The New Statesman magazine has obtained a briefing paper from the Foreign Office making it clear that they were aware of the possibility that prisoners captured by British Forces had been sent to foreign interrogation centres by the CIA on what has become known as "torture flights". The Americans use the rather innocuous name of "rendition", but in reality the practice is a cynical attempt to avoid legislation which would protect the prisoners rights so that undue pressure may be used during their interrogation.
Of course the UK Government denied knowledge of this tawdry affair and has now been shown to be lying - again.
In the note (dated 7 December 2005) Irfan Siddiq notes "We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail... and to try to move the debate on... underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations".
He also suggests that advisers rely on the statement by Condolezza Rice that the US did not transport anyone to a country where they believed they would be tortured. However, the US definition of torture is not the same as that of the UK, or international law. For them only violence resulting in organ failure or death is sufficient to be considered torture (apparently it is not possible to torture someone psychologically!). Thus the statement does not confirm that the prisoners will not be subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture states that it is illegal to take a prisoner to any country "where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture". The US has decided "substantial grounds" means that it was "more likely than not that he would be tortured". Of course, since they do nothing to find out whether there is any likelihood of torture (and they do not define torture the same way as every one else) they can simply plead ignorance. The obvious question would have to be why else would they ship someone to a regime where torture is regularly used by the state?
The Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, (chairman of the parliamentary group on rendition) noted that "All the experts who have looked at Rice´s assurances have concluded that they are so carefully worded as to be virtually worthless. Relying on them, as the government appears to be doing, speaks volumes".
On 7 December Charles Kennedy asked Blair when he was first aware of the rendition flights and when they were approved. Blair responded "In respect of airports, I do not know what the right hon. gentleman is referring to."
Then, on December 22, Blair stated in a press conference "It is not something that I have ever actually come across until this whole thing has blown up, and I don't know anything about it." Yet Jack Straw recently confirmed that rendition requests were received from the Clinton Administration in 1998!
The Council of Europe is investigating the CIA´s use of European air space and a warrant has been issued in Spain for 19 US agents who kidnapped a Muslim cleric and took him to Egypt for "questioning". The European parliament has begun an inquiry into the CIA´s "transportation and illegal detention of prisoners". They have threatened to take "political action" against any country found to be implicated.
Condoleezza Rice still denies that anyone has been transported "for the purpose of interrogation using torture" but noted that "hard choices" must be made and that rendition saved lives! Unfortunately, most of the men shipped to the interrogation centres never make it out again. But those who have confirmed that they have been tortured. There are thought to be interrogation centres in Cairo, Damascus, Islamabad, Kabul, Rabat, Thailand, Poland, Uzbekistan and Romania. The fact that the Red Cross has not been provided with any information on these prisoners, and their number and location is secret is also in breach of Human Rights law.