I created the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition in December 2005 to try to get to the bottom of the issue of rendition, and of any possible UK involvement in it. After careful thought, I made a number of specific allegations. The first was that the UK had facilitated or been complicit in rendition. The second was that Diego Garcia was being used for that purpose. The third was that the UK’s armed forces might also be involved in rendition. It is worth recalling the blanket denials with which those points were met.
First, I shall quote the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Straw, who likened what I and others were suggesting to conspiracy theories. He said:
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom had been involved in rendition“.
Let’s just clarify Straw’s clearly-stated premise to remove any element of doubt about what it was he said.
Straw claimed that the only way it was possible the UK was involved in rendering whomever the UK-lackey’s masters in the US wanted was if “the officials are lying, I [he, Jack Straw] am lying” and that there exists a “secret state… in league with some dark forces in the United States.”
Simple enough, right?
We now have this, published today:
UK intelligence officers knew of CIA’s rendition plans within days of 9/11
Meeting at British embassy in US raises questions about repeated denials by MI5 and MI6 of connivance in torture
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 October 2012 13.06 BST
Jack Straw, who told MPs in 2005 there was ‘simply no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition’.
Within days of the 9/11 attacks on the US, the CIA told British intelligence officers of its plans to abduct al-Qaida suspects and fly them to secret prisons where they would be systematically abused.
The meeting, at the British embassy in Washington, is disclosed in a forthcoming book by the Guardian journalist Ian Cobain. It raises serious questions about repeated claims by senior MI5 and MI6 officers that they were slow to appreciate the US response to the attacks, and never connived in torture.
The meeting signalled to British officials that the US was preparing to embark on a global kidnapping programme which became known as extraordinary rendition. Cobain reveals that at the end of a three-hour presentation by Cofer Black, President George Bush’s top counter-terrorist adviser, Mark Allen – his opposite number in MI6 – commented that it all sounded “rather bloodcurdling”.
A few weeks later, in early October 2001, at a secret meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels, US officials drew up a list of “necessary measures to increase security”, Cobain discloses. They included flights to and from secret prisons in Asia, Africa, and throughout Europe. “Quietly, Britain pledged logistics support for the rendition programme, which resulted in the CIA’s Gulfstream V and other jets becoming frequent visitors to British airports en route to the agency’s secret prisons,” writes Cobain.
Over the next four years CIA rendition flights used British airports at least 210 times. The book reveals that Washington asked the UK for permission to build a large prison on Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean where the US has a large bomber base. The project was dropped, for logistical rather than legal reasons.
However, Diego Garcia was used as a stopover for CIA flights taking detainees to secret prisons around the world. And in secret memos, Labour ministers said in early 2002 that their “preferred option” was to render British nationals to Guantánamo Bay, Cobain records. MI5 and MI6 officers carried out around 100 interrogations at the US prison on Cuba between 2002 and 2004.
Yet for years ministers emphatically denied any British involvement in America’s rendition programme. As late as December 2005, Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, was telling MPs there was “simply no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition”. Just a year earlier, we now know, MI6 – under Straw’s watch and with the blessing of ministers, officials say – helped to render two leading Libyan dissidents to Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police.
Despite the post-9/11 Washington embassy and NATO meetings, and other evidence of their early involvement in rendition, MI5 and MI6 witnesses told the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) that it was some time before they knew what the US was up to. As late as July 2007, the misinformed ISC stated in a report on rendition that MI5 and MI6 “were … slow to detect the emerging pattern of renditions to detention”.
Cobain’s book, Cruel Britannia, says the British military operated a “torture centre” throughout the 1940s “in complete secrecy, in a row of Victorian villas in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in London”. They also ran an “interrogation centre” near Hanover in Germany. Evidence from newly released records shows that British involvement in abuse was common earlier – in the colonies, later in Northern Ireland, and much more recently in Iraq.
The book reveals that Allen (who was later to develop a cosy relationship with Gaddafi’s intelligence chiefs) expressed concern after the post-9/11 meeting in the UK embassy in Washington about what would happen once the Americans had “hammered the mercury in Afghanistan”. Al-Qaida would simply scatter elsewhere, destabilising entire regions, Allen suggested. A CIA officer who was present at the embassy meeting remarked later that while the British appeared laid back, “it was clear they were worried, and not without reason”.
Let’s recap on Jack Straw’s quote again:
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom had been involved in rendition.”
The fact that there now exist truthful revelations regarding the UK’s complicity with the US’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme (read: torture of political opponents labelled ‘terrorists’), there would seem to be only one option left for Jack Straw.
Straw should now make an official statement that the ‘conspiracy theories’ of which he spoke can now be regarded as ‘conspiracy facts’ and that there does indeed exist a “secret state… in league with some dark forces in the United States” and further that, “the officials [were] lying and [he, Straw, was] lying.”
We can only wonder if these are the very same “dark forces” include the “many dark actors playing games” of which Dr. David Kelly spoke shortly before his own demise in 2003.
With special thanks to Sinclair.