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We are satisfied that there is no evidence that US rendition flights have used UK airspace (except the two cases in 1998 referred to earlier in this Report) and that there is no evidence of them having landed at UK military airfields.
The Government welcomed those conclusions in their response to the report in July 2007. Parliamentary answers, interviews and letters followed that evidence. I am very sorry indeed to have to report to the House the need to correct those and other statements on the subject, on the basis of new information passed to officials on 15 February 2008 by the US Government.
Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when that had in fact occurred. An error in the earlier US records search meant that those cases did not come to light. In both cases, a US plane with a single detainee on board refuelled at the US facility in Diego Garcia. The detainees did not leave the plane, and the US Government have assured us that no US detainees have ever been held on Diego Garcia. US investigations show no record of any other rendition through Diego Garcia or any other overseas territory, or through the UK itself, since then.
Yesterday, US and UK legal teams discussed the issue, and I spoke with Secretary Rice. We both agree that the mistakes made in those two cases are not acceptable, and she shares my deep regret that the information has only just come to light. She emphasised to me that the US Government came to us with the information quickly after they discovered it.
The House and the Government will share deep disappointment at the news, and about its late emergence. That disappointment is shared by our US allies. They recognise the absolute imperative for the British Government to provide accurate information to Parliament. I reaffirm the Governments commitment
to that imperative today. We fully accept that the United States gave its earlier assurances in good faith. We accepted those assurances, and indeed referred to them publicly, also in good faith.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have asked my officials to compile a list of all the flights where we have been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK or our overseas territories. Once it is ready we will be sending the list to the US and seeking their specific assurance that none of those flights was used for rendition purposes.
Our counter-terrorism relationship with the United States is vital to UK security. I am absolutely clear that there must and will continue to be the strongest possible intelligence and counter-terrorism relationship with the US, consistent with UK law and our international obligations. As part of our close co-operation, there has long been a regular exchange with the US authorities, in which we have set out, first, that we expect them to seek permission to render detainees via UK territory and airspace, including overseas territories; secondly, that we will grant that permission only if we are satisfied that rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations; and thirdly, how we understand our obligations under the UN convention against torture. Secretary Rice has underlined to me the firm US understanding that there will be no rendition through the UK, UK airspace or overseas territories without express British Government permission.
The House will want to know what has become of the two individuals in question. There is a limit to what I can say, but I can tell the House the following. The US Government have told us that neither of the men was a British national or a British resident. One is currently in Guantanamo Bay. The other has been released. The House will know that the British Governments long-standing position is that the detention facility at Guantanamo should be closed.
My officials and their US counterparts continue to work through all the details and implications of this information. We will keep procedures under review to ensure that they meet the standards that we have set, and I will, of course, keep the House updated.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): At the outset, may I say that by coming to the House to inform us of the new information quickly after it came to light, the Foreign Secretary has done the right thing, but he will recognise that the information will cause widespread concern, given the categoric nature of the assurances previously given by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the then Foreign Secretary, and by the former Prime Minister, Tony Blairassurances which we entirely accept were given in good faith, although they have turned out to be false.
More worrying still, the new information means that very specific assurances about the use of the facilities at Diego Garcia, although given in good faith, have also turned out to be false. The Minister of State, Lord Malloch-Brown, stated in a written answer on 18 July last year:
The US authorities have repeatedly given us assurances that no terrorist suspects have been, or are being, held at Diego Garcia, or at any time have passed in transit through Diego Garcia or its territorial waters or airspace.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 18 July 2007; Vol. 694, c. WA25.]
The information gives rise to a number of questions. Can the Foreign Secretary say more about how and why the information has suddenly come to light now? How confident is he that further such cases will not come to light? How exhaustive, so far as he knows, has the checking of records by the United States now been? Can he say any more about exactly how the omissionthe omission both to ask for permission in the first place and to report afterwardsoccurred and whether the United States has made any administrative changes to ensure that any other cases would now come to light?
The Foreign Secretary said that he would compile a list of all previous flights that have alerted concerns and pursue them with the United States, an action of which we in the Opposition strongly approve, but will he impress on the United States Secretary of State the importance of ensuring that all agencies of the US Government understand the importance of the rules that he has reiterated relating to UK law and practice being respected? Can he also assure the House that if any further concerns about specific cases are raised, he will pursue them with the United States on a continuing and systematic basis, rather than as a one-off exercise?
The delay in releasing the information and the evident absence of a request in these cases are bound to undermine public trust to some extent in the arrangements that we have with the United States. Is it not important to do everything possible to strengthen the credibility of our arrangements for the future? In particular, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether procedures for the future can be tightened up or reinforced in any way? Has he received any assurances of changes in internal procedures in the US Government so that the British Government can be confident that the American Administration would indeed make a formal request, when appropriate, for use of our airspace and facilities?
More broadly, whatever the specifics of these cases, their revelation inevitably focuses attention again on the wider issue of how rendition is used. The efforts of the United States, our most important ally, to fight international terror are essential to the security not only of America, but of Britain and many other nations. But allegations that rendition has led to the torture of terrorist suspects has been used to undermine the moral standing of the US and its allies.
If such torture has occurred, it is fundamentally wrong. The Government have taken the view, which we share, that rendition leading to torture is unacceptable, and that they would not approve any instance of rendition that breaches our obligation under the UN convention against torture. Would not the position of the United States and all its allies be strengthened if it, the United States, were to adopt a definition of torture that corresponds more closely to international norms, and if it adopted a higher threshold for rendition to third countries than satisfying itself that it believes that the transferred suspect will not be tortured? Is this not something that the Government should now advocate as Americas candid friend?
Such differences of practice and definition are at the root of international concern. Would not their satisfactory
resolution mean that rather than permanent suspicion and occasional revelations, real trust might be restored for the future?
The review that was undertaken by the United States authorities reflects the significant concerns that have been expressed by the Government in the House and more widely in this country. It is a reflection of those concerns that the review took place and brought the case to light. Obviously, the checking of the records in 2002-03 and beyond did not reveal the case. I referred to an administrative error in the work that went into those earlier reviews and I do not have further information about the nature of that error.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about follow-up and how the United States authorities would take matters forward. I discussed with Condoleezza Rice yesterday the importance of the issue and how we follow it through. The right hon. Gentlemans remarks at the end of his response about the importance of confidence existing in the relationship and the nature of the assurances that we give to each other are critical to both the United States and the UK. The work that our officials will be doing with the US officials, which I referred to in my statement, is intended precisely to follow through on those concerns, but I wanted to make a statement to the House even though the officials have not yet had the chance to go to the United States to take forward those talks.
The right hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between the one-off trawl that we will do for the existing cases of particular flights about which concerns have been expressed and which will be raised with the US authorities, and what he called the continuing and systematic work to ensure that the procedures that have been established are upheld. Of course we will look seriously at any serious concerns that are raised with us, and I am sure the United States will want us to do the same as well.
In respect of the public trust that he spoke about, the right hon. Gentleman will know from the earlier correspondence to which I referred that the practice was established in the 1990s for permission to be sought, and in 1998 it was sought in four cases, in two of which rendition occurred and in two of which it did not. There was also a preliminary inquiry, which was referred to in the letter that was sent to him on 6 February 2006 about the 2004 case. I associate myself entirely with his view that rendition to torture would be quite wrong and is something that the UK Government should never participate in and certainly not instigate.
I can tell the House that in this case we have been told that the two individuals involved were not taken to a secret detention facility or subject to water-boarding or other similar forms of interrogation. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of advocating an international standard of definition, and that is what we do through our signature of international conventions on torture and through our adherence to our definition of it. We will certainly continue to do that.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op):
I welcome the Foreign Secretarys statement. However, as the Foreign Affairs Committee has been pressing his two
predecessors on these matters for several years, I feel that I must place on the record the fact that when, on 29 April 2007, we published our human rights annual report, in which we raised continuing concerns about this matter, we received the following Government response:
We are clear that the US would not render anyone through UK airspace (including the Overseas Territories) without our permission.
That statement was clearly inaccurate. In the current situation, and on the basis of the information that we now know, will the Foreign Secretary formally today withdraw that statement? I hope that we as a House will make clear that the fact that the United States Bush Administration have clearly misled or lied to our Government has resulted in our Government inadvertently misleading a Select Committee of this House and Members of this House. The United States Administration have to bear in mind the fact that that is a most serious matter and that we do not wish to see it repeated.
David Miliband: The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is, of course, absolutely right that this is a most serious matter. I hope that he will appreciate that the whole point of my statement is to recognise that in parliamentary questions and a range of interviews, statements and letters, information that has turned out to be incorrect was given.
In respect of the second part of my hon. Friends question, I should say that I believe what I said in my statement: the information and assurances were given to us in good faith by the United States authorities. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important that we work very hard to ensure that procedures are in place to ensure that this does not happen again.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his statement today and for his courtesy in personally briefing me this morning. Although we are grateful that the information has now been revealed, I hope that he will agree that the admission vindicates the concerns that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have had for several yearsand in particular the determined efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) in continually raising these matters.
Does the Foreign Secretary accept that Tony Blairs previous dismissal of our calls for an inquiry into rendition as absurd now itself looks absurd? Is it not time for an independent inquiry into any UK involvement in renditions, extraordinary or not, and into what role the British territory of Diego Garcia has played in the US rendition programme? Can he absolutely confirm that in this case no one anywhere in the British Government gave permission for the renditions?
On rendition via Diego Garcia, has the Foreign Secretary asked the US authorities about allegations that US detainees have been held on ships serviced from Diego Garcia and possibly stationed within UK territorial waters? Many commentators will find it hard to believe that there have been so few renditions via British territory. The Foreign Secretarys officials are
compiling a list of other flights alleged to have involved renditionwill he publish that list so that it can be scrutinised? Will he be prepared to accept additions to that list from responsible and informed parties such as Amnesty International, Reprieve and Human Rights Watch?
The Foreign Secretary knows that one of my constituents, Bisher al-Rawi, was the subject of proven rendition and torture by the US authorities, although he has now been released from Guantanamo Bay after nearly five years without charge. The Foreign Secretary will know that the Intelligence and Security Committee found that the US had shown a complete lack of regard for British concerns by ignoring the prohibition on action being taken as a result of shared intelligence in my constituents case. Has he obtained assurances that in no other case has shared intelligence been so abused, and has he obtained an apology for Mr. al-Rawi?
Rendition is state-sponsored abduction and water-boarding is torture. We must not only be assured that Britain has not been used to facilitate such practices, but we must tell our friends in the United States that we deplore such practices. Will the UK Government now condemn the practice of extraordinary rendition in all cases? Until the US gives it up and closes Guantanamo Bay and the secret detention centres that President Bush admits it still has, we must make it clear that the US is not only infringing international law, but potentially undermining the fight against international terrorism.
David Miliband: First, I want to reiterate something that I think was clear in my statement, but with which I am happy to associate myself again. The questions asked by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and the all-party parliamentary group are precisely the sort of parliamentary interrogation and questioning that is wholly appropriate. It was as a result, in part, of those questions that such extensive trawling was done in 2005 and 2006 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn.
A very full inquiry was done into rendition by the ISC; the hon. Gentleman cited it himself. I believe that it went into the issues in great detail. The hon. Gentleman asked particularly about the territorial waters around Diego Garcia and I can confirm that they are part of the discussions that happen in the annual talks with the United States about Diego Garcia, and that the commitments that it has made include them.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would publish a list of the cases that we forward to the United States. I am happy to do that. The cases will have been put into the public domain in a range of places anyway by some of the organisations, including Amnesty International, that he mentioned. However, at the appropriate time I will be happy to find a way to put them into the public domain in a way that ensures that they are accessiblenot least because that will prevent people from writing to ask us to investigate cases that are already being investigated. In respect of extraordinary rendition, I do not think that I could have been clearer in my statement. I said that the UK will in no way contribute to, instigate or condone the process of extraordinary rendition or rendition to torture of any kind.
I turn to my final point. The hon. Gentleman talked about our friends in the United States, but I was sorry that he also said that it was hard to believe that there had not been other cases. I say to him in all candour that if he likes, he can run a foreign policy on the basis that it is hard to believe the commitments of our most serious and long-standing ally. However, I do not believe that that is the right basis on which to run a foreign policy. Of course we should ask questions of our most trusted ally; of course it should engage with us and have clear procedures. However, I do not think that we can conduct a foreign policy on the basis of disbelief or of a presumption of deceit, which I think lay behind some of what the hon. Gentleman said. I hope that he will recognise that a presumption of deceit is not an adequate basis on which to conduct our relations.
The hon. Gentleman referred to his own constituent and I understand the work that he has rightly done on that case as a constituency MP. However, having looked at the issue this morning, the hon. Gentleman will, I think, agree with me that the ISC went through it in some detail and found no evidence that the UK had been complicit in the rendition to Guantanamo Bay.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Senator Dick Marty, the Council of Europe rapporteur on rendition, described a global spiders web of CIA detentions and renditions; clearly, we have been unwittingly drawn into that. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the evidence that the Government gave to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into UK compliance with the UN convention against torture, to check its accuracy? Will he also look again at the recommendations that we made about renditionin particular that any civil aircraft against which there are credible allegations of involvement should be required to land to be checked if it is going to a country known to practise torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, and that no state aircraft suspected of involvement in extraordinary rendition should be permitted to transit UK airspace without permission being granted for UK authorities to search it?
David Miliband: I will certainly look at the report to which my hon. Friend refers. He referred to a spiders web of secret detention. It is important to repeat that we have been told by the United States that neither of the two people involved in this case were involved in secret detention centres, nor were they subject to water-boarding or other similar forms of torture. President Bush said, I think in 2005, that no one was being kept in any secret detention centre as of 2005. However, I will certainly look at the important issues that my hon. Friend raises, because for reasons of substance and of the symbolism to which the spokesmen for the Opposition parties referred, it is very important that the highest standards are met.
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