Extraordinary rendition: UK Government denial strategy in tatters


Diego Garcia

In Britain HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) had hoped the matter of its involvement in extraordinary rendition, either direct or in collusion with the USA, would simply disappear off the radar. But despite the redaction of this involvement in the recent US Senate report on CIA torture, this is not the case. In the courts the British Government has pursued a classic divide and rule strategy, resorting to offering out-of-court settlements to the victims of rendition and/or torture – but not everyone played to script. 2015 is expected to be the year when that strategy spectacularly unravels. As a prelude, today – to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld – we publish the known knowns of Britain’s involvement in the rendition programme, including how British airspace was used for rendition, as well as further details of individual rendition cases, and the progress of prosecutions against HMG.

A. Introduction

Two weeks ago UndercoverInfo published evidence that the UK Government knew of a US black site on Diego Garcia (and the names of detainees who confirmed they were held there); also details of how Britain had been directly involved in the rendition and torture of other detainees. But even though it was on (parliamentary) record that Britain knew of the interrogation centre on Diego Garcia and that the island was used as a staging post for rendition, the British Government continued to deny any involvement or knowledge of such a centre and of the rendition programme that made use of Diego Garcia.

Despite these denials, in the years following rendition, a number of cases were brought by victims in the British courts. In response the strategy of the British Government was basically as follows. First, classic divide and rule: avoid class actions at all cost; second: if necessary, offer out-of-court settlements; third: terminate legal proceedings by arguing that further court action would jeopardise the work of the intelligence community and Britain’s close relationship with the USA.

But in November 2014, Britain’s Supreme Court threw a spanner in the works when it cleared the way for appellants who had been renditioned to take their legal action on to the next stage – namely to prosecute Jack Straw (who was Foreign Secretary in the Blair Government when rendition was used) and MI5. And with the publication of the US Senate report on CIA torture (albeit heavily censored) a month later, the Government’s strategy began to unravel further with several MPs calling for further investigations into Britain’s role in torture and rendition, both of which are contrary to international law, including the UN Convention against Torture, as well as the Nuremberg Code.

In short, the genie is out of the bottle and over the next twelve months the legal and political dramas will no doubt play out one way or another. The Chilcot Inquiry (into the legality of the Iraq War) is also due to report back in 2015, with possible implications for Tony Blair.

Meanwhile, below is a summary of the known knowns of Britain’s involvement in rendition and torture subsequent to 9/11…

B. British airspace used for rendition

According to Guardian journalist Ian Cobain, at a NATO meeting in October 2001 the British government agreed to provide logistical support to the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, resulting in CIA flights en route to ‘black centres’ and with stopovers in British airports. In a 2007 European Parliament report it was stated that there was “serious concern about the 170 stopovers made by CIA-operated aircraft at UK airports, which on many occasions came from or were bound for countries linked with extraordinary rendition circuits and the transfer of detainees.” Glasgow’s Prestwick airport was, according to the report, a “crucial staging point”. For a complete list of flights where the UK Government has been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK, its Overseas Territories or the Crown Dependencies, click here.

Not only was Diego Garcia used by the CIA as part of its rendition programme, but also another British Overseas Territory – Turks and Caicos. In February 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted that in 2002 two rendition flights, each carrying a detainee, stopped over in Diego Garcia. Reprieve documented 23 suspicious stops between 2001 and 2005 in the Turks and Caicos by aircraft that had been associated with extraordinary renditions – these include aircraft N379P (also known as N8068V), N313P, N85VM, and N829MG.

One of the flights to and from Diego Garcia is believed to have seen the rendition of either Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, a dual Egyptian-Pakistani national who was seized in Jakarta on 9 January 2002 after arriving from Pakistan, put into a coffin, then renditioned via Diego Garcia on Flight N379P and taken to Egypt, where he was made to stand for 92 days and tortured with electric cattle prods.

A second N379P flight is believed to have renditioned either Sheikh Al-Libi (who in September 2002 was taken via Diego Garcia to Egypt, where he was tortured into “admitting” that Al Qaida was in league with Saddam Hussein in the development of weapons of mass destruction) or Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh (who was taken into custody in Pakistan, then via Diego Garcia to Guantanamo Bay).

Manfred Novak, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, said he had received credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003.

C. Individual cases

1. Sami al-Saadi

In September 2011, Sami al-Saadi (aka Abu Munthir), the former deputy leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, alleged that he was in China in 2004 when the British government informed him he could return to Britain if he reported to the British consulate in Hong Kong. On arrival at Hong Kong with his wife and four children he and his family were arrested and flown to Libya. Documents found in Tripoli in 2011 included a 2004 memorandum from the CIA to Libyan Intelligence that stated “[w]e are aware that your service had been co-operating with the British to effect Abu Munthir’s removal to Tripoli” and offered to pay for the aircraft used to transport Saadi.

During the six years of his detention Mr al-Saadi was subjected to horrific treatment, including violent assaults, flogging and electrocution. As with Mr Belhaj (see below) he was held incommunicado, subjected to a flagrantly unfair trial and sentenced to death. His wife and children were imprisoned for approximately 2.5 months. Al-Saadi also alleged that MI6 agents interrogated him during his imprisonment in Libya. Following their release, Al-Saadi and his family were prohibited from leaving Libya and were subjected to surveillance by the Gaddafi regime. For more on this, click here.

2. Abdul Hakim Belhadj and Fatima Bouchar

The British Government provided intelligence to the CIA that saw the rendition of Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq (Abdul Hakim Belhadj) and his wife, Fatima Bouchar. The CIA detained Al-Sadiq and Bouchar after it received information about him from MI6. The flight on which al-Sadiq was transported refuelled at the US air base at Diego Garcia, a British Overseas Territory. Documents found in Tripoli in 2011 confirmed that the British Government had been directly involved in assisting the Gaddafi regime to take custody of al-Sadiq.

In March 2004 Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6, wrote to Libya’s notorious spy chief Moussa Koussa, as follows: “Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [Mr Belhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week…Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from Abu ‘Abd Allah through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence on Abu ‘Abd Allah was British. I know I did not pay for the air cargo. But I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this and am very grateful for the help you are giving us.”

Al-Sadiq was subsequently imprisoned in Libyan for six years. He alleged that MI6 knew he was being tortured; also that on a number of occasions he was interrogated by US and British officials. Ms Bouchar was imprisoned in Libya for four months. She was subjected to aggressive interrogations and released just three weeks before giving birth, by which time her health and that of her baby was in a precarious state.

3. Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna

Britain may have provided intelligence that led to the detention by the CIA of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna. A 2007 European Parliament report points out that “the telegrams from the UK security service MI5 to an unspecified foreign government…suggest that the abduction of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna was facilitated by partly erroneous information supplied by the UK security service.” The CIA abducted the pair in 2002 while on a business trip in Gambia after MI5 provided information to US that al-Rawi was carrying bomb parts in his luggage (this information turned out to be false). El-Banna and al-Rawi were then detained by the CIA in a ‘black centre’ in Afghanistan and later flown to Guantánamo Bay.

Al-Rawi was held in Guantánamo for four years. His release finally came on 30 March 2007. No charges were ever filed against him. He was flown from Guantánamo to Britain, accompanied by high ranking officials from MI6, the Home Office, and UK Special Branch Police Officers on a luxury Lear Jet. On arrival at Luton airport, he was briefly interviewed for just over an hour by British police. They then drove him to his family home. El-Banna was released on 19 December 2007, and also returned to the UK.

4. Binyam Mohamed

A British intelligence agent interrogated Binyam Mohamed while he was being detained in Pakistan in May 2002. Later, MI5 provided questions to the CIA to be put to Mohamed. In February 2003, MI5 received a full report from their American counterparts quoting statements Mohamed had made under torture. In 2007 a European Parliament report emphasised that “the former UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jack Straw, conceded in December 2005 that UK intelligence officials met Binyam Mohammed when he was arrested in Pakistan” and added that “some of the questions put by the Moroccan officials to Binyam Mohammed appear to have been inspired by information supplied by the UK”.

5. Omar Deghayes

British intelligence was also involved in the case of Omar Deghayes, a Libyan national and British resident, who was arrested in April 2002 at his home in Lahore. According to a 2010 UN report he was arrested and abused in Pakistan and later taken by British and US officers, who transported him to Bagram in Afghanistan, where he was tortured. He alleges that MI5 officers interrogated him many times at Bagram, before being transferred to Guantánamo in August 2002. At Guantánamo he alleges he was tortured: by hooding, and forced into stress positions; he also suffered physical abuse that resulted in damage to his right eye, a broken finger, and a broken nose. He was released in December 2007.

D. Legal cases made by victims of rendition

1. Binyam Mohamed

In May 2008, Reprieve sued Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Binyam Mohamed’s behalf, requesting that he reveal correspondence with the United States relating to Mohamed’s imprisonment and interrogation. The British Government refused to reveal this correspondence, arguing that to do so would damage Britain’s relationship with the USA.

On July 30, 2009, the High Court issued a judgement, revealing that Britain’s secret services had made a greater contribution to Mohamed’s interrogation than originally admitted, providing questions to his torturers for over twelve months, despite knowing that he was held in “covert” detention. The High Court also ruled that paragraphs of an earlier decision that summarised CIA documents passed to MI5 relating to Mohamed’s treatment should be unredacted.

On February 10, 2010, the Court of Appeal dismissed the British government’s appeal of the High Court judgement and ordered Miliband to reveal evidence of MI5 complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, including the summary of classified CIA information showing what British agents knew about his treatment.

In November 2008, Scotland Yard began Operation Hinton, an investigation into “alleged involvement of British officials in the ill-treatment and torture of Mr Binyam Mohamed when he was detained in Pakistan between about April and July 2002 and/or when he was detained elsewhere between about July 2002 and early 2004.” The Crown Prosecution Service found that “members of the Security Service provided information to the US authorities about Mr Mohamed and supplied questions for the US authorities to put to Mr Mohamed while he was being detained between 2002 and 2004.”

2. Abdul Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi

In January 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police set up a joint panel to examine the evidence that British intelligence agencies were involved in rendition of Abdullah al-Sadiq (Abdul Hakim Belhadj) and Sami al-Saadi. At the end of January 2012, the two men sued Mark Allen, MI6’s former head of counterterrorism, for civil damages. In April 2012, al-Sadiq and his wife sued former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, alleging his complicity in the torture and abuse they suffered at the hands of Thai, US and Libyan officials, as well as malfeasance in public office. In December 2012, the British government paid al-Saadi £2.23m to settle his lawsuit, without admitting liability.

In November 2014 the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the case against the former foreign secretary Jack Straw and a senior MI6 officer alleging they were involved in the torture and rendition of a Libyan man and his pregnant wife – Abdel Belhadj and Fatima Bouchar – to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004 can be heard in an English Court. This is a landmark judgement that could affect similar cases in the UK and elsewhere (including the USA).

To see Abdel Belhadj and Fatima Bouchar’s successful legal submission in the Court of Appeal against Jack Straw (former UK Foreign Secretary), Sir Mark Allen (former Head of Counter-Terrorism at MI6), MI6, MI5, the (UK) Attorney-General, the (UK) Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the (UK) Home Office, click here. (Here is the original letter of claim made against head of MI6.) For more on this case, click here.

3. Bisher al-Rawi

In August 2007, Bisher al-Rawi became the fifth plaintiff in a case filed against Jeppesen Dataplan alleging complicity in his rendition and torture. Ultimately, however, the case itself was not heard in court after the US Government intervened, asserting ‘state secrets privilege’ and claiming that the litigation would damage national security interests. In arguing that the Government’s intervention should not be allowed to stand, al-Rawi submitted a declaration to the court outlining the facts in his case. Click here for further discussion of this case, and a collection of relevant documents.

4. Other cases

In November 2010, the British Government agreed on a confidential settlement with Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, and Martin Mubanga, each of whom had brought a suit for civil damages against government departments, including MI5 and MI6, for complicity in their ill-treatment and rendition to Guantánamo Bay. The settlement followed a May 2010 Court of Appeal decision prohibiting the government from using secret evidence in its defence in the six cases, and requiring allegations of wrongdoing to be heard in public. In July 2011, the British Supreme Court rejected MI5’s appeal of the Court of Appeal judgment.

4. Wider inquiries

In June 2009, after MI6 referred one of its officers to the attorney general, the police commenced Operation Iden, an investigation into MI6 officers who had interrogated suspects at Bagram, Afghanistan, in January 2002. However, detectives failed to take a statement from Shaker Aamer, who is believed to have been a witness to the interrogation and who remains detained in Guantánamo Bay to this day.

In July 2010, the British Government announced its intention to launch an inquiry into the involvement of British officials in the mistreatment of detainees abroad, once all related criminal and civil cases had been resolved. The terms of reference were to “examine whether, and if so to what extent, the UK Government and its security and intelligence agencies in the aftermath of 9/11: i. were involved in improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter terrorism operations overseas; and/or ii. were aware of improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter terrorism operations in which the UK was involved.” In August 2011, a number of British-based NGOs and lawyers for some of the detainees announced they would not cooperate with the inquiry because “the issue of what material may be disclosed to the public [would] not be determined independently of Government and, further, that there [would] be no meaningful participation of the former and current detainees and other interested third parties.” In January 2012, the British Government decided to abandon this inquiry.

In December 2014 the US Senate released its highly redacted report into CIA torture. The British Government has denied any involvement, directly or indirectly in extraordinary rendition or knowledge of CIA black sites on British Overseas Territories. However there is ample evidence (see above) that this is not the case. The British Government has indicated an inquiry into these matters can be set up once current legal cases (e.g. that involving Abdul Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi) have run their course.

E. Britain’s link to US torture centre

British soldiers and airmen helped operate a secretive US detention facility in Baghdad that was at the centre of some of the most serious human rights abuses to occur in Iraq after the invasion. Many of the detainees were brought there by snatch squads formed from Special Air Service and Special Boat Service squadrons.

Suspects were brought to the prison, known as Camp Nama, not far from Baghdad International airport, for questioning by US military and civilian interrogators. Former members of TF 121 and its successor unit TF6-26 later described the abuses they witnessed: Iraqi prisoners held for prolonged periods in cells the size of large dog kennels; prisoners being subjected to electric shocks; prisoners being routinely hooded; inmates being taken into a sound-proofed shipping container for interrogation, and emerging in a state of physical distress.

Before setting up the prison at Nama, TF 121 was known as Task Force 20 and had run a detention and interrogation centre at a remote location known as H1 in Iraq’s western desert. The British were junior partners in TF 121: their contingent was known as Task Force Black, with US Delta Force troops making up Task Force Green and US Army Rangers making up Task Force Red. One half of Task Force Black comprised of SAS and SBS troopers, based a short distance away at the government compound known as the Green Zone. Military at Nama imprisoned ‘high-value detainees’. Other military personnel at the prison included air and ground crews of 7 Squadron and 47 Squadron of the RAF and 657 Squadron of the Army Air Corps, who lived on the camp, operating helicopters used in detention operations and a Hercules transport aircraft.

See also: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/01/camp-nama-iraq-human-rights-abuses


This entry was posted in Intelligence, War and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Extraordinary rendition: UK Government denial strategy in tatters

  1. Pingback: Rendition/torture: documents, memo and ruling expose UK Govt role as more cases line up | UndercoverInfo

  2. Pingback: ‘Enemy within’ GCHQ monitoring declared unlawful; and their sister organisations? | UndercoverInfo

  3. Pingback: UK intelligence services snooping on lawyers/clients over last 10 years declared unlawful | UndercoverInfo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.