By Ian Cobain, Stephen Grey and Richard Norton-Taylor
MPs from all parties are planning to campaign against the CIA’s use of British airports and RAF bases when abducting terrorism suspects who are then flown to countries where they are allegedly tortured. An all-party group is to be established this autumn to coordinate the campaign and to inquire into the extent of Britain’s support for the operations, which are said to violate international law.
The development was announced as the UN began inquiring into the operations, known in US intelligence circles as “extraordinary renditions”, and as an investigation by the Guardian uncovered the extent of British logistical support.
Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, is setting up the group after demanding information from the Foreign Office about the UK’s involvement in US prisoner operations. He said: “I am appalled by what appears to be growing evidence of complicity by the British government in torture of terrorist suspects or people whom the US may have information on, which could assist them to prosecute the war on terror. I don’t think the information that comes from torture is reliable, but more importantly, the use of such practices undermines the values we espouse. The damage to those values is far greater than any benefit we might gain from these practices.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the government was going to considerable lengths to enter agreements with governments to try to ensure deportees from Britain would not be subjected to torture. But, he added, it appeared the government was “allowing free passage to the Americans to transfer people from one jurisdiction to another where they are likely to be subjected to torture”.
Sir Menzies has tabled parliamentary questions about the practice, asking how many individuals had been deported or otherwise involuntarily transferred from the US on flights which have landed in Britain. He is asking ministers what records they have of individuals transported in this way, what records are maintained of aircraft used for the purpose, and what military airfields were involved.
He is also asking how many detainees are being held against their will on US vessels in territorial waters off Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean Territory, on which the US has a large aircraft base. Ministers have repeatedly denied any prisoners are, or have been, held on Diego Garcia.
Chris Mullin, Labour MP and former Foreign Office minister, said of the use of British airports: “If the government’s policy is against rendition, then we must make that clear. The franchising out of torture is wholly unacceptable.” He added that while the CIA may have legitimate reasons to fly in and out of the UK on other businesses, “unless we can clarify what is legitimate and what is not, it may be that the best thing is for them to be kept out”.
Amnesty International is demanding the US “ceases the practice of renditions that bypass human rights protections”.
The Guardian’s investigation established that aircraft used by the CIA in renditions have flown in and out of the UK at least 210 times since the attacks of September 11. Some of those flights were connected to the abduction of terror suspects.
About 150 men have been abducted over the last four years and flown to countries where torture is common. A few have been released, and have given harrowing accounts of their treatment. Human rights lawyers say the operations violate the UN convention against torture, and say the CIA agents involved may also be in breach of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act.