American intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, have won a court ruling allowing them to withhold evidence from British MPs about suspected UK involvement in "extraordinary rendition" – the secret arrests and alleged torture of terror suspects.
A Washington judge has granted permission for key American intelligence bodies, including the highly sensitive National Security Agency, to exploit a loophole in US freedom-of-information legislation that bars the release of documentation to any body representing a foreign government.
Downing Street yesterday underlined the gravity of the torture allegations when it urged police to interview former Labour ministers in their investigation into the alleged rendition and torture of a Libyan critic of Muammar Gaddafi. Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time and is expected to be interviewed by detectives, has denied any complicity in rendition – as have his successors at the Foreign Office.
The CIA's court victory over British MPs came after the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition submitted a slew of information requests to US intelligence agencies as part of its investigations into the extent of British complicity in rendition and torture.
The American agencies' were trying to avoid official embarrassment on both sides of the Atlantic by using a narrow legal exemption to prevent the disclosure of critical papers, Tony Lloyd, a Labour MP and the vice-chairman of the group, said. He called the judgment "disappointing". MPs investigating the long-running rendition scandal requested information in late 2008 from America's spying agencies on 43 separate topics which "focused on various aspects of the United States' and the United Kingdom's involvement in extraordinary rendition, secret detention, coercive interrogation of suspected terrorists and the sources of information about alleged terrorist plots", according to court documents.
Initially, the FBI responded by providing some documentation but then, along with the other bodies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defence, refused any disclosure.