Straw under fire for refusing CIA flights inquiry

By Catherine MacLEOD in The Herald

CRITICS gave the government a rocky ride in parliament over its refusal to mount a judicial inquiry into claims that the US has used UK airports to fly terror suspects abroad for torture.

In a written statement, Jack Straw, foreign secretary, disclosed that the UK had refused a US request in 1998 to refuel a flight carrying detainees en route to the US. In December, he had told MPs that another request had been refused, while two others had been approved when Bill Clinton was in the White House. To little avail, he repeated assurances that a trawl of Foreign Office records had found no record of any requests for extradition rendition flights to pass through the UK.

In the Commons, MPs demanded that the government should set out the grounds on which it judges the flight requests, but Kim Howells, foreign office minister, was unmoved.

Nick Clegg, the LibDems’ foreign affairs spokesman, maintained the government had doubts about the US policy, whatever its public protestations. He said: “The ambiguity of the government’s position on this clandestine practice of extraordinary rendition seems to deepen with every answer given. “Clearly (Mr Straw’s answer) indicates that the government, at least behind the scenes, had much graver doubts about this clandestine practice than it has been prepared to give so far. Why were these flights refused?”

Mr Howells dismissed Mr Clegg’s objections as anti-US sentiment. He argued that the LibDems were employing typical tactics to throw mud at the Bush administration in the hope some of it might stick. He said: “This government is opposed to torture, it does not torture anyone, nor would we ever put up with any other administration torturing individuals. We will watch this very carefully as we always have done.”

William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, sought assurance that the rendition through the UK leading to torture in a third country had not taken place, and Mr Howell was adamant that the government would never co-operate in any operation involving torture.