London -- Wednesday June 7 2006
Rendition 'massively damaging' to counter-terrorism effort
James Sturcke and agencies
A Romanian airfield. The country is suspected of having a secret detention centre. Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/Reuters
The British government's apparent support of CIA rendition flights is "massively damaging" in the battle against international terrorism, a former Foreign Office minister said today.
Tony Lloyd demanded that the Bush administration give "proper and definitive" answers to allegations that it has been kidnapping terrorist suspects and transferring them to countries where they could be tortured.
He was speaking as the Council of Europe human rights' committee named Britain among 14 countries that had colluded with the CIA practice, and called on the government to ask Washington "the right questions" about what the US flights that passed through Britain were being used.
He also called for "truthful answers" from the Bush administration.
"If these things are born out, this process is really damaging to any attempt to combat terrorism in our society," he said. "It leads to the suspicion that what we are doing is the wrong tactic and even as bad as the terrorists themselves."
Mr Lloyd, a foreign office minister between 1997-99, told the BBC's Today programme that the word "rendition" was a euphemism for "kidnapping" and as such would be illegal under British law.
He said it had to be established whether the British government had taken part in an illegal activity under domestic law, and whether the Bush administration had "abused agreements" over the use of British airspace and airports.
"But the real issue is that this is massively damaging to the battle against terrorism," he added.
During prime minister's questions, Tony Blair was challenged by the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, on whether the government had provided logistical support to the CIA flights.
"We have said absolutely everything we have to say on this," Mr Blair replied. "There is no more to add to that. The report adds absolutely nothing to the information we already have. We have kept parliament informed."
The government has acknowledged there were four rendition requests in 1998, two of which were granted.
A Foreign Office spokesman said today that the department was still studying the report but that there did not appear "to be much new stuff".
He repeated the government's line that some flights did land on UK soil but that there was no evidence to suggest that they were being used for rendition purposes. He also said the UK government did not condone torture in "any way, shape or form".
William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, said: "It is very important that the war against terror is conducted within the rule of law. Otherwise those of us fighting terrorism lose our moral authority."
Mr Hague told Sky News he had warned the US administration on a recent trip to Washington about the dangers of clandestine tactics in the war on terror. He called for European governments to give "a convincing response" to the report.
The Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, said there was now a "huge amount of circumstantial evidence".
"It's important to remember we are democracy. The truth is going to come out," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One. "For the prime minister just to say 'oh I'm not going to say anymore, I've said all I'm going to say', clearly isn't going to wash in the long run.
"If the UK has nothing to hide in which case why are they so taciturn? Is it because they are protecting the Americans - or they do have something to hide in which case people in the UK have broken the UK criminal law on a very serious matter?
Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, demanded an independent inquiry into the CIA flights.
"This report exposes the myth that European governments had no knowledge of or involvement in rendition and secret detentions," he said.
"Ministers must answer specific allegations of British assistance, and explain why they have failed to ask hard questions of their American counterparts."
He said that parliamentary questions tabled by Lib Dem MPs on specific flights through the UK remained unanswered over two months on.
"This is wholly unacceptable and follows a pattern of evasion and obfuscation by the government," he said.
The human rights group, Amnesty International UK, welcomed the report and criticised European countries and the US for operating "contrary to basic legal principles".
"The USA and all European countries must put an end to renditions and must conduct independent and thorough investigations into the practice. They absolutely must ensure accountability of their own and foreign intelligence services," the group's rendition campaigner, Sara MacNeice, said.
The Polish prime minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, denied the report's suggestion that the CIA flights stopped or dropped off prisoners in Poland.
"This is slander and it's not based on any facts," Mr Marcinkiewicz told reporters in Warsaw.
A spokesman for the Spanish foreign ministry denied it had taken part "actively or passively" in rendition flights. "The government does not have even the slightest information" about stopovers on the Balearic islands, El País website reported.
Allegations that CIA agents shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centres, including compounds in eastern Europe, were first reported in November by The Washington Post.
The humanitarian group Human Rights Watch later identified air bases in Poland and Romania as possible locations of alleged secret prisons.