Memo Reveals Government Strategy To Deny Torture Flights
Rak/Aki | January 20 2006
The British government has prepared a secret strategy aimed at rebutting accusations that it knew of covert US "torture flights" two British publications have alleged. The Guardian daily and the New Statesman weekly base their allegations on an internal memo sent by the British foreign office to prime minister Tony Blair's offices. The document, a copy of which has been obtained by the New Statesman, shows that the government has been aware terrorism suspects captured by US and British security forces may have been sent to secret interrogation centres.
The memo suggests ways in which the Labour government can deny any knowledge that the suspects were possibly tortured at the detention centres after having been smuggled across Europe and the Middle East by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "rendition" flights.
According to the Guardian, the memo urges government ministers queried on the subject to rely on a statement by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice last month when she said America did not transport anyone to a country where it believed they would be tortured.
"We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail and try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way as we can, underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations," wrote the author of the memo, Irfan Siddiq of the foreign office's private office, according to the Guardian.
The document, which is dated 7 December 2005, says that in the most common use of the term - namely, involving the real risk of torture - rendition could never be legal. It also emphasises that while the US ruled out torture, it did not include "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" in its definition. If Britain had participated or known of operations whose outcome would lead to prisoners facing such treatment, the memo points out, it would contravene the European human rights convention.
On 22 December when Blair was asked at his monthly press conference about the US practice of rendition, the prime minster told journalists: "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."
Reacting to the revelations, Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty which has demanded an inquiry inti the allegations of British collusion in rendition flights, said she was "deeply disappointed". "The government seems more concerned about spinning than investigating our concerns," she told the Guardian.
In his reaction Nick Clegg, the opposition Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said Blair had fully endorsed Rice's statement, yet the prime minister had clear advice through the memo that it might have been deliberately worded to allow for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
"I am submitting an urgent question to the speaker and expect the foreign secretary to come to parliament to explain the government's position," he said. "Evasion can no longer be sustained: there is now overwhelming evidence to support a full public inquiry into rendition."