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New GCHQ Chief Must Clarify UK's Role in Covert US Drone Strikes - Reprieve

© REUTERS / Ben BirchallPeople sit at computers in the 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, November 17, 2015.
People sit at computers in the 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, November 17, 2015. - Sputnik International
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International human rights organization Reprieve has said the new GCHQ chief must halt the UK's role in covert US drone strikes.

The British Foreign Office announced on Tuesday, March 21 that Jeremy Fleming will take over GHCQ, the UK's intelligence gathering agency, which has been directly implicated in assisting covert US drone strikes in war zones such as Yemen.

Jennifer Gibson, the Drones and Kill List Project Lead at human rights group Reprieve said that Fleming should clarify the UK's role in a covert raid in the Yemeni village of Yakla in January that is believed to have killed 23 civilians.

"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," Gibson said.

"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 program."

"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."

Reprieve said they found that among the civilians killed in the botched attack, was a newborn baby, an eight-year-old girl, and an 80-year-old tribal elder.

© AP PhotoIn this February 3, 2017 frame grab from video, residents inspect a house that was damaged during a January 29, 2017 US raid on the tiny village of Yakla, in central Yemen.
In this February 3, 2017 frame grab from video, residents inspect a house that was damaged during a January 29, 2017 US raid on the tiny village of Yakla, in central Yemen. - Sputnik International
In this February 3, 2017 frame grab from video, residents inspect a house that was damaged during a January 29, 2017 US raid on the tiny village of Yakla, in central Yemen.

One US Navy Seal was also killed in the bombing.

In May 2016, the parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) warned that the UK's potential involvement with US drone strikes could put British personnel in danger of being charged for complicity with murder.

"We owe it to all those involved in the chain of command for such uses of lethal force to provide them with absolute clarity about the circumstances in which they will have a defense against any possible future criminal prosecution, including those which might originate from outside the UK," said the JCHR report, titled, The Government's policy on the use of drones for targeted killing.

The US Air Force fighter jets - Sputnik International
US Warplanes Carry Out Airstrikes on al-Qaeda Targets in Yemen
"We were also concerned that the ongoing uncertainty about the Government's policy and its legal basis might leave front-line intelligence and armed service personnel in considerable doubt about whether what they are being asked to do would expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution for murder or complicity in murder." 

President Trump's raid reportedly aimed to capture or kill an al-Qaeda leader and recruiter Qassim al-Rimi, however the 38-year-old escaped unscathed and even taunted the president in an audio message, military and intelligence officials told NBC News.

The Pentagon's chief spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, rejected the notion that al-Rimi was the target of the raid.

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