Britain ‘tolerated’ extraordinary rendition and torture during the US war on terror and Tony Blair could have done more to influence American behaviour, damning reports reveal

  • Report into British involvement in rendition and torture was published today
  • Eight-year probe has been frequently delayed since ordered by David Cameron 
  • Found the UK was complicit in hundreds of incidents of mistreatment after 9/11
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Britain ‘tolerated’ extraordinary rendition and the ‘inexcusable’ torture of hundreds of detainees during the US war on terror, damning reports today reveal.

And to this day the UK Government has ‘failed to take action’ to stop prisoners being illegally taken to countries where they can be abused.

The explosive findings are in two reviews by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) into the mistreatment of detainees in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

They found there is no ‘smoking gun’ suggesting British officers carried out torture or had a policy of deliberately ignoring it, but it is ‘beyond doubt’ agencies knew the US was mistreating detainees. 

On 13 occasions UK personnel witnessed at first hand abuse of prisoners and in 25 cases were told by detainees of mistreatment. 

In 232 cases, UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to allies after they knew or suspected mistreatment, said the ISC.

And in 198 cases, they received intelligence obtained from detainees who they knew or should have suspected had been mistreated. 

The committee, chaired by Tory MP Dominic Grieve, found ‘the UK tolerated actions, and took others, that we regard as inexcusable’.

And it said the agency chiefs and ministers – who at the time were Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw – could have done more to to ‘influence US behaviour’.

The report found that agency chiefs and senior ministers of the day – who included then Prime Minister Tony Blair (pictured in Iraq with troops in 2003) and his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw – could have done more to to ‘influence US behaviour’

The Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by Tory Dominic Grieve (pictured today at the launch of the reports in Parliament today) has found that Britain tolerated torture during the War on Terror and could have done more to curb the Americans

Abdel Hakim Belhaj (pictured earlier this year receiving a letter of apology from the UK government handed over by the British ambassador to Turkey Dominick Chilcott) was one of the most high profile rendition cases. He and his wife was grabbed by the CIA in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004 and delivered to Libya where he was jailed for six years and tortured

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Mr Grieve said it was ‘difficult to comprehend’ how spy chiefs failed to recognise a ‘pattern of mistreatment by the US’ and pass on the information to ministers.

The probe has been repeatedly delayed after it was ordered by David Cameron eight years ago. 

And a twin review looking at Britain’s current procedures tore into Theresa May for failing to toughen up safeguards.

It said Britain’s current procedures to tackle cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (CIDT) have ‘room for improvement’ – even though the UK is one of few in the world to have guidelines at all.

What are the findings of the ISC reviews into the UK’s role in War on Terror?

Two long-delayed but damning reviews of Britain’s role in the mistreatment of suspects in the US-led War on Terror have today been published.

Here are the main findings of the review carried out by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee:

  • Britain ‘tolerated’ extraordinary rendition and torture during the US war on terror
  • No evidence British officers personally carried out torture 
  • In nine cases, British officers made verbal threats and in two cases they were party to mistreatment carried out by others. Only one has been investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
  • On 13 occasions UK personnel witness at first hand abuse of prisoners and in 25 cases were told by detainees of mistreatment.
  • There were 232 cases where questions or intelligence were supplied to foreign agents where Britain knew of it suspected mistreatment. Information was received by Britain in 198 further cases of mistreatment.
  • On three occasions MI6 or MI5 paid, or offered to pay, contortions to a rendition flight
  • In 28 cases, British spies suggested, plan we or agreed to rendition operations proposed by other nations. In 23 more cases, Britain failed to take action to intervene and stop a rendition.
  • The ISC found no evidence any American rendition flight came through the UK with a detainee on board. 
  • Two detainees passed through the British base in Diego Garcia but were not held there. 

In a damning assessment of the current practice on rendition, Mr Grieve said: ‘There has been little improvement since we last reported in 2007.

‘We find it astonishing that, given the intense focus on this issue 10 years ago, the Government has failed to take action.

‘There is no clear policy, and not even agreement as to who has responsibility for preventing UK complicity in unlawful rendition.’

He added: ‘We are unconvinced that the Government recognises the seriousness of rendition and the potential for the UK to be complicit in actions which may lead to torture or CIDT.’ 

The ISC said the Foreign Office position that the UK is not complicit in rendition if it allows transit refuelling in UK airspace of a possible rendition flight is ‘not acceptable’.

And it criticised Mrs May for ordering only a light touch review of policy on detention and rendition last year.

Mr Grieve said: ‘In our opinion, a full review is long overdue.’ 

He insisted that MPs are not trying to point the finger of blame at individual officers – but to highlight the failures in  how Britain responded to the terror threat after the attack on the twin towers.

Mr Grieve said: ‘We wish to be absolutely clear that we do not seek to blame individual officers acting under immense pressure.

‘Our findings must be viewed in the context in which the events took place.

‘The pace of work after 9/11, both in Afghanistan and London, was frenetic: we do not underestimate the pressure that the Agencies experienced whilst dealing with the imperative to protect the UK and prevent another attack on the scale of 9/11.’ 

The ISC defines UK complicity in rendition as funding, facilitating or endorsing the moving of prisoners across borders to places where torture can take place.

Complicity also means providing intelligence to allow a rendition and failing to stop a flight taking place.

The report uses code words of UK towns to shield the real countries involved – but makes clear detainees were not moved from or through the British mainland.

The reviews come just a month after Britain was forced to issue a formal apology for its role in the mistreatment of Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj, 52, and his wife Fatima Boudchar.

Dan Dolan (file), head of policy at Reprieve, the human rights charity, said further delay on US orders were destroy the inquiries credibility 

Two reports were sent to Theresa May (pictured in No 10 last night) in May – one on the activity between 2001 and 2010 and the other on current issues. In the second damning review, the PM was criticised for ordering only a light touch review of policy on detention and rendition last year

The pair were grabbed by the CIA in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004 and delivered to Libya where he was jailed for six years and tortured.

Britain made a full public apology to the couple last month for its role in the rendition, paying £500,000 in compensation to Ms Boudchar. 

The ISC also highlighted the  case of Mohammed Salad Iqbal Madni, who was  rendered from Indonesia to Egypt.

His plane flew home to Washington via a refuelling stop at Prestwick Airport in Glasgow.

The reports highlight a Guardian report in 2005 which said a 26-strong fleet of CIA planes used 19 British airports and RAF bases in the aftermath of 9/11. 

In a press conference on the reports, Mr Grieve said written evidence suggested until 2005 issues were not ‘escalated’ to ministers, including Mr Blair. 

Neither Mr Blair or Mr Straw gave oral evidence to the inquiry about what, if anything, they had been told informally. 

Mr Grieve added: ‘Written evidence suggests that ministers knew in 2005 – although it is worth bearing in mind there was quite a lot of news coverage to suggest mistreatment was occurring.’

Mr Grieve said there was nothing in the written record to suggest anyone in the Blair Government investigated the reports of US mistreatment. 


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