Scotland complicit in rendition

Six people transported to torture with the help of Scottish territory, says Clive Stafford Smith
SACC says Scottish Police should stop running away from the crime scene

Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival today, lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said that recent research by the charity Reprieve (of which he is legal director) shows that Scottish airports have been a key staging point in the renditions circuit, and that six named individuals were transported to torture with the help of Scottish territory. Reprieve is calling for an "immediate and thorough criminal investigation" by the Scottish Police as well as an investigation by the Scottish Parliament.

When asked to respond to claims by the government, police and others that there is insufficient evidence of Scottish territory being used to facilitate rendition, Clive Stafford Smith told the Edinburgh audience that the authorities should "start investigating with subpoenas".

SACC wrote in June this year to Holyrood Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, calling for an investigation with "powers to subpoena witnesses." As a result of this, SACC received a response from Drew Peterkin of the Scottish Executive's Police and Community Safety Directorate.

The letter gives no sense of a real will by Scotland's legal and law-enforcement establishment to take firm action over this issue.

In his letter Drew Peterkin wrote that "these allegations are very serious and Scottish Ministers understand the public's concern." But he stressed that the question of whether there should be a criminal investigation is "one for the police to assess" and that "the Lord Advocate is the only person who can direct the police in their investigations."

Drew Peterkin also wrote that police can only launch an investigation if they have evidence that "a crime has been, is being or is to be committed within our jurisdiction by people who are present within our jurisdiction."

This seems to mean that, if a murder was committed on a Scottish street and all the suspects fled the country, police would be unable to investigate. That's nonsense.

SACC wrote to Strathclyde Police on two occasions in 2005 pressing for an investigation, but were told there was insuffucient evidence. Former Green MSP Chris Ballance has also written to Strathclyde Police without success.

It's time the Scottish Police stopped running away from the scene of the crime. There's more than enough evidence to justify an investigation being initiated. After that, it's the job of the police to go out and look for evidence admissible in court, and then it's up to a court to weigh it up fairly. But evidence won't be found unless police look for it.

People in Scotland need to know whether our facilities have been abused to facilitate kidnapping and torture. Reprieve, Amnesty International and other groups and individuals have done wonderful work uncovering part of the story. But we need an investigation by people with greater resources and with real investigatory powers - in other words, by the police.

There must be people in Britain who know something of what's been happening. We need these potential witnesses to be questioned in a place - a courtroom or an inquiry with real teeth - where they are legally obliged to testify honestly and fully.

One of the rendition incidents said by Reprieve to have involved the use of Scottish territory is the case of Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, bundled onto an aircraft in Pakistan in October 2001 and taken to Jordan, where he disappeared. The plane that took him to Jordan stopped at Prestwick to refuel on its way back to the US. SACC drew this incident to the attention of Strathclyde Police in its letter to them on 19 August 2005, but no action was taken.

Amongst the new evidence released by Reprieve today, is a claim of "systematic deception and cover-up" in the rendition of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. Scottish aviation personnel were deliberately misled by the Polish aviation authorities and a company employed by the CIA that has an office in Crawley, England. False flight plans were filed when the plane left Poland for Glasgow saying that the plane had come from Prague when in fact it had come from dropping off Khaled Sheikh Mohammed at an airport servicing a secret prison in Poland.

Reprieve says that, as well as directly faclilitating the transfer of prisoners to torture, "transits through Scottish territory have been used to airlift personnel who have been taking part in the abuse of prisoners."

Clive Stafford Smith met Kenny MacAskill this afternoon to discuss the evidence obtained by Reprieve. Afterwards he expressed confidence that the Scottish Executive would take action.

SACC believes that the authorities in Scotland have a clear duty to investigate all activities that have provided support for torture and kidnapping, and to take steps to prevent Scottish facilities being abused in this way in the future. We hope that the shocking new material released by Reprieve today will provide the necessary spur for action.