The Big Question: What is extraordinary rendition, and what is Britain's role in it?


What is extraordinary rendition?

Rendition means the handing over or surrender of a fugitive from one state to another, and providing such transfers comply with national and international law, it is an accepted legal process. One example of a lawful rendition is the extradition of a defendant to face trial in another country. Rendition becomes unlawful when a suspect is handed over without the permission of a judicial authority or, after the transfer, that person is tortured or held in breach of their human rights.

The term "extraordinary rendition" applies to a growing number of cases in which terror suspects are arrested by the CIA and flown to another state, usually the suspect's home country, where they are subject to torture. That practice has become known as "torture by proxy" because the receiving states do not usually have laws that prohibit the use of oppression or physical abuse in the interrogation of a suspect.

Since the 1980s, the United States has increasingly turned to rendition as a judicial and extra-judicial method for dealing with foreign defendants. The advantage for the American intelligence and security services is that that they can get other countries to torture suspects in conditions that would be unlawful under US law.

According to a report published yesterday by the Council of Europe's committee on legal affairs and human rights, there is evidence to show that some suspects have been flown to secret bases run by the Americans in third-party states, including Romania and Poland.

How long has this been going on?

The first well-known case involved the hijackers of the Achille Lauro, a luxury passenger liner. After taking control of the ship, the Palestinian attackers shot an American citizen, but later managed to negotiate their own safe passage to Tunisia aboard an Egyptian airliner. While flying over international waters, they were forced down by US Air Force fighter aircraft and held at a Nato base in Italy before being transported for trial in the United States.

The CIA was granted official permission to use rendition in a presidential directive that dates to the Clinton administration. But after 9/11 the purpose of rendition changed from the gathering of vital intelligence to the removal of terror suspects to places where they could be held out of the reach of any judicial authority. The US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is the best example of post-9/11 "extraordinary rendition". Hundreds of suspects, newly termed "enemy combatants", were picked up in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia and flown to Guantanamo Bay.

Should we be opposed to it?

Many people, including some members of Britain's security and intelligence services, argue that in the fight against Al-Qa'ida the end justifies the means.

There are two reasons to be concerned about this argument. The first is that torture is illegal under international conventions and specifically outlawed by laws enacted by individual states. Almost 150 countries, including the UK, have signed the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture. To authorise or even play a complicit role in "extraordinary renditions", or "torture flights", is to undermine the rule of law.

British and American politicians have shown themselves to support this view by consistently warning that the terrorists will be able to claim victory if any nation in the fight against terror fails to respect the rule of law. In defence of the rule of law, international jurists often quote the playwright Robert Bolt, who rhetorically asked in his play A Man for all Seasons: "where do you hide from the devil after you have cut down all the laws in the land?".

The second objection to pursuing a policy of the end justifies the means is a practical one. Intelligence obtained by torture is notoriously unreliable. Well-trained Al-Qa'ida operatives know that by feeding CIA officers false information they can tie up millions of pounds of American resources in fruitless operations. This is why the aim of the CIA rendition programme has switched from interrogation to imprisonment.

Which countries are helping the Americans?

The Swiss MP Dick Marty, author of the Council of Europe report, has identified 14 European states which he says have colluded with the CIA. The report makes it clear there is further evidence to back suspicions that secret prisons are, or were, located in Poland and Romania. In an interim report in January, Mr Marty said European governments were almost certainly aware of the CIA's secret prisoner flights via European airspace or airports.

The new report says: "It is now clear, although we are still far from having established the truth, that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities." Spain, Turkey, Germany and Cyprus provided "staging posts"for rendition operations, while the UK, Portugal, Ireland and Greece were "stop-off points", it says.

Is there evidence of British complicity?

Mr Marty's report specifically criticises the UK for helping in the detention and physical abuse of Binyam Mohamed al Habashi, an Ethiopian citizen who was a UK resident from 1994. The report claims Mr al Habashi, who says he was arrested in Pakistan after visiting Afghanistan, was tortured in Morocco by local intelligence officers and at least one CIA agent, who used personal information to try to get him to confess to terrorist activities. Mr Marty argues: "Much of the personal information, i ncluding details of his education, his friendships in London and even his kickboxing trainer, could only have originated from collusion in this interrogation process by UK intelligence services."

The report further accuses MI5 of co-operating with the CIA in "abducting persons against which there is no evidence enabling them to be kept in prison lawfully". It cites the case of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, two UK residents who were arrested in Gambia and later transferred to Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay.

Do the UK and US governments admit to taking part?

The British government insists that since 1998 it has agreed to just two US requests for prisoner flights through the UK, and refused two others. Tony Blair said yesterday the new report contained nothing new. Part of the British defence relies on an assurance given by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said US had made no authorised rendition flights over British airspace. The US admits to picking up terror suspects but denies sending them to nations to face torture.

Can extraordinary rendition ever be justified?

Yes...

* Public safety is a greater good than following rules that allow terrorists to flourish in our midst

* Peacetime laws do not apply in times of war

* Rendition is not a new tactic, and governments often use illegal methods to protect national security - they maintain secret services for just such purposes

No...

* If we permit the torture of terrorists to give us the illusion of safety, we undermine our society's core respect for human dignity

* Intelligence gained from torture is unreliable and cannot be used in a court to convict terror suspects

* The rule of law is the bedrock principle upon which free societies are built - we cannot violate it whenever it suits us

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?