The British Government has been accused of adopting a "hear no evil, see no evil" approach over CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects for possible torture, after Jack Straw said a Whitehall search revealed no evidence of US requests for such flights into UK airspace.
The Foreign Secretary admitted for the first time that he had agreed to two rendition requests made by the US authorities under the Clinton administration while he was Home Secretary. Both were for landings in the UK related to rendition - or delivery of prisoner - flights to the United States. "This could be regarded as rendition," he said.
Mr Straw said he approved the requests for stop-overs in the UK because the prisoners were due to be put on trial in the United States. But another, where a suspect was being taken to a third country, was refused by Mr Straw because he was "not satisfied" about the circumstances.
The Foreign Secretary said the Home Office and the Foreign Office had checked their records carefully and found that no such requests had been made by the Bush Administration.
In October, Mr Straw told MPs he had not approved any requests, but officials said last night he was referring to events since the 11 September, 2001, attacks on New York.
Liberty, the human rights organisation, said last night that Mr Straw's replies to Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, raised more questions than they answered. They left open the possibility that the Bush administration had used British airports without asking permission, a Liberty spokesman said.
Liberty is giving police chiefs until tomorrow to reply to its request to carry out criminal investigations into the possible complicity of the Government in torture flights through UK airports in their area. The spokesman said: "We are considering taking legal action with a possible judicial review."
Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti will also meet Michael Todd, the police chief constable of Manchester, who is the head of terrorism and aviation for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Sir Menzies accused the Government of a "hear no evil, see no evil" policy and said a far more detailed investigation was still required.
"I do not doubt the good faith of the Foreign Secretary in this matter but because there are no records and because there are no requests doesn't mean to say that extraordinary rendition may not have been taking place," he said on BBC Radio.
"We now know, because it's a matter of admission, that there have been a substantial number of CIA flights.
"We know that there are allegations that some of these flights may have been concerned with moving people from one jurisdiction to another so that they could be subject to, shall we put it euphemistically, 'rather more vigorous' cross examination than would otherwise be the case; in fact, possibly subject to torture."
The Foreign Secretary will also be closely questioned about Britain's role in assisting the Central Intelligence Agency with terrorist suspects today by the Foreign Affairs Committee. He told the committee on 24 October that no requests for rendition had been made. "We have not received any requests or granted any permissions for use of UK territory or airspace for such purposes," he said.
Yesterday, Mr Straw said: "Careful research has been unable to identify any occasion... when we have received a request for permission by the United States for a rendition through the United Kingdom territory or air space.
"Our people have checked through all the detail of the Liberty suggestions. They have found no records which corroborate... the details of what Liberty say and no papers relating to any policy considerations of what Liberty say."Reuse content