Tony Blair knew in detail about the CIA’s secret kidnap and interrogation programme after the September 11 attacks, a security source has told The Telegraph, the newspaper reported.
The then prime minster and Jack Straw, his foreign secretary, were kept informed “every step of the way” by MI6 and were shown Bush administration legal opinions that declared “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding and stress positions to be legal, the source said.
“The politicians took a very active interest indeed. They wanted to know everything. The Americans passed over the legal opinions saying that this was now 'legal’, and our politicians were aware of what was going on at the highest possible level,” the source, who was reported to have direct and detailed knowledge of the transatlantic relations during that period, told The Telegraph.
“The politicians knew in detail about everything – the torture and the rendition. They could have said [to M16] 'stop it, do not get involved’, but at no time did they.”
The claims comes as Scotland Yard continues to investigate whether MI6 officers should face criminal charges for alleged complicity in the rendition of suspected terrorists, including two Libyan dissidents and their families, who in 2004 were kidnapped and flown to Tripoli where they were tortured.
The case was opened in 2012 following the discovery of documents recovered during the Libyan revolution that appeared to show that Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, and other agents had been complicit in the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who was captured by the CIA with his pregnant wife and sent back to Libya.
The Telegraph reported that it understood that MI6 had been forced to hand over top secret documents from that period to police and that senior officers who served at the time have been interviewed as part of the investigation. But the newspaper reported that it is not known whether Mr Straw, who intelligence sources have indicated was fully briefed on the rendition, has also been interviewed by police.
The source’s claims reinforce those made publicly by Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6 from 1999 to 2004, who said in a speech in 2012 that MI6’s cooperation with the CIA’s rendition programme was a “political” decision.
The source said: “Tony Blair absolutely knew, Dearlove was briefing him all the time. He was meticulous about keeping the politicians informed. Whether there was anything in writing, well that is a different matter,” added the source, who said it was laughable to suggest that the approval for British security services to cooperate with the CIA programme had been authorised by Mr Straw alone.
“The understanding at SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] was it was acting in the 'national interest’ and with clear political approval.
“SIS is not a rogue organisation. It would never do this kind of thing alone and without explicit authorisation; that is just not how it works.”
The British government has never formally admitted its role in rendition or officially apologised to victims, but it has paid out millions of pounds in “no fault” settlements to rendition victims and former Guantánamo Bay inmates who sued for damages.
This week, the US Senate voted to declassify a summary of a 6,300-page report into the CIA’s rendition programme in a move that legal experts say will put added pressure on the British government to come clean about its role.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat chairman of the committee that conducted the research, said the “shocking” report had “uncovered the facts” behind the secret programme and could be made public within 30 days following a security review by the White House and the CIA.