For years, the British government denied any involvement with CIA torture flights – until ministers were forced to admit that planes carrying ‘rendition’ victims had landed on Diego Garcia.
Diego Garcia is a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean, which we now know played a central role in a number of ‘extraordinary rendition’ operations – a practice in which prisoners are flown to countries where they are then tortured.
For years, the UK government denied that any British territory had been used for rendition flights, a key feature of the US-led ‘war on terror’.
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.”
Jack Straw, speaking in 2005 as Foreign Secretary
But just three years later, the UK government was forced to admit that Straw’s claims were untrue. David Miliband – Foreign Secretary in 2008 – told Parliament that CIA torture flights had in fact made use of the British territory of Diego Garcia in 2002. Straw’s claims, he said, were due to “an administrative error.”
However, the British government has yet to come clean on the full scale of Diego Garcia’s involvement in the rendition and torture programme. Secret documents found in Libya show that the CIA at least planned to use the island as a stop-over when ‘rendering’ an opponent of Colonel Gaddafi and his heavily pregnant wife to Libyan torture chambers in 2004. Reprieve is now representing the victims – Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar – in their attempts to get answers from the UK government.
In addition, key evidence on rendition flights through Diego Garcia has either been withheld or destroyed. In 2014, ministers announced that “extremely heavy weather” meant that records had suffered “water damage…to the point of no longer being useful.” The government refused to explain how this had taken place during a month which turned out to have seen relatively little rain.
Reprieve continues to investigate Diego Garcia, and urges the British government to come clean on the help it provided to the CIA’s torture flights.
A British minister has today admitted that a number of records relating to flights passing through the island of Diego Garcia – which is known to have been used by CIA rendition jets – have been “damaged [by water] to the point of no longer being useful.”
Claims by ministers that documents relating to the UK role in CIA ‘rendition’ flights were accidentally damaged have been cast into doubt by new Foreign Office (FCO) records obtained by legal charity Reprieve.
David Miliband, who as UK Foreign Secretary was forced to admit that the CIA had used British territory for ‘rendition’ flights, has left open the possibility that further evidence of such involvement could emerge.
The British Government has admitted that it has “made representations” to the US concerning the release of material in a major forthcoming Senate report concerning the CIA’s torture and rendition programme.