[News] British territory used in 2 U.S. rendition flights

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 21 19:33:09 EST 2008


February 22, 2008

US aircraft did use British base to transport terrorist suspects

Francis Elliott and Frances Gibb

British facilities were used by the US to 
transport terrorist suspects at least twice, 
despite repeated government denials – including 
by Tony Blair - that the UK had any involvement 
in extraordinary rendition flights.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, admitted 
that two US flights carrying terrorist suspects 
refuelled at the airbase on the British Indian 
Ocean territory of Diego Garcia in 2002.

In a statement to the Commons he apologised to 
MPs for having to correct previous denials, 
blaming a US “administrative error” that had only 
just come to light. Condoleezza Rice, the US 
Secretary of State, had expressed her “deep 
regret” at the error and had phoned him to apologise on Wednesday.

Gordon Brown made little attempt to hide his 
irritation, telling reporters of his 
disappointment at the “very serious” issue. The 
Prime Minister said: “We have got to assure 
ourselves that these procedures will never happen 
again. It is unfortunate that this was not known 
and it was unfortunate it happened without us 
knowing that it had happened, but it’s important 
to put in procedures [to ensure] that this will 
not happen again.” John Bellinger, legal adviser 
to Ms Rice, told a press briefing in London that 
the error came to light after a “new and even 
more exhaustive search” carried out in response 
to continuing allegations that Diego Garcia had been used for such flights.

The US Government had asked the CIA to revisit 
the records and interview the flight crews, he 
said. The mistake had arisen because of “an 
administrative error in the way record searches were conducted”.

Mr Miliband said that Britain was seeking 
“specific assurances” from Washington on all 
flights about which concerns had been expressed 
regarding the use of UK territory. Each of the 
two flights was carrying a single, nonBritish 
detainee who did not leave the plane while it was 
on the ground, he said. One of those detainees 
has since been released, but the other is still 
being held at Guantanamo Bay. It is understood 
one of the flights was en route to the detention 
centre in Cuba while the other was headed for Morocco.

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP for Chichester 
and chairman of the All-Party Group on Rendition, 
said that yesterday’s admission would undermine 
faith in US promises on rendition. “This 
statement will leave the British public unwilling 
to trust other assurances we have received from the US,” he said.

Mr Blair told MPs less than a year ago that there 
was no evidence that Diego Garcia had been used 
by the US to transport terrorist suspects to CIA 
detention facilities.Three months ago the Foreign 
Office Minister, Kim Howells, wrote to Mr Tyrie 
rejecting his call for Britain to investigate 
independently claims that the British territory 
had been used to facilitate extraordinary 
renditions. Mr Howells said that he had received 
“robust assurances” from the US just the previous month.

What the Government said

“We have not approved and will not approve a 
policy of facilitating the transfer of 
individuals through the UK to places where . . . 
they would face a real risk of torture” – Foreign Office, Jan 19, 2006

“The British Government is not aware of any cases 
of rendition through the UK since May 1997, apart 
from the two cases in 1998” – Alistair Darling, March 17, 2006

“I am satisfied . . . that the only rendition 
which has taken place have been as I have stated” 
– Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, March 31, 2006

“There is no evidence that US rendition flights 
have used UK airspace (except the two cases in 
1998)” – Intelligence and Security Committee report, June 28, 2007

“We would not allow transfer of detainees through 
our airspace if we had any concerns about 
individuals” – Letter from Kim Howells, Foreign Office Minister, Nov 2007

“Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that 
Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition 
flights, recent US investigations have revealed 
two occasions in 2002, when this had in fact 
occurred” David Miliband, Feb 21, 2008


British territory used in 2 U.S. rendition flights

By John F. Burns
Thursday, February 21, 2008

LONDON: In tones freighted with frustration, 
Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the House 
of Commons on Thursday that "contrary to earlier 
explicit assurances," the Central Intelligence 
Agency had confirmed using a U.S.-run airfield on 
the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian 
Ocean for the refueling of two American rendition 
flights carrying terrorist suspects in 2002.

The American acknowledgment of the flights, each 
carrying a single detainee, contradicted previous 
U.S. assurances to the Labour government that no 
such flights had landed on British territory or 
passed through British airspace. Although the CIA 
attributed its earlier denials to a "flawed 
records search," the turnaround risked fueling 
animosities that the government here has aroused, 
particularly on Labour's left wing, with its 
alliance with the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Miliband's statement prompted protests from 
members of Parliament of all parties and from 
British-based human rights groups that had 
contended for years that Britain had been a 
knowing or unknowing partner in Washington's use of rendition flights.

The term has been used to describe the secret 
transport of prisoners from one country or 
jurisdiction to another without formal 
extradition proceedings, and earned much of its 
notoriety from the American practice after Sept. 
11, 2001, of transporting terrorist suspects to a 
network of secret CIA prisons outside the United States.

The director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, 
who informed British officials of the 2002 
flights during a visit to London last week, 
issued a statement to the agency's staff in 
Washington on Thursday saying that a fresh review 
of agency records had shown that the CIA had 
erred in assuring Britain previously "there had 
been no rendition flights involving their soil or 
airspace" since the Al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington.

Miliband said he had received a personal apology 
from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had 
told him that she shared his "deep regret" about the earlier, false denials.

"That information, supplied in good faith, turned 
out to be wrong," Hayden said. "This time, the 
examination revealed the two stops in Diego 
Garcia. The refueling, conducted more than five 
years ago, lasted just a short time. But it happened. "

"That we found this mistake ourselves, and that 
we brought it to the attention of the British 
government, in no way changes or excuses the 
reality that we were in the wrong. An important 
part of intelligence work, inherently urgent, 
complex and uncertain, is to take responsibility 
for errors and to learn from them. In this case, 
the result of a flawed records search, we have done so."

Miliband told the House of Commons he was "very 
sorry indeed" to have to revise the Labour 
government's repeated assurances in recent years 
that it knew of no American rendition flights 
involving British airspace or airfields.

The British assurances, on numerous occasions in 
2005, 2006 and 2007, were given, among others, by 
former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said in 2005

that he was "not prepared to believe" that the 
Americans had broken faith with Britain over the 
issue, and by a former foreign secretary, Jack 
Straw, who dismissed the allegations of rendition 
flights through Britain at the same time as "a 
very old story," and a discredited one.

"The House and its members will be deeply 
disappointed at this news, and about its late 
emergence," Miliband said in his statement.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, visiting Brussels, spoke in similar terms.

"It is unfortunate that this was not known, and 
it was unfortunate it happened without us knowing 
that it had happened," he said, adding that 
Britain would press for procedures to ensure that 
the breach could not happen again.

For Brown, the renewed controversy over the 
flights came at a politically awkward moment, 
when he has been struggling with low poll ratings 
driven by a series of government mishaps, and by 
months of uncertainty over the future of the 
troubled Northern Rock bank, which was finally 
nationalized in legislation rushed through Parliament on Monday.

Brown, a silent skeptic during the Blair years 
about British military commitments in Afghanistan 
and Iraq, has also been working to replace the 
close relationship that Blair had with President 
George W. Bush with a more wary stance, and 
moving rapidly to draw down the remaining 4,200 British troops in Iraq.

In his account, Hayden, the CIA director, said 
that neither of the two detainees carried aboard 
the rendition flights that refueled at Diego 
Garcia "was ever part of the CIA's high-value 
terrorist interrogation program." This appeared 
to be his way of saying what Miliband, in his 
House of Commons statement, made explicit: that 
the suspects on the two flights were not taken to 
any of the CIA's network of secret prisons, some 
of them in Eastern Europe, and that they were not 
subjected to stress techniques that critics of 
the CIA program have described as tantamount to 
torture, including waterboarding.

Hayden said one of the detainees "was ultimately 
transferred to Guantánamo," the U.S. military 
prison on the eastern tip of Cuba, while the 
other "was returned to his home country," 
identified by State Department officials in Washington on Thursday as Morocco.

"These were rendition operations, nothing more," 
Hayden said. He also used the statement to refute 
allegations by human rights groups that the CIA 
"had a holding facility" for terrorist suspects 
on Diego Garcia, a 40-mile-long, or 65-kilometer 
long, island leased by Britain that lies about 
1,000 miles southwest of the southernmost tip of 
India. "That is false," he said.

For more than 30 years, the United States has 
operated a military air base on the island under 
an agreement with Britain, using it mainly for 
refueling and as a forward base for long-range 
bombers that have been used in the wars in 
Afghanistan and Iraq. It is believed to have as 
many as 2,500 U.S. military personnel stationed 
at the base, while Britain has only a few 
hundred. More than 2,000 islanders were 
transferred elsewhere after Britain leased the 
island, many of them under bitter protest.

For years, governments and parliaments across 
Europe have been roiled by allegations that the 
CIA has used European airspace and airfields for 
rendition flights, but in the face of insistent 
American denials, much about the practice has 
remained murky. The nations listed by human 
rights groups as having been involved in the 
flights - or of turning a blind eye to use of 
their airfields - have included Britain, Greece, 
Portugal, Spain and Sweden, among others. A 
British rights group, Liberty, alleged in 2005 
that aircraft operated by or chartered by the CIA 
had used 11 British airports and air bases since 2001, involving 210 flights.

The CIA's acknowledgment that it misled Britain 
about the two flights revived those allegations, 
and not only among the rights groups. Miliband 
said the Foreign Office was compiling a list of 
flights that protest groups have cited in their 
allegations of British complicity in the CIA 
rendition program, which would be passed to the 
United States for "specific assurance that none 
of these fights were used for rendition 
purposes." That plan was supported by William 
Hague, the foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservatives.

"As America's candid friend," Hague told the BBC, 
Britain should insist that the Bush 
administration clear up all the uncertainties 
surrounding rendition, and not only the details 
of the flights, but whether it was prepared to 
"adopt a definition of torture" that met the 
standards laid down in international conventions.

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