The government is secretly trying to stifle attempts by MPs to find out what it knows about CIA "torture flights" and privately admits that people captured by British forces could have been sent illegally to interrogation centres, the Guardian can reveal. A hidden strategy aimed at suppressing a debate about rendition - the US practice of transporting detainees to secret centres where they are at risk of being tortured - is revealed in a briefing paper sent by the Foreign Office to No 10.
The document shows that the government has been aware of secret interrogation centres, despite ministers' denials. It admits that the government has no idea whether individuals seized by British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan have been sent to the secret centres.
Dated December 7 last year, the document is a note from Irfan Siddiq, of the foreign secretary's private office, to Grace Cassy in Tony Blair's office. It was obtained by the New Statesman magazine, whose latest issue is published today.
It was drawn up in response to a Downing Street request for advice "on substance and handling" of the controversy over CIA rendition flights and allegations of Britain's connivance in the practice.
"We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail", Mr Siddiq writes, "and to try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way we can, underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations."
The document advises the government to rely on a statement by Condoleezza Rice last month when the US secretary of state said America did not transport anyone to a country where it believed they would be tortured and that, "where appropriate", Washington would seek assurances.
The document notes: "We would not want to cast doubt on the principle of such government-to-government assurances, not least given our own attempts to secure these from countries to which we wish to deport their nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism: Algeria etc."
The document says that in the most common use of the term - namely, involving real risk of torture - rendition could never be legal.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
What No. 10 knew about CIA rendition flights
All over the media this morning (e.g. this Guardian piece) is the leak of a memo about how much the UK government knew or more precisely didn't know about the CIA rendition flights landing in the UK and alledgedly taking terrorist suspects to regimes which practice torture.