UK Liberty

The Foreign Secretary’s statement in full

Posted in law and order, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on February 22, 2008

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, unless you want to be renditioned [members laugh] I would like to make a statement on those US rendition operations that no-one is supposed to know about. On 12 December 2005, in response to a parliamentary question from the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who hasn’t been since, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), then Foreign Secretary, updated the House on the subject of terrorist suspects and state-sponsored kidnapping – I mean, rendition, stating:

“Very careful research by officials has been unable to identify any occasion since
11 September 2001, or earlier in the Bush administration, when we received a request for permission by the United States…for a rendition through UK territory or airspace, nor are we otherwise aware of such a case, nor would we tell you if we are aware of such a case.”—[ Official Report,
12 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 1652W.]

That was supplemented by two further statements in January 2006 and a letter of 6 February 2006 to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

In March 2007, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that paragon of honesty, that shining exemplar of the truth, gave an assurance to the Intelligence and Security Committee that he was satisfied that the US had at no time since 9/11 rendered an individual through the UK or through our overseas territories, but that if they had he didn’t want to know about it and wouldn’t have told us if he did. In its report on rendition of 28 June 2007, the ISC said:

“We are satisfied that there is no evidence, because no-one who has the evidence will give us it, that US rendition flights have used UK airspace (except the two cases in 1998 referred to earlier in this Report, and eye-witness statements including air traffic controllers) and that there is no evidence of them having landed at UK military airfields… let’s not talk about normal airfields.

The Government very much welcomed those conclusions in their response to the report in July 2007. Parliamentary answers, interviews, letters and trebles all round 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, which I offer to the House as a fig leaf to make it look like we are interested in doing the right thing.

Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia – that lovely island the Chagossians used to call their home before an older Government kicked them out and we compounded the injustice by abuse of power – I mean, for national security reasons we said they were neither entitled to return or compensation [nods to Jack Straw] and besides we’d shot all their pets – had not been used for rendition flights, recent US investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when that had in fact occurred, which I can tell you I found quite shocking.

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, although they haven’t said whether they held any other detainees there. US investigations show no record of any other rendition through Diego Garcia or any other overseas territory, or through the UK itself, since then, because they now use airboarding.

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 people found out about rendition in the first place. 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, because we didn’t want it to emerge at all. 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 Government’s 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 even though we knew that all sorts of rotten business was going on – I mean, for national security reasons.

For the avoidance of further questions, 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 so long as those consistencies are consistent with our wishes.

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; thirdly, how we understand our obligations under the UN convention against torture; and fourthly, how we can circumvent all those obligations.

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, consistent with their assurances, but they might airboard people from time to time.

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 into Guantanamo Bay. The House will know that the British Government’s long-standing, albeit quiet and not making too much fuss position is that the detention facility at Guantanamo should be closed when the US decides it has no further use for it.

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, if it suits us to do so.

Lessons have been learned, and multiple inquiries have been launched, which will take years to conclude, by which time this story will be of no interest because there will be rumours of much worse things taking place that we don’t officially know about and will initially claim that it’s all the wild imaginings of loony conspiracy theorists [nods to Jack Straw again].

[standing ovation]

Foreign Secretary David Miliband


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