SACC says it has no confidence in Police investigation into rendition flights

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
26 February 2015

SACC is concerned that the police investigation into the use of Scottish airports to facilitate the illegal rendition and torture of terrorism suspects in the years following 9/11 is under-resourced, lacks clear goals and reflects a police and political culture that is shy of prosecuting British government figures and officials.

According to new information obtained by SACC, two officers have been allocated to the investigation since 5 June 2013, when the Lord Advocate told the Scottish Parliament that a new police inquiry had been launched. Police say they hold no information on the number of officers involved over the period 2005-2013, which includes a police inquiry said by the Lord Advocate to have been conducted in 2007/8.

Police also say that they are unable to say when the 2007/8 inquiry reached its conclusion, or when this conclusion was passed to the Lord Advocate. They say that searching their records for this information would be too expensive.

The outcome of the 2007/8 inquiry was officially made public for the first time on 5 June 2013, when the Lord Advocate told Parliament that police had found "insufficient credible and reliable information to enable them to commence a criminal investigation." The announcement was made at the same time as the Lord Advocate announced a fresh investigation, triggered by a report published by Kent and Kingston universities that contained potential new information.

Police say that no criminal investigation was carried out in 2005. This appears to conflict with a claim made in the Sunday Herald on 23 October 2005 that a Strathclyde Police spokesperson had "confirmed that the force would now launch an investigation."

Police refuse to disclose whether the current investigation is taking into account all the available evidence relating to use of Scottish airports by rendition flights, or is only looking at new evidence not available to the 2007/8 inquiry.

This is crucial, because the 2007/8 inquiry had been given a report produced by human rights groups Reprieve and Amnesty International that established very convincingly that Glasgow and Prestwick airports had been used as essential fuelling stops by US aircraft returning home after having delivered illegally-held prisoners to locations where they were likely to be tortured. The newer report provides evidence that could, additionally, implicate Highland airports. However, the evidence linking Glasgow and Prestwick airports to specific rendition flights is arguably still the strongest publicly available evidence that Scottish airports were used to facilitate the US rendition programme.

The statement made in Parliament by the Lord Advocate on 5 June 2013 appeared to indicate that the latest investigation would focus on new information. It is troubling that the police refuse to clarify this point, citing national security and defence, international relations, and prejudice to the ongoing investigation as the grounds for their refusal.

Police describe their current investigation as "an on-going live police investigation to establish if any crimes or offences have taken place within Scottish jurisdiction." They do not say that they are seeking to identify and prosecute individuals responsible for crimes connected with rendition. This is very disappointing. In our view there is little doubt that the well-documented use of Scottish airports to facilitate rendition was illegal.

Police say they hold no information on any anticipated or target date or time-frame for the completion of the investigation.

The confused history of police investigations into rendition, the history of stone-walling by government officials, the lack of clarity in statements made to Parliament and the media by the Lord Advocate, the apparent inability of the police to access key information about their earlier inquiry, the refusal of the police to disclose basic information about the scope of their current investigation and the limited police resources deployed on this investigation all lead to the conclusion that no confidence can be placed in it.

The investigation is in any case compromised by police links with MI5. Police work closely with MI5 on counter-terrorism issues. But MI5 are potential suspects in connection with rendition. They are implicated in a number of instances of torture around the world, and may turn out to have been involved in, or to have been aware of, the use of Scottish airports to facilitate rendition and torture by the CIA.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"Ten years have passed since we first learned of the use of Scottish airports by CIA torture flights. Exposure of rendition flights helped uncover the extent of kidnapping and torture by the US, and ultimately led to the closure of secret CIA prisons – the so-called 'black' sites – in Europe. But we are no closer than we were ten years ago to knowing how the CIA were able to use our airports in violation of the policy of the UK and Scottish governments, in violation of our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and in violation of the law.

"It's farcical that the police claim that telling the public what they are doing could prejudice their investigation while MI5 – prime suspects in this case – are most likely aware of every step the investigation takes.

"After 10 years, police say they are still investigating whether crimes or offences have taken place. If you report a burglary to the police you expect them to spend their time trying to catch the burglar, rather than trying to establish whether a burglary has happened. I expect no less in this case.

"We need the Scottish Government to set up a judge-led inquiry with the power to subpoena witnesses. It might suffer from the usual judicial inhibitions over criticising the state apparatus, but at least we would be able to see what it was up to."

Notes

  1. The information from Police Scotland referred to in this press release was obtained from their response to two recent Freedom of Information requests.
  2. On 5 June 2013, Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland said in answer to Margo MacDonald (S4O-02198):

    "The use of torture cannot be condoned. It is against international law and contrary to the common law of Scotland.

    As the member will be aware, a police inquiry was conducted into allegations of extraordinary rendition at Scottish airports in 2007-08. Following the inquiry, the police concluded that there was insufficient credible and reliable information to enable them to commence a criminal investigation.

    I am aware of the information that was provided by the rendition project involving researchers at the University of Kent and Kingston University. I consider that that information - and any other information that is additional to that considered by the police in 2007 - should be the subject of police consideration. I will therefore ask Police Scotland to give consideration to that information."

  3. On 10 December 2014 The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland announced that he had instructed Police Scotland to consider the U.S. Senate report on CIA interrogation as part of the ongoing police investigation into rendition flights.
  4. "Ten years have passed" - In February 2005, CBS Sixty Minutes filmed a CIA plane arriving at Glasgow, having been alerted to it by journalist Stephen Grey who had obtained the information from an internet flight tracking service.