Vigil against rendition flights at Edinburgh Airport

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Thursday 2 February 2006 11pm for immediate release

Vigil against rendition flights to be mounted at Edinburgh Airport

Campaigners are to hold a vigil at Edinburgh airport this Sunday in protest at the apparent use of Scottish airports by CIA-owned aircraft involved in extraordinary rendition. The vigil is being organised by Edinburgh Stop The War Coalition and Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, who mounted a similar vigil on 18 December last year, provoking a strongly-worded response from US Consul Cecile Shea. The Consul was reported as saying that British officials would not be allowed to inspect CIA aircraft. She later told a delegation of MSPs and campaigners that she had not intended to suggest that she would have any objection to British police boarding American aircraft in the course of a criminal investigation.

Campaigners expect to be joined on this Sunday's vigil by Robin Harper MSP (Green) and by Alyn Smith MEP (SNP). Alyn Smith is on one of the European Parliament's working groups tracking the Parliament's committee of inquiry into rendition. He says:

"It is vitally important that we get to the truth behind these flights. Scotland must co-operate, regardless of London's position with both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. The Scottish people, and the people of Edinburgh do not want these flights to continue in their name or on their soil."

"I have already asked Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control agency, for them to reveal details of these flights as they pass through European airspace and had confirmation from Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini that any country found to be breaking international law will be punished accordingly. The government must make it clear now, that any activity involving kidnap or torture is just not acceptable."

Robin Harper adds:

"It is completely unacceptable that Scotland has been kept in the dark on this issue, and that still no attempt has been made by the Executive to clarify the situation, and that our own police force has not been asked to investigate, having been given evidence at least as compelling as the evidence put forward that is being acted on in England.

International law has been flouted on our territory, innocent people have been transported to face prolonged periods of deprivation and torture - we must have guarantees that it will never happen again, and the agencies responsible for this outrage will be held accountable."

John McAllion, former Labour MP for Dundee West, is expected to join the vigil in a break from his Dunfermline and West Fife by-election campaign, where he is standing for the SSP. Frances Curran MSP (West of Scotland, SSP) tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament last week welcoming the publication of an interim report on the Council of Europe's inquiry into rendition and calling for governments across Europe to co-operate with the investigation. The motion:

"...suggests that the real question that Senator Marty's report raises is what information is being hidden and by whom; believes that, if such flights were using airports in Scotland and across Europe for trafficking illegal immigrants, Colombian drugs barons or parcels of cocaine, governments would not be experiencing the same problems in obtaining information."

Sunday's protests comes as fresh evidence is emerging that rendition planes have been using British airspace, despite government denials. The National Air Traffic Services revealed on Wednesday that the planes had operated in British airspace "on a number of occasions in the past five years". It was responding to a parliamentary question from acting Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell about a Gulfstream, registered number N379P and a Boeing 737, registered N313P. The Gulfstream has been nicknamed the "Guantanamo Express" and has been linked by Amnesty International to known cases of rendition. A dossier released by the SNP earlier this month shows that the plane visited Glasgow and Prestwick airports between 2002 and 2004. It was put on the market by the CIA in November last year. The Boeing has also been logged at Glasgow. The dossier logs the visits of a number of other suspect planes to Scotland, including a CASA logged at Edinburgh in June last year and a Raytheon Hawker 800XP logged at Edinburgh last August.

It emerged on Wednesday that aircraft that could have been involved in rendition have been using Birmingham airport. Greater Manchester Chief Constable, Michael Todd, who is looking into extraordinary rendition flights on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales(ACPO), has said he will investigate the matter.

Jack Straw said on 20 January: "we have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territories since 11 September 2001. We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territories since 1997 where there were substantial grounds to believe there was a real risk of torture." This claim looks increasingly implausible. But even if detainees haven't passed through Britain, the use of British airports to facilitate torture - for, example, by refuelling aircraft on their return journeys - would probably be illegal under international law.

It's time to put an end to the evasion and double-speak. Complicity in torture is a crime and an affront to every decent human feeling. In December, lawyer Clive Stafford Smith revealed that an Ethiopian student who had been living in London had been brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies. Binyam Mohammed, 27, told Clive Stafford Smith that he had spent nearly three years in the CIA's network of 'black sites'. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator. He is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Last week, a court in London heard claims that Farid Hilali - a Morroccan man now threatened with extradition to Spain - had been tortured in United Arab Emirates and Morocco on the direct orders of British intelligence.

Stories like this should turn our stomachs. Instead, they have become the subject of a grisly game by political leaders whose only wish seems to be to devise a formula that can keep them out of court while the horror continues.

The Scottish Executive and the Westminster government have a clear duty to do everything possible to assist the various inquiries now under way, so that we can understand how this deplorable situation came about. But the most important thing is that we act immediately to ensure that our country cannot facilitate torture in the future. Britain and Scotland must tell the US that torture planes aren't welcome here. And the police must enforce the law. They must press the airport authorities to contact them when a suspicious plane lands. It shouldn't be too hard. A CIA-owned plane on flight path linking known torture centres is an obvious and legitimate object of suspicion. In a case like that, we would expect police to search the aircraft and question the crew. We have the word of the US Consul in Scotland that the US would raise no objection.

The Scottish Executive and the government need to give the police a clear lead. Everyone understands that when our Chief Constables say there is insufficient evidence to justify action, they mean that the matter is too hot to handle. It is laughably disingenuous to say - as some MSPs said during the Parliamentary debate at Holyrood last December - that such a lead would amount to political interference in police work. And it is no answer at all for our Chief Constables to appeal to people to come forward with evidence. It isn't easy for ordinary citizens to obtain evidence from the CIA, the British intelligence agencies and the National Air Traffic Service. The SNP's dossier shows what can be done, despite the difficulties, by amateur detectives and it deserves commendation. But now it's time for some professional police work.

Notes for Editors

  1. An interim report of the Council of Europe's inquiry published on 22 January. The Council of Europe is a 46-nation human rights body comprising EU member states, Russia, and other European countries. Its Parliamentary Assembly meets four times a year and is made of 630 representatives from the parliaments of the Council of Europe's member states.
  2. A separate inquiry is being conducted by a specially created committee of the European Parliament. The committee held its first session last week. Committee chairman Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese conservative, said the committee would name and shame those who would not respond to its invitations. Sarah Ludford, who was elected vice-chair on Thursday, said "I don't see why we should not invite Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Straw, Javier Solana, and other foreign and defence ministers."
  3. An all party group of Westminster MPs, chaired by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, was set up at the beginning of December to look into extraordinary rendition.
  4. In response to a request from human rights organisation Liberty, Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Michael Todd confirmed on 19 December - the day after SACC's vigil at Edinburgh airport - that he will look into "extraordinary rendition" flights on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales (ACPO). ACPO's Scottish counterpart is called ACPO Scotland but on a number of issues - such as firearms policy and terrorism - ACPO is responsible for policy throughout the UK, including Scotland, and there is Scottish representation on ACPO committees concerned with these issues.
  5. The case of Farid Hilali, the Moroccan man who says he was tortured on the orders of British intelligence, was reported in the Guardian, 24 January Guardian report
  6. SACC supports Liberty's "No Torture - No Compromise" campaign. More about the campaign
  7. More about ourcampaign against rendition