemen killing at least 23 civilians and his decision to once again involve the CIA in its covert killing programme. Fleming must immediately clarify what role the UK has in covert US drone strikes, and the legal basis underpinning that involvement, before more innocent people are killed.”


Notes to Editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140.

2. Research by Reprieve has found that secret attacks by the US in countries including Yemen have frequently missed their target. For example, past US attempts to target 41 named individuals led to the deaths of 1,147 unknown people – often leaving the ‘target’ unharmed.

3. A copy of Reprieve’s letter to Theresa May is available here.

4. The Joint Committee on Human Rights published the findings of its inquiry into The Government’s Policy on the Use of Drones for Targeted Killing in April 2016.