- Britain's intelligence agencies have been accused of
helping America in a secret operation that is sending terror suspects to
Middle Eastern countries where prisoners are routinely tortured and abused.
- Since 11 September 2001, the CIA has been systematically
seizing suspects and sending them, without legal process, not only to Guantanamo
Bay but to authorities in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Human
rights campaigners say the system, officially known as "extraordinary
rendition" is a system of torture by proxy.
- Britain maintains the main reason it will not deport
prisoners being held without charge at Belmarsh prison is the fear they
will be tortured or otherwise abused by their home country. But a series
of cases has emerged which, critics say, exposes the Government's dishonesty
by suggesting information provided by Britain about its citizens and residents
has led to the capture and eventual torture of Islamic terrorist suspects.
- Britain is also an operational base for two executive
jets regularly used by the CIA to carry out so-called "renditions".
One Gulfstream jet - used for taking prisoners to Egypt and Jordan from
countries including Sweden and Indonesia - has called regularly at Luton,
Glasgow, Prestwick and Northolt airports.
- A Boeing 737 jet, used for the transfer of prisoners,
passed through Glasgow airport on Monday morning on its way to Iraq. Both
jets are white and unmarked, apart from their US civilian registration.
Inquiries suggest they are owned by US companies that exist only on paper
and which are almost certainly a front for the CIA.
- Michael Ratner, the director of the Centre for Constitutional
Rights, which is representing several former prisoners who were "renditioned",
said: "It is a secret process. No one really knows what happens in
the rendition process or in the gulag of secret CIA hellholes [where some
prisoners are sent]."
- One notorious rendition occurred in Sweden in December
2001 when a team of masked US agents arrived to transfer two Egyptian dissidents,
both accused of terrorist involvement, to Cairo. Both complained later
- But there is evidence that intelligence originating in
Britain may have been behind the CIA's involvement in the seizure of at
least one of the Egyptians, an asylum-seeker named Mohamed al-Zery, who,
after months of torture, was eventually cleared and freed.
- Yassir al-Sirri, an Islamic activist living in London
who is accused by Egypt and America of having al-Qa'ida connections, said
that, in the weeks before his own arrest in London in October 2001, he
had been in touch with Mr Zery, who wanted help with collecting information
for his asylum claim.
- Speaking to BBC Radio's File on Four, Mr Sirri said that
when British anti-terrorist officers raided his home, they took his computer
and his fax records and those were passed to the Americans.
- "Later in Sweden this man, Mr Zehry, was arrested
and this information could only have come from the British authorities.
They are completely responsible. It's criminal," Mr Sirri said.
- Mr Sirri discovered later that, in the following weeks,
many of his contacts around the world were seized. Mr Sirri, who runs an
Islamic media centre devoted to exposing any human rights abuses, had contacts
with many families of prisoners.
- Mr Sirri had been arrested over accusations he was involved
in the murder of the Afghan leader, Ahmed Shah Massood, but he was cleared
when a UK judge described him as an "innocent fall guy". Efforts
by both the US and Egypt to extradite him for alleged links to terrorism
- In Stockholm, Kjell Jonsson, Mr Zehry's lawyer, said
he also believed that information passed by Britain was the only explanation
for his client's arrest and the involvement of American agents.
- The practice of sending suspects abroad for coercive
interrogation gathered pace after 11 September 2001, when a senior counter-terrorism
officer, Cofer Black, openly admitted that after the al-Qa'ida attacks
"the gloves came off'.
- The procedure was supported by legal memos drafted by
the White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, which claimed the Bush administration
was not restricted by the Geneva Conventions when dealing with suspects
from the so-called war on terror.
- Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official involved
in setting up the system, said: "The practice of capturing people
and taking them to second or third countries arose because the Executive
assigned the job of dismantling terrorist cells to the CIA.
- "When the agency came back and said 'where do you
want to take them?' The message was - 'that's your job'."
- Mr Scheuer claims there was legal oversight in every
renditioning case and yet he admitted suspects were tortured.
- "The bottom line is, getting anyone off the street
who you are confident has been involved, or is planning to be involved,
in operations that could kill Americans is a worthwhile activity."
- Just how many suspects have been subjected to renditioning
- Critics point out that the US does not permit suspects
access to lawyers. They liken the secrecy to that which is surrounding
the network of secret detention centres operated by the CIA around the
world in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, on US ships
and on any number of locations that have not been publicly disclosed.
- But the planes used by the CIA have left a trail. The
Gulfstream, then registered as N379P, was first spotted landing at Shannon
airport, Ireland, in spring 2003. Its registration number, since changed,
was logged by members of a peace camp. They only learnt that it was the
rendition plane when they were later contacted by Swedish journalists investigating
the torture of the two Egyptians. "It just looked like a civilian
plane," said Edward Horgan, 59, from Limerick, one of the witnesses
to its landing.
- American journalists have revealed the plane is formally
owned by Bayard Foreign Marketing, which lists its headquarters as the
address of a lawyer in Portland, Oregon. There is no evidence that Thomas
Bayard, whose signature appears on documents filed with the local authorities,
is a real person. When The Independent called the firm, there was nobody
there, just an answering machine.
- The allegations that Britain is co-operating with the
"rendition" system are also bolstered by arrests in Gambia, west
Africa, where four British residents were arrested and questioned by US
agents in November 2002, apparently after a tip-off from British authorities.
- Wahab al Rawi, an engineer whose family fled persecution
in Iraq, was surprised to be questioned in Gambia by US agents when he
had already been interviewed and freed by Britain's security service, MI5,
back in London.
- They had been asking him about his family's friendship
with Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic cleric now in detention at Belmarsh
prison. When Mr Rawi asked to see the British high commissioner, he said
he was told: "Who do you think ordered your arrest?"
- Though Mr Rawi was released, his brother Bisher and a
business partner, Jamil al-Banaa, were picked up by the Americans, apparently
in the Gulfstream. They are still being held in Guantanamo Bay.
- Another case pointing to Britain's involvement is the
arrest of Martin Mubanga in Zambia. Last weekend, after being freed from
Guantanamo Bay, he alleged his original arrest came after the involvement,
and accusations made against him, of an MI6 officer.
- Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan,
has also accused Britain of complicity in torture, because of the use that
MI6 makes of the intelligence gathered in this way by CIA.
- He said many prisoners of Uzbek origin captured by American
forces were taken back to Uzbek jails where they suffered the most brutal
torture. Information obtained from these interrogations ended up in MI6
reports that he received. "I was told by the Foreign Office's senior
legal adviser that there was nothing in law to prevent us obtaining and
using material which had been extracted under torture provided that we
had not ourselves done the torture," he said. "And MI6 said they
found the intelligence useful. I was shattered and disillusioned."
- A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain condemned torture
but could not ignore intelligence from sources. "Without the sharing
of intelligence, there would have been many more bloody terrorist attacks
that would have gone ahead, like the plan to bomb a Christmas market in
- "If you have an agreement to work together against
terrorism with another country then it's obvious common sense that one
has to have a certain amount of trust in that country and in the way it
chooses to use that intelligence."
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.