Robert Verkaik: How fitting – another attempt to make this issue disappear

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jack Straw is used to fending off awkward questions about Britain's role in the alleged rendition and torture of terror suspects.

The Justice Secretary and his fellow ministers have made countless denials over allegations that British forces, military bases and airports have been used in the kidnap and transfer of foreign nationals to torture states.

The constant refrain from Mr Straw is that until anyone can prove otherwise, British territory and personnel have never been used in this way. Unfortunately, the inconvenience of the evidence has forced the Government into a number of embarrassing admissions.

We now know that the UK overseas territory of Diego Garcia was twice used by the US in the rendition of terror suspects. It has also been confirmed that two Iraqis captured by British forces in Iraq were handed over to the Americans and flown to a detention camp in Afghanistan. And in the most famous case, the UK courts have found that MI5 "facilitated" in the interrogation of British resident Binyam Mohamed when he was being unlawfully held by the Americans in Pakistan.

It was Jack Straw who was Foreign Secretary at the height of the war on terror. His harshest critics would say he is the Labour politician who has most to lose should the full story of Britain's alleged role in the US-led programme of extraordinary rendition emerge. The Justice Secretary's complete rejection of the All Party Parliamentary Group's proposals to criminalise UK involvement in extraordinary rendition is merely the latest attempt to deflect the criticism and obscure the facts.

But this issue simply won't go away. As we draw closer to a general election more and more voices are joining the calls for an independent public inquiry into Britain's role in the early days of the US-led war on terror.

Mr Straw and his fellow ministers must hope they have done enough to kick this inconvenient subject into the long grass to be considered by the next administration. But Scotland Yard's criminal investigation into MI5 and MI6 complicity in torture will not respect the political rules that govern the announcements permissible during a general election campaign. If the Metropolitan Police believe there is case to answer they will say so, irrespective of the potential for political embarrassment to Labour.

State of denial: The UK's official line on rendition

March 2007 Tony Blair tells the intelligence and security committee that the US had given "firm assurances" that Diego Garcia had not been used to hold or transport detainees.

February 2008 Foreign Secretary David Miliband admits that Diego Garcia was in fact used for the refuelling of two rendition flights in 2002.

December 2005 Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells states in a Parliamentary answer: "We are unaware of any individuals originally detained by UK authorities and subsequently rendited by the USA."

February 2009 Former Defence Secretary John Hutton confirms that two individuals captured by UK forces in Iraq were subsequently moved to Afghanistan by the US.

July 2007 MI5 tells the intelligence committee that it was not complicit "in any cases where it was advocated and implied that someone would be subject to mistreatment".

July 2007 The intelligence and security committee reports that it has found "no evidence that the UK agencies were complicit in any extraordinary rendition operations".

February 2010 The Court of Appeal finds some MI5 officials have not been "frank" about their involvement in the "mistreatment" of Binyam Mohamed and that there is reason to distrust Government assurances to the contrary.