There are two revelations in the latest batch of CIA documents found abandoned in Tripoli which are truly shocking. One is that the British Government didn’t just tamely comply with the US rendition programme, but actively ran its own rendition operations organised by MI6. Second is the repeated assertion by senior officials in Whitehall that in doing this, they were following “ministerially authorised government policy”. Rendition is the utterly illegal activity of running a network of agents to seize targeted individuals off the streets anywhere in the world and to fly them to detention in countries where it was arranged that they would be interrogated under torture. The British Government has always previously insisted that it had no part in the US rendition programme, let alone run its own, and that it never approved the use of torture. The Tripoli documents now reveal that these are lies.
It is also a matter of intense concern as to who authorised the UK rendition activities. It is not credible that a junior minister could have sanctioned action of such explosive significance. It must have been the Foreign Secretary, though it is inconceivable that the Prime Minister would not have been fully informed about a matter with such potentially lethal implications, and action would not have proceeded without his explicit agreement.
We now know that the Libyan jihadist Sami al-Saadi was ‘rendered’ to Tripoli just before Blair’s first visit to Gaddafi in March 2004. We also know from the cache of papers taken by the US NGO Human Rights Watch from the abandoned office of Moussa Koussa, the Libyan Head of Security, that another Libyan Islamist, Abdul Hakin Belhaj, was rendered to Tripoli via a UK tip-off earlier the same month. Blair, despite his denials, must have been briefed prior to his visit about this UK-directed rendition programme since it would have been an important part of the growing relationship with Libya as it was brought in from the cold of its pariah status over the previous two decades.
This whole issue of Britain’s involvement in the mistreatment of terrorism suspects after 9/11 is of course being investigated by Sir Peter Gibson, a retired judge, but there already appears to be sufficient evidence to show that former protestations of the government’s abhorrence of any involvement in torture is highly misleading, not to say downright false. Those responsible for organising rendition and torture by proxy, bothe officials and ministers, should be pursued now without waiting for Gibson.