Government needs to 'come clean' about extent of its knowledge of US activities on UK soil, campaigners say

The Foreign Office said flight records for US aircraft to and from the island of Diego Garcia had been partially destroyed

The Government was last night accused of a “cover up” over complicity in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme after it claimed that documents which could expose British knowledge of the practice have been lost due to “water damage”.

In a disclosure that will compound Whitehall’s ongoing difficulties over the disappearance of files capable of lifting the lid on suspected past cover-ups, the Foreign Office said flight records for US aircraft to and from the UK-owned Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia for 2002 had been partially destroyed.

If complete, such records would cast new light on whether British officials on the island’s key American military base knew of at least two CIA extraordinary rendition flights which landed in Diego Garcia that year. London has always insisted it did not know about the flights, carrying two terror suspects, until belatedly told about them by Washington in 2008.

The loss of an unspecified number of Diego Garcia records comes amid reports that a US Senate document being prepared for release in the coming months states that the British territory not only accepted rendition flights but also hosted a so-called “black site” for the interrogation of Al Qaida suspects after 9/11.

The 500 page summary of the Senate investigation into the CIA’s kidnap and torture programme also asserts that the secret prison was established with the “full co-operation” of the British government, according to one report quoting unnamed US officials.

The claimed accidental destruction of potentially damaging records also comes as the Government is already reeling from the revelation that 114 Home Office files detailing allegations of a child sex abuse ring in Westminster in the 1980s are “missing” and have probably been destroyed.

The CIA rendition flight plan mentioning Diego Garcia, found following the fall of Gaddafi The CIA rendition flight plan mentioning Diego Garcia, found following the fall of Gaddafi Campaigners said the loss of the flight logs kept by UK immigration officials on Diego Garcia, the main island in a remote archipelago known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), was the latest evidence that Britain has not been frank about the extent of its knowledge of US extraordinary rendition activities on UK soil.

Cori Crider, a director of the legal charity Reprieve, said: “It’s looking worse and worse for the UK government on Diego Garcia. First we learn the Senate’s upcoming torture report says detainees were held on the island, and now, conveniently, a pile of key documents turn up missing with ‘water damage’?

“The Government might as well have said the dog ate their homework. This smacks of a cover up. They now need to come clean about how, when and where this evidence was lost.”

The existence of the flight logs has previously been admitted but the details of their contents have long been kept away from public scrutiny, not least because the BIOT is exempt from Freedom of Information requests.

The claim of “water damage” was revealed in Parliament yesterday by FCO minister Mark Simmonds following a question from Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury select committee who has also investigated Britain’s involvement in rendition.

In a three-line statement, Mr Simmonds said: “Records of flight departures and arrivals on Diego Garcia are held by the British Indian Ocean Territory immigration authorities. Daily occurrence logs, which record the flights landing and taking off, cover the period since 2003. Though there are some limited records from 2002, I understand they are incomplete due to water damage.”

The announcement will deepen the perception that the full details of Diego Garcia’s role in extraordinary rendition - the practice of abducting terrorism suspects and transporting them in some cases to countries or locations where they could be tortured - remain mired in official secrecy.

The island has provided Washington with one of its most important air and naval bases since it was cleared by Britain of its population of islanders in the 1960s. But it remains subject to UK law and proof that any CIA abduction or mistreatment occurred with British knowledge or complicity would have far-reaching legal consequences.

Labour was forced to admit in 2008 that assurances given by Tony Blair while Prime Minister and Jack Straw while Foreign Secretary after 9/11 that the island was never used for rendition had been wrong.

Mr Straw’s successor David Miliband apologised to Parliament and said fresh information provided by Washington showed two flights - one to Guantanamo Bay and one to Morocco - had refuelled at Diego Garcia, though neither suspect had disembarked.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his successor David Miliband (Getty) Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his successor David Miliband (Getty)
Ministers in subsequent governments have since issued carefully-worded statements insisting that the two flights were the extent of rendition activity on BIOT. Hugh Robertson, a current FCO minister said recently that the Government “is aware of no evidence that US detainees have been held on Diego Garcia since September 2001”.

But sources, including a UN special rapporteur on torture, have challenged such claims and claimed evidence exists to show detainees were held on the island.

Documents unearthed in Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 appeared to show that a flight plan drawn up for the delivery of dissident Abdel Hakim Belhadj to one of the regime’s prisons in 2004 included a refuelling stop in Diego Garcia.

 

A Scotland Yard investigation into the role played by MI6 in the delivery of Mr Belhadj and his wife to Libya is understood to have tried to establish whether they passed through Diego Garcia. It is not known if detectives were given sight of BIOT immigration records from 2004.

MPs last month called on the Government to use a two-year negotiating window for the extension of the US lease on Diego Garcia in 2016 to tighten rules on the use of the island, including the introduction of an explicit requirement for Washington to obtain British approval for activities such as combat operations or rendition flights.

The influential foreign affairs select committee also suggested it was keeping its powder dry over the US Senate report and would re-visit the issue if the document disclosed the existence of a black site on Diego Garcia.

The FCO said it was investigating how the damage had occurred to the flight records and whether duplicate records existed in London.

A spokeswoman added: “Regardless of what files are retained, the US assure us annually that aside from the two instances of rendition through Diego Garcia in 2002, there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas Territories, or the Crown Dependencies, with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.”

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home