Torture Flights - Ingrams comments contradict US statements

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities - Tuesday 28 March 2006

Adam Ingram's latest comment are at odds with statements by the US Consul in Scotland and ignore US admissions over "rendition"

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights yesterday that it would be a "diplomatic error" for UK officials to board US aircraft to investigate their involvement in "extraordinary rendition." This contradicts assurances given in January by the US Consul in Scotland, Cecile Shea. At a meeting with human rights campaigners held at the consulate in Edinburgh on 17 January she made it clear that there would be no US objection to police carrying out investigations on specific aircraft where there were reasonable grounds to suspect involvement in illegal activities. Two MSPs - Mark Ballard (Green) and Frances Curran (SSP) were present at the meeting.

Adam Ingram said that any investigation would involve an "assumption" that the US was not "being honest with us". But the US has never been publicly asked by the British government whether aircraft using British airports are involved in rendition. The US says publicly that it uses extraordinary rendition. It has not denied that aircraft involved in the process use British facilities and airspace. Nor has it denied that captives are "rendered" to countries known to practice torture, or that some individuals who have been rendered in the past have suffered torture (thought it denies that torture was intended by the US).

Dick Marty, Rapporteur for the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, said in an an interim report published on 22 January that:

"On 5 December 2005, Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, made a statement addressed to Europeans in which she did not, at any point, deny the existence of the alleged centres, or of the flights transporting detainees, but reaffirmed the need to resort to “extraordinary renditions” in the context of efforts to counter terrorism. The only thing that Ms Rice categorically denied was the use of torture."

and that:

"In an interview broadcast by the American channel ABC on 29 November 2005, the Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, Porter Goss, did not deny the existence of CIA secret prisons in various parts of the world where people suspected of terrorism were held. He did, however, categorically deny that the United States used torture, while refusing to pass judgment on certain interrogation techniques used by its services."

"Extraordinary rendition" refers to the the transport of a prisoner from one country to another without any legal process. Prisoners treated in this way have generally come into US custody throught kidnapping rather than as a result of a legally sanctioned arrest. The process is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights whether or not it involves torture. A report issued by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on 28 February says that:

"the unacknowledged detention of an individual is a complete negation of the Convention’s guarantees against arbitrary deprivation of liberty and a most grave violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security). The arbitrary arrest, detention and transfer of an individual would also affect the rights under Articles 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 (freedom of movement), as well as, depending on the circumstances, Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture).

It is almost certain that a substantial number of prisoners have been "rendered" through Europe in recent years. As America's closest ally, Britain is at least as likely a conduit for this illegal traffic as any other European country. It is entirely reasonable to suspect that CIA-owned aicraft landing here en route between probable or proven interrogation centres are involved in this.

Adam Ingram apparently believes that it would be somehow impolite to press the US on these matters. Most international lawyers take the opposite view. On 17 March the Venice Commission - the Council of Europe's constitutional advisory body - said:

"there exists in particular a positive duty to investigate into substantiated claims of breaches of fundamental rights by foreign agents, particularly in case of allegations of torture or unacknowledged detention."

and

"...the search of a state airplane which has presented itself as a civil aircraft is allowed under the Chicago Convention and must be effected whenever there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the plane may be used to commit human rights breaches"

The US seems not to be much bothered by politeness. Some statements by the US sound very like a threat to reveal the full extent of European complicity in human rights abuses unless European governments can somehow contain the mounting outrage of their people. This is an interpretation that Dick Marty acknowledged in his interim report, noting that:

"The statements made by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, during and before her European visit of December 2005, and by her predecessor, Colin Powell, who said that the US had always respected the national sovereignty of its allies, are taken by some as both a reprimand and a warning: 'stop being hypocritical', and 'do you really want us to say what happened?'.

Adam Ingram says that there is no evidence that the US has abused British airspace in connection with extraordinary rendition. He should try asking for the evidence. He could do a lot worse than to start by asking the US administration and Britain's own intelligence services. Kidnapping and torture horrify all decent people. It's outrageous that our government is playing with words instead of taking firm action to make sure that these obscenities can't occur in our country.

Notes for editors

    1. For the meeting between human rights campaigners and the US Consul in Scotland, see SACC Press Release, 17 Jan 2006
    2. Interim report by Dick Marty (pdf document) Issued 22 Jan 2006. Dick Marty is the Rapporteur for the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights
    3. Opinion of the Venice Commission adopted on 17 March 2006.
      The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters.
    4. For evidence of the complicity of British intelligence services in human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, see the report Fabricating Terrorism: British Complicity in Renditions and Torture (pdf document) issued today (28 march 2006) by the human rights organisation Cage Prisoners -