CIA rendition flights landed in British territories

The British government says it has learned from the US that its earlier denials of aiding the criticized operations were wrong.

The British government revealed Thursday that CIA rendition flights, which critics say are used to transfer prisoners to be tortured, landed in British territory in 2002, despite Britain's previous denials of aiding rendition operations.

The Independent of London reports that the British government admitted that the US failed to inform Britain of two CIA rendition flights carrying suspected terrorists that had landed in British territory in 2002. David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, said the government only recently learned of the rendition flights to its Indian Ocean base of Diego Garcia.

[Mr. Miliband] had to make a humiliating apology to the Commons after it emerged that the US failed to tell British officials that two CIA rendition flights carrying suspected terrorists landed on the island of Diego Garcia in 2002. Six years on, one of the suspects is still being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The other has been released.
Mr Miliband denied there was a deliberate cover-up and said he believed the US had acted "in good faith". However, Gordon Brown, attending an EU summit in Brussels, expressed his "disappointment" and said Washington's failure to disclose the flights earlier was "a very serious issue".
"The US has expressed regret that it did not admit at the time to these renditions through Diego Garcia," he added. "We have to assure ourselves these procedures will never happen again."

The Washington Post reports that the US government acknowledged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Miliband to apologize over the "administrative error."

"We came up with fresh information that in short order we shared with the British government," [State Department spokesman Sean McCormack] told reporters. "We regret that there was an error in providing initially that inaccurate information to a good friend and ally."

The New York Times reports that the British government was informed of the flights last week, during a trip to Britain by CIA Director Michael Hayden. General Hayden released a statement Thursday admitting that the CIA's earlier assertions that no rendition flights had landed in British territory, though "supplied in good faith, turned out to be wrong."

In his account, [Hayden] said that neither of the two detainees carried aboard the rendition flights that refuelled at Diego Garcia "was ever part of the C.I.A.'s high-value terrorist interrogation program." This appeared to be his way of saying what Mr. Miliband, in his Commons statement, made explicit, that the suspects on the two flights were not taken to any of the C.I.A.'s network of secret prisons, some of them in eastern Europe, and that they were not subjected to stress techniques that critics of the C.I.A. program have described as tantamount to torture, including waterboarding.

General Hayden said one of the detainees "was ultimately transferred to Guantánamo," the American military prison on the eastern tip of Cuba, while the other "was returned to his home country," identified by State Department officials in Washington on Thursday as Morocco. "These were rendition operations, nothing more," General Hayden said. He also used the statement to refute accusations by human rights groups that the C.I.A. "had a holding facility" for terrorist suspects on Diego Garcia, a 40-mile long island leased by Britain about 1,000 miles southwest of the southernmost tip of India. "That is false," he said.

The BBC writes that the Conservative Party expressed its deep concern over the revelations, while members of the Liberal Democrats called for a full investigation.

In the Commons, William Hague, the [Conservative Party's] shadow foreign secretary, said he accepted assurances were made "in good faith" but said: "This information will cause widespread concern given the categoric nature of the assurances previously given.
"More worrying still, it means that very specific assurances about the use of the facilities at Diego Garcia have also turned out, although given in good faith, to have been false." ...
Liberal Democrat Edward Davey called for a full inquiry and said extraordinary rendition was "state-sponsored abduction" and the government must ensure that Britain was not used to "facilitate" it.
Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell added: "The truth is, this is a gross embarrassment, in spite of its good faith, for the British government, involving as it does a breach of our moral obligations and possibly our legal responsibilities as well."

The Associated Press writes that the discovery of the 2002 rendition flights "risks replaying the debate over tactics that came to light in 2005 with the revelation that the CIA had operated secret prisons to interrogate prisoners." At the time, AP reports, Ms. Rice suggested that rendition flights operated with the permission of host foreign governments. AP also notes that Rice avoided addressing Britain's involvement in rendition flights during a December 2005 interview.

The disclosure of the rendition flights brought condemnation in the editorials of British newspapers. The Guardian asked, "Why... has the US waited until now to reveal what has been going on? Why have all those official requests from London failed to elicit the truth until now,?" and stated that "It is not just disappointing when ministers repeatedly mislead parliament. It is unacceptable and wrong." The Times of London writes that the disclosure "is a saga that could be dismissed as being about the past, not the future." However, "the compelling need to have a culture of consulting allies that is scrupulously followed in practice transcends the argument about rendition. Extraordinary omissions will not serve any US administration well." And the Financial Times wonders if this case is but one incident in a larger pattern of perhaps willful ignorance on the part of the British government.

What else does London not know – or want to be able to plausibly deny – in a relationship with Washington that appears as unsighted as it is unequal, despite Mr Blair's pretensions to be a player?
This affair should not end without a thorough inquiry into whether other rendition operations have used British facilities, and indeed, whether Diego Garcia was part of the same lawless network that includes Guantánamo and Bagram.
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