Rendition - police must act

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) Saturday 8 April 2006

On Wednesday 12 April, the STUC Annual Congress in Perth will vote on a resolution urging the Scottish Executive and Scottish police forces to investigate suspicions that US aircraft landing at Scottish airports are involved in so-called "extraordinary renditions" . SACC will be hosting a lunch-time fringe meeting in Perth on Tuesday to discuss British involvement in extraordinary rendition and torture. Speakers at the meeting will include Clara Gutteridge, a lawyer who has been giving advice to Westminster's All-Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Renditions, chaired by Andrew Tyrie MP. Clara Gutteridge has uncovered extensive evidence that British intelligence services have been involved in the abduction, interrogation and torture of supposed "terrorism suspects". As well as the lunch-time meeting in Perth, she will be speaking at an open meeting in Edinburgh on Tuesday evening.

The meetings follow the release of separate reports by Cage Prisoners and Amnesty International documenting US human rights abuses and British involvement in them. SACC supports Amnesty International's call for a full independent public inquiry into all aspects of the UK's involvement in "rendition" flights. An inquiry will take time, but it's the only way that we will find out how our country has become entangled in these dreadful activities. We also need immediate action to ensure that Scottish facilities cannot be used for this kind of criminal activity.

Public statements by US state departments officials make it clear that the US is carrying out renditions. It is nearly certain - as acknowledged in the interim report of Council of Europe's Rapporteur, Senator Dick Marty - that many prisoners have been "rendered" through Europe, and that prisoners have been held in secret prisons in Europe. These activities are undoubtedly illegal under European and international law. Many CIA-owned aircraft have been logged at Scottish airports, often flying between destinations likely to be connected to extraordinary rendition. The ownership and itinerary of these aircraft are compelling reasons to suspect them of involvement in rendition - an involvement that the US does not deny. The close relationship between Britain and the US in the "war on terror", and the new evidence of the role played by British intelligence in illegal US activities, give further grounds for suspicion.

The government's response to these suspicions has so far been laughable. It has merely searched foreign office records for official requests by the US to "render" prisoners through Britain. If the government has asked the US whether rendition flights are using British airports, it isn't telling us. And if it has asked its own intelligence agencies what they think the CIA is up to in Britain, it isn't telling us that either.

The Scottish police already have the powers they need to investigate these flights. A legal opinion recently adopted by the Venice Commission - the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters - makes it clear that the police have a duty to do this. We would expect that such an investigation would involve police inspecting suspect aircraft and questioning their crew. So far, the police have failed to take any action at all. The Scottish Executive must act urgently to remind the police of their duty. When the Scottish Parliament debated "rendition" last December, it accepted the view that any statement from the Scottish Executive would amount to "political interference" in police work. It would not. It would simply be an assertion that the police are accountable to the public for the service they provide.

Britain's complicity in "extraordinary rendition" is just one element of an ongoing assault on civil liberties by the British government. The Prevention of Terrorism Bill recently approved by Parliament creates an alarming new crime - the crime of "gloryfying terrorism". The Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) says:

"This new crime significantly extends recent attacks on freedom of expression in the UK and goes far beyond any law needed to prevent violence. The extra powers supposedly address the problem that statements "glorifying terrorism" may encourage impressionable people (especially young Muslims) to become involved in terrorism. However, existing laws already make it a criminal offence to incite or encourage another person to kill, or indeed commit any indictable offence.

This legislation does something else entirely. It is linked with the Terrorism Act 2000, which broadened the definition of "terrorism" to encompass ordinary political activities at home, such as public speaking and selling literature, if linked to a banned organisation, as well as resistance to oppressive regimes abroad. For this reason, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended in December 2005 that any such criminal offence of "glorification" should be de-coupled from that broad definition."

The threat to freedom expression from this new legislation is so serious that the Association of University Teachers (AUT) is tabling a resolution at the STUC Conference voicing its concern that academic freedom is at risk. The resolution says that the Bill threatens "to criminalise legitimate academic teaching, study and research."

The government's so-called "anti-terrorism" legislation, like its belief that it has a licence to turn a blind eye to gross human rights violations, has nothing to do with protecting us from violence. It's just a device to protect state terror from resistance. We hope that trade unionists in Scotland will make it clear that they haven't been fooled.

Notes

  • The fringe meeting "Say No to Torture" will be held from 12.30-2pm on Tuesday 11 April at Brennans, 38, St. John St, Perth. Speakers include Clara Gutteridge (lawyer who has been giving advice to the All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Renditions), and Tom Frost (CAMPACC). It will be chaired by Brian Gordon (Dundee TUC). Organised by SACC with the support of Dundee TUC and Community Union.
  • An open meeting "Say No to Torture" will be held at 7.30pm on Tuesday 11 April at the Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Speakers include Clara Gutteridge.
  • See the interim report by Dick Marty, Rapporteur for the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (issued 22 January 2006)
  • See opinion of the Venice Commission (adopted 17 March 2006)