The British government’s involvement in torture and rendition is “beyond doubt” the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said today. The parliamentary committee, which oversee the work of the intelligence machinery of the UK, revealed the true scale of the UK government’s involvement in torture and rendition since the war on terror was launched by US President George Bush in 2001.
It is one of the most damning indictments ever of UK intelligence. Torture and rendition, according to the ISC, were much more widespread than previously reported. The ISC rejected the intelligence agencies’ defence and said that the cases were not just “isolated incidents”.
A litany of cases of concern was highlighted in two reports by the USC. One report deals with the mistreatment and rendition of detainees between 2001 and 2010, while the other considers current issues.
It said that in 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite knowledge or suspicion of mistreatment. In 198 cases UK personnel received intelligence from liaison services and knew that the detainees had been mistreated or at least should have suspected mistreatment.
Committee chairman, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve said: “In our view the UK tolerated actions, and took others, that we regard as inexcusable.” In three individual cases the MI6 or MI5 even made or offered to make a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation. In 28 cases, the agencies suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others. In a further 22 cases, MI6 or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place. In 23 cases they failed to take action to prevent rendition.
Rendering or rendition involves sending a person from one country to another for imprisonment and interrogation, by methods such as torture, which would be illegal in the country doing the rendering. Prisoners were taken to prisons known as black sites scattered around the globe in some of the most brutal regimes to interrogate and torture prisoners. US intelligence agencies used the process of “extraordinary rendition” to send terror suspects for interrogation by security officials in other countries, where they have no legal protection or rights under American law.
“That the US, and others, were mistreating detainees is beyond doubt, as is the fact that the agencies and defence intelligence were aware of this at an early point,” the report says. “The same is true of rendition: there was no attempt to identify the risks involved and formulate the UK’s response. The report said that there was no understanding in HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] of rendition and no clear policy – or even recognition of the need for one.”
Grieve, said that the committee had reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end because it had been denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister. “It is difficult to comprehend how those at the top of the office did not recognise the pattern of mistreatment by the US,” he continued. Grieve also said that had the inquiry continued, the committee would have called the then home secretary, David Blunkett, and the previous foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to explain what they understood to be the situation at the time and why a briefing was not requested.
The committee also said that they wanted to interview the MI6 officers involved but the government had “denied [us] access to those individuals.”
Craig Murray, a former British diplomat, who gave “key evidence” to the ISC said in a Facebook post that he the only senior British civil servant to enter a written protest at the torture policy but was sacked as a result.