Anger at refusal to reveal legal advice on possible torture flights

By Tom Gordon in the Sunday Herald

Ministers were under attack last night for refusing to reveal secret legal advice on so-called American torture flights passing through Scottish airports.

The Scottish Executive said it was not in the public interest to disclose advice on extraordinary rendition, the process which critics believe involves the CIA flying terror suspects to be tortured in countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Uzbekistan. CIA-operated aircraft have made dozens of refuelling stops at Glasgow and Prestwick airports in recent years, although the executive has insisted there is no evidence of a torture connection.

In response to a freedom of information request lodged by the Sunday Herald, The Herald’s sister paper, the executive’s justice department refused to hand over material on rendition in case it prejudiced the workings of government. It said: “In our view, it would not be in the public interest to disclose legal advice.

“There would be a danger that the provision of legal advice in the future may not be made on a proper, fully informed basis, not communicated to clients [ministers and officials] in such a full, frank manner as is presently the case.”

The response brought widespread condemnation from human rights activists and lawyers. Clive Stafford Smith, the human rights lawyer who represents many of the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, said:

“It is very hard to understand how free discussion for ministers can be inhibited by the free disclosure of information. This is an old chestnut which is rolled out every time a government wants to stop an embarrassing revelation. Old chestnuts should be roasted. Refusing to disclose legal advice confirms my worst expectations. I wonder what they are trying to hide? Are they hiding evidence that they knew about these flights? That they encouraged these flights? What are they ashamed of?”

John Scott, chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said the refusal to disclose the advice amounted to “obfuscation”. The Sunday Herald intends to appeal over the executive’s refusal to Kevin Dunion, the Scottish information commissioner.